The Caspers Wilderness Park Nature Center is a great bonus trip after you visit the playground. The Nature Center sits atop a hill overlooking the park and features a lookout tower to take in the beautiful views. Caspers is part of Orange County’s regional park system. Look for more information on the OFFICIAL OCParks.com website.
Location: From Interstate 5, take Ortega Highway toward the foothills (east). Your drive will wind around and then a sign will warn you of the park entrance coming up on your left. Be ready for it. Once you stop at the gate, you will drive into the park past the campground on your right, across the road over the creek, to park to the stop sign past the day use area. Turn left up the hill and park at the Nature Center. Or better yet, park at the playground and walk up the road to the Nature Center – just watch for cars. MAP to Caspers Wilderness Park in San Juan Capistrano
- “Open on weekends” is what you’ll see on the signs and hear from the rangers. However, the best nature centers don’t need to be open to be worth a visit.
- Caspers is no exception with its lookout platform, bird and squirrel feeder, plus the short nature trail outside the center.
- The lookout platform above the nature center is certainly its best feature. The nature center volunteers told me it’s accessible even when the center is closed. Climb the white staircase to the second floor office level, then climb another staircase to get the best views. There’s a sign at the top telling you about the view.
- I sat outside at the bird feeder for quite a while watching all the action. I got to see a California quail share a snack with squirrel. Plus I saw lots of jays and finches, as well.
- We did get a chance to go inside (on our weekend visit) and talk with the very knowledgeable volunteers inside. There are buttons to press for animal sounds, tracks to make with stamps in a sand pit, and a hut to climb in. It’s small, but educational. I learned what to call broken off sycamore trees: snags. And what they are good for: animal houses.
- Outside, plants are marked. We saw wildflowers, a hummingbird, a lizard, a grasshopper and listened to the breeze as we walked the short interpretive trail loop that starts near the ore cart in the parking lot.
- The Nature Center is only open on weekends.
- This is a wilderness area. Be aware of your surroundings.
- Check the official OC Parks website for special events and programs.
- Dedicated day use parking lots, but you must pay the OCParks fee of $3 weekdays, $5 weekends, and $7-$10 on major holidays. Or I’d highly recommend getting an Annual Pass ($80 for the year).
- Nature center only open on weekends.
- Restrooms outside the nature center entrance, but not sure they are open on weekdays. You may have to use the restrooms in the day use loop by the playground.
- Drinking fountain by the bathrooms.
- Small concrete amphitheater outside the center.
- Campgrounds also available. Reserve campsites through the OCParks reservation system.