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Caspers Wilderness Park: Discover Nature and Beauty Off Ortega Highway

Caspers Wilderness Park: Discover Nature and Beauty Off Ortega Highway

Caspers Wilderness Park in San Juan Capistrano is absolutely beautiful. I hiked and camped here with my husband when we were college students. Spring is my favorite time to visit because of the greenery.  It’s an especially vibrant park in the official OC Parks system because of its representative native California plant species. We’ve seen hawks, turkey vultures, a woodpecker, deer, rabbits, and squirrels.

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 near the creek, to park at the day use area on your right. The playground is nestled among the oaks and sycamores.  MAP to Caspers Wilderness Park in San Juan Capistrano

Highlights:

  • It’s an incredibly scenic park, especially in the spring with the green foothills and water running through the creek.  Just breathtaking!
  • There’s a fallen sycamore near the playground which is a favorite for the kids to climb and explore.
  • The playground looks brand new and sits nestled near the creek with a great view of the surrounding wilderness.  It’s very similar to the playground structure at O’Neill Regional Park.
  • The structure for 2-5 year olds is closest to the parking lot.
  • The taller structure is for 5-12 year olds with a climbing wall, zip track, balance beam bridge, and ring-shaped monkey bars.
  • My kids were fond of the tire swing, 2 bench swings, and teeter-totter.
  • The big wooden beams lent a natural feel to the playground and blends it with the surroundings.
  • It’s just a short walk on the road (watch for cars!) around the corner to the creekbed. We had fun walking along the creek and throwing rocks. Make sure it’s not raining upstream.

Be Aware:

  • There is a HUGE drop at the top of the tallest playground equipment.  It’s the structure designed for 5-12 year olds and there has to be a gap, since it’s the top of the climbing wall. However, it made me really nervous to have it open to such a potentially bad fall.
  • This is a wilderness area. Take precautions against rattlesnakes (during the summer) and mountain lions. Be aware of your surroundings.

Mountain Lions

There have been no mountain lion attacks at Casper’s Wilderness Park since 1986 (24 years ago).   Here’s a list of the 14 verified mountain lion attacks in the state of California since 1890.  That’s 2 attacks at Casper’s in the last 120 years. I imagine there have been more injuries and fatalities on Southern California freeways in the past 24 hours. I’m not trying to minimize the danger, just put it in perspective.

  • The 4 Orange County attacks (2 at Caspers and 2 at Whiting Ranch) have taken place while people are hiking or biking on the trails — not in the picnic, playground, or camping areas.
  • I lived in Colorado for a number years.  Knowing how to act in mountain lion country is drilled into you there. Appear large. Don’t run. Keep close to children.  Let the predator know you are not prey. Here is some great info from the California Department of Fish & Game: Trends in CA Mountain Lion Encounters and links to all of their information on mountain lions.
  • Keep your eyes open. Go in a large group. Have fun, but be aware.

Checklist:

  • 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.
  • Recycled rubber play surface with dirt paths.
  • Bathrooms is a short walk from the playground. The day use parking is on a meadow loop.  The playground is at the entrance of the loop. The bathrooms are at the far end of the loop.
  • Drinking fountain near the playground and down by the bathrooms.
  • Picnic tables dot the meadow area.  Some are covered and equipped with super-sized barbecues for large groups.
  • Campgrounds also available.  Reserve campsites through the OCParks reservation system.

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