Trail Tips

Be Prepared!

The first thing to know about hiking or riding in the wilderness is that it is very different than walking around the block or even in your neighborhood park. The excitement and beauty of hitting the trails is what draws people outdoors, but being prepared for the unique challenges of walking or riding in the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks is key to a positive experience. Here are some tips that will get you off on the right foot.

Note: For docent-led activities, activity leaders may turn away participants who are under-prepared. This is for your own safety and to ensure an enjoyable experience for everyone on the trails.



  • Drink water before during and after your hike or ride.
  • Rule of thumb: 1 liter or 32 ounces per hour, per person.
  • For longer or more strenuous hikes, carry a backpack or waistpack that can accommodate the amount of water you will need.
  • Drink before you’re thirsty – thirst is a sign of dehydration.
  • Water is generally not available at the staging areas or along the trails, so come prepared.
  • Some staging areas have horse troughs, but not all. Bring water for your horse to have along the way.



  • Special clothing is generally not necessary, but comfortable, breathable clothing will help you stay comfortable.
  • Layering is key in all types of weather – warmer layers in the winter, and a long-sleeved, loose shirt in the summer helps protect you from the sun.
  • A wide-brimmed hat is also a good sun barrier.
  • For more strenuous hikes with steep or rocky trails, sturdy hiking shoes are recommended. For flat or paved trails, good running shoes are recommended. Even for the easiest hikes, close-toed, athletic-type shoes are required.
  • Mountain bikers and equestrians should make sure their attire matches their activity.



  • Specialized gear is generally not necessary for easy or moderate hikes.
  • A light backpack or waistpack can help store clothing, water, identification, and other gear.
  • Bring a snack! Fruit, granola or a meal bar will help during a hike that is 3 hours or longer.
  • Pack your cell phone, identification, allergy medications and information about any health-related issues that might arise (i.e alert bracelets or cards). Especially important to bring any asthma- or bee sting-related medications, if needed.
  • Sunblock should be re-applied every two hours, so bring it along.
  • Consider buying a small, basic first-aid bag to throw in your pack.
  • Mountain bike riders must bring helmets and should bring a bike repair kit.
  • Equestrian riders must bring their own horse in their own trailer and should wear helmets.
  • If you want, cameras and binoculars are extra nice to have along the trail.



  • Review the event description as well as the Difficulty Rating when selecting an activity.
  • Mileage and pace are key considerations for the difficulty of an activity. Before you sign up for a docent-led activity with a set pace and mileage, practice on your own using a pedometer or a smartphone app such as MapMyWalk or MapMyHike.
  • Three or even six miles may not sound long, but unless you are positive that you have walked that distance, try a shorter or slower activity first.
  • Cardio hikes, trail runs and distance hikes have specific paces to help the group stay together and enjoy the activity. Before participating in these activities, practice and be sure of your pace.
  • Mountain bike rides have technical difficulty as well as pace and mileage considerations. There are some rides that are for advanced and experienced trail riders only. Mountain Biking Clinics are offered regularly by Irvine Ranch Conservancy.
  • All horses on equestrian activities must have trail experience and be desensitized to the unique stimuli found along the wilderness trails.


Hiking With Kids

  • Bring plenty of yummy, healthy snacks, and water or flavored energy drinks, too. Be prepared to stop and fuel often. Happy bellies create happy experiences.
  • While it’s great encouragement for our future little hikers to be able to carry their own supplies, do keep it light weight, and be prepared to carry it yourself. Suggested items for children to carry: water, snacks, small binoculars, a journal
  • Include your children in the planning process: where to go, what to do, what to see. It will give them an investment in the trip and make them feel more like “the grown-ups,” too.
  • Travel short distances when first starting out, and travel at a kid’s pace. Do not rush the experience.
  • If hiking with two or more children, offer different duties for each child, such as line leader, bird watcher, animal tracker, or binocular holder. Rotate the duties so each child can participate in a different, important role.
  • Explore the wonders in nature along the trail. Search for animal clues, play nature bingo, watch for wildlife, take photos, sketch in a journal, emphasize the fun and joy in nature!
  • Be mindful of the heat. Keep in mind that the closer you are to the ground the higher the temperature feels. For little ones, this means they are going to heat up and tire faster, in general, than an adult will. They will feel the heat much more intensely! Sunscreen and sun hats are an absolute must have on warm days.


Trail Etiquette

Multi-use trail etiquette: Remember that bikers yield to hikers and that bikers and hikers yield to equestrians.


  • Speak courteously and call out appropriately to others. Give them time to react after you alert them to your presence, and never assume that they know you are approaching.
  • Stay on the trail. Creating your own paths, using unmarked trails or creating switchbacks creates erosion, damages habitat and could lead to illegal trespassing.
  • Respect other users; expect other users. When in doubt, give other users the right of way.
  • Keep your ears open for approaching trail users. If using headphones, keep the volume low or use one earbud.
  • Don’t assume your fellow trail users know trail etiquette – they may be new to trail use and still learning. If someone acts in error, be kind and courteous in suggesting a correction, stressing safe shared trail use. Be an ambassador for trail etiquette, not an enforcer.