Learn all the ways your family can explore the Redwood Trail at Carbon Canyon Regional Park in Brea.
This park is home to some of the best playgrounds in Orange County and, surprisingly, a redwoods grove. Signs say this is the only grove of redwoods in Orange County.
A 4-acre lake sits at the center of this expansive park.
If you love these trees, I have a post about 7 Places to See Redwoods in Orange County.
With one of the biggest and best playgrounds around.
You’ll spot birds like coots with their black bodies and white heads, Canadian geese, and turkey vultures. On our visit, we saw TONS of woodpeckers with their telltale chatter and rollercoaster flight pattern — up-down, up-down, up-down. So don’t forget to look up into the sycamores and oaks.
I originally wrote up this hike in January 2014 when I went with my kids and our friends for an after school hike. I just went again — unwittingly another January trip — except 8 years later on a Sunday with my husband.
This had me re-thinking my write-up. I think there are at least five ways for families to approach this redwood hike and it all has to do with parking!
FIVE Ways for Families to Hike to the Redwood Grove
Let’s start from the easiest option and go from there!
The first three options have you parking closest to the grove with three possible ways to return back to your car:
- Come back the way you came.
- Extend it the hike by taking the Carbon Canyon Creek Trail and walking into the park by the lake.
- Almost make it a loop by taking the Bell’s Vireo Trail up on the dam and back to your car.
The last two options have you picking parking that prioritizes the playgrounds. You can park near the playgrounds and restroom building instead of at the traditional “trailhead.” Play first, and then:
- Take a longer hike to the redwoods via the Carbon Canyon Creek trail — returning either the way you came or cutting through the park back to your car.
- Skipping the hike and the redwoods altogether and just playing at the playgrounds!
First take a minute to look at the Trail Map (PDF) to get oriented. You can even ask for a map from the entry gate attendant at the park so you can have a paper version (or print out the PDF).
Option #1 – 12 minutes to the Redwoods
Summary: Take the 12 minute hike to the redwoods and then turn around and hike back the exact same route to the parking lot. It may take longer with little ones who are exploring their surroundings. But it’s 12 minutes at a steady, but casual walking pace.
Pull into the park and bear to your right after passing through the entrance gate. The road will dead end into a dirt parking lot. Park all the way at the end of the parking lot and you will see a wooden post fence that marks the entrance to the hike.
This trail you are starting out on is near the volleyball courts on the bottom of the trail map. Even though you are starting out on the Bell’s Vireo Trail and will cut over on Coyote Pass, all the signs will lead you to Redwood Grove.
See! It says: Easy. It really is pretty easy. I saw a regular stroller on the packed dirt trail. The trails are wide and there are benches dotted along the trail to the redwoods.
So you will walk straight towards the dam first.
And after a few minutes, you’ll come out into a clearing where you will turn left onto Coyote Pass which will dead end into a choice.
Carbon Canyon Creek Trail to your left. Redwood Trail to your right. Yep, go right.
So I don’t want to give away too much of what comes next because I think discovery is half the joy of hiking.
You will walk the path and it will curve around a few times. There is one short incline that’s a little slippery with the sand.
But once you get past it, you will get your first glimpse of the redwoods!
Go explore the grove!
There is plenty of signage and a nice marked trail in the middle.
There are even Designated Photography Areas for professional photographers with a permit.
Then hike back the way you came. The whole trip will have only taken you way less than an hour and you will feel completely removed from city and life and feel immersed in nature!
Option #2 – Same Redwood Grove, But Return on Carbon Canyon Creek Trail
Summary: This option follows all the same steps as above, except after enjoying the redwoods you will NOT turn left at Coyote Pass on your way back. This took us about an hour when we went at a very slow pace. We were behind a family with a stroller and I was taking tons of photos.
Return along the Redwood Trail the same way you came. However, when you get to the left that will get you back to your car, continue straight on the Carbon Canyon Creek Trail which comes out at the back of the park near the Native/Butterfly Garden.
The dirt is packed pretty hard here and it’s easy to navigate, except for the portion that crosses the dry creek which is not very wide but it’s a steep hill into the creekbed and out.
Then you can walk along the sidewalk by the tennis courts and around the lake back to the car in the parking lot near the volleyball courts.
This way back takes you along the creek and just extends the outing. It also takes you near-ish the playgrounds and space for the kids to run on the lawn near the lake.
Option #3 – Same Redwood Grove, But Return on Bell’s Vireo Trail Over Dam
Summary: This makes the hike more of a simple loop. Hike to the Redwood Grove and circle back to the other side of the grove from where you enter for the trail that leads you over the dam and back to the parking lot where you started.
This is next on my list to try! I haven’t done this one yet, but it looks pretty do-able from the map.
Option #4 – Carbon Canyon Creek Trail to Redwood Trail (from Native/Butterfly Garden)
Summary: This is a description of that first hike I took after school back in January 2014. We didn’t even know about Option #1 back then. This one takes about an hour round-trip
- Turn left as you come in the entrance and park near the playground.
- On our visit, we hit the playgrounds first. Because who can resist?
- Then we stopped at the small restroom near the tennis courts and walked towards the back of the park and the butterfly garden. We took in the view and started up the Carbon Canyon Creek Trail — which is well-marked and will lead you towards the Redwood Trail.
- With the dusty trail and dry brush it just didn’t look like it would be possible for there to be redwoods.
- We kept walking a big outside loop around the lake and beyond. This was an after-school trip in the winter, so we didn’t have much time or daylight. But I heard it was a short hike.
- You’ll pass a turn-off back to the park and then the trail will go past a the Carbon Canyon Dam on your right. You can hike out to that, but we didn’t have time on our visit.
- Instead, we looked up the hill in front of us and saw redwoods!
- And more and more redwoods in a shady grove!
- We returned to our car by way of exiting the trail at the top end of the lake and walking on the grass to the large bank of restrooms by the entrance before heading home.
Option #5 – Skip the Hike and Just Play!
The final option is to just stick to the playgrounds which are PLENTIFUL. I have a whole blog post about Carbon Canyon Regional Park and it’s just a beautiful spot to enjoy on any day.
Remember, this is ALWAYS an option. Even when you gear up for a big hike with the kids, when you arrive it just may not be the day for that kind of exploring. So you can just take it easy and let them wear themselves out at the playground instead!
Or take a walk around the lake! Or have a picnic or BBQ at one of the many picnic tables and grills. There’s lots of room to spread out here.
The Chino Hills Discovery Center is just up the road and you could combine this play trip with a nature center trip.
Another Hike Alternative
- Yet another option is to go on a weekend for a FREE ranger-led walk to the grove after meeting at the small nature center. I believe these hikes are on hold for now, but check the calendar in the future.
- The trail is wide and you can see pretty far ahead, so make sure you look out for snakes and stay on the trail to avoid poison oak.
- This trail is used by mountain bikers, so be really aware of your surroundings and ready to dodge riders. Although, most of the riders were expecting walkers and seemed cautious coming around corners. We saw bikes on our first trip in 2014 and zero bikes on our 2022 trip. So it just depends on the day!
- We walked with the kids through the whole grove first — to see who else was there (college students filming a report, a family photo shoot, and other walkers). Then we set some boundaries where they could play a fun game of hide-and-seek while we still had eyes on them.
- You have to pay for parking.
- There is annual maintenance of the dam which could impact trail access.
- OC Parks trails are usually closed when they are muddy after it rains.
- I got a great comment on 2022 Instagram: “Pro tip: Avoid visiting Oct-Dec as will be in the way of allll the people taking family Christmas photos.” I love the local knowledge! And I also spotted Designated Photography Area signs which should make it so you won’t be too impacted on your visit. Just depends on your personal tolerance for how you’d like to experience the grove.
- I highly recommend an annual pass for OCParks.com. Otherwise, there is a $3 to $5 parking fee (totally worth it!!).
- Dedicated parking near the playground.
- Trail is dirt and jogger stroller-friendly.
- Bring your hiking backpack with first aid, enough water for everyone (it was hot), and snacks.
- Wear sunscreen and a hat.
- Official OCParks.com website for Carbon Canyon Regional Park
- I used this guide at HikeSpeak.com in 2014 while we were there and I was unsure if we were going the right way.
- Josh from CaliforniaThroughMyLens.com commented on the HikeSpeak.com post — so I looked up his always-awesome reviews with amazing photos.
- Carbon Canyon Regional Park post about the playgrounds from this blog
All that’s left for you to do is go check it out!
Originally published in January 2014.