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Information Regarding Unauthorized Trails

Grass lined dirt trail with a "Do Not Enter" sign

OC Parks serves as the steward of 60,000 acres of County parks, beaches and open space. This stewardship involves the protection and preservation of sustainable, healthy habitat both for generations of future visitors and also the local wildlife that live in it.

The County’s regional and wilderness parks and open space offer hundreds of miles of existing trails for pedestrian, bicycle and equestrian uses. Building and use of unauthorized trails, however, remains an ongoing issue.

These unauthorized trails cut through preserved habitat and jeopardize public access, native habitat and wildlife. In many parks, OC Parks does not even have the discretion to allow or disregard unauthorized trails; it is bound by state and federal agencies to preserve the land.

Here are some of the top reasons to stay off unauthorized, unmarked trails.

Protect your access!

Creating and using unauthorized trails can lead to loss of public access to parkland. In some cases, multiple layers of restrictions legally protect areas designated as conserved lands. Agreements with California Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allow for public access in these areas, second only to habitat and resource protection. Recreation is permitted only when it can occur without impacts to habitat and wildlife.

Authorized trails as designated on official park maps and signage, were adopted into the parks’ General Development Plan (GDP) and Resource Management Plan (RMP) after extensive research and surveys by biologists to determine those that would have the least impact on the sustainability of the environment.  OC Parks is obligated to maintain the land in accordance with our management obligations as outlined in the GDP and RMP, which includes a list of the trails and areas that the public may access.  The County (OC Parks) is subject to steep fines and may be pressured to reduce public access by these regulatory state and federal wildlife agencies.

Protect biodiversity!

While it may not be apparent to the untrained eye, many unauthorized trails travel through some of the most environmentally sensitive and fragile habitat, home to several threatened and endangered species.

Even though an authorized trail may sometimes be wide, its environmental impact is far less significant since many were originally ranch roads that have existed for over a hundred years. By intentionally utilizing these historic alignments, our trail systems take advantage of areas that are already devoid of native plants rather than destructing existing, intact natural habitat.

Trail cutting and the use of unauthorized trails reduces living space for wildlife, allows invasive weeds to creep deeper into untouched wilderness, damages overall habitat health and potentially jeopardizes the public’s right to regularly access these special areas.

Honor the past, present and future of our wildlands!

Some parks and open space, including Laguna Coast and Aliso and Wood Canyons wilderness parks remain as parks today only because of hard work and environmental advocacy to preserve the land. The area where those are now enjoyed by many were slated for development and homebuilding. Through years of activism, including a tax bond Laguna Beach voters passed to purchase the land, these parks are now protected in perpetuity. OC Parks works to preserve these lands and allow recreation that will keep them vibrant and healthy for future generations to enjoy.

So we can’t ever have new trails?

OC Parks works hard to balance resource protection with public recreation. This often involves a give-and-take of one trail for another, an awareness of what areas have specific environment and archeological sensitivities and protections, and what sections may be more appropriate for increased use. OC Parks has worked with stakeholders to add trails into the system under the correct circumstances, including Car Wreck Trail at Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park; Lizard Trail at Laguna Coast Wilderness Park; and Water Works, Las Flores Ridge and Ladera Ridge trails at O’Neill Regional Park.

How do you decommission an unauthorized trail?

Decompacting trail tread is a common technique used to close trails. Shallow holes are dug the length of the trail in order to trap native seeds and water in order to initiate and speed up the restoration process. Additionally, the trail tread is broken up with pick axes and native seeds and cactus are added along the trail tread.  The final step is to cover the old trail alignment with native brush, which screens the trail and speeds up the germination of the native seed bank and improves restoration success.

What can I do?

The best way to help keep parks and trails healthy is by not creating or riding unauthorized trails or modifying existing trails without approval. If you see anyone else doing so, please report it to park staff.

We welcome constructive input from stakeholders and park users. You may contact us at

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