The Color of Winter at Riley Wilderness Park

santiago peak in the distance
a peek at two peaks: Santiago and Modjeska

My second favorite Orange County Park, behind Caspers Wilderness Park, is Thomas F. Riley Wilderness Park. Riley is considerably smaller compared to some of the other OC Parks, but beautiful nonetheless. I had some free time to hike sans children this past weekend so my sister and I hit the trails.

The color of springtime is in the flowers; the color of winter is in the imagination. ~Terri Guillemets

The Color of Winter

Many winter quotes like the one above don’t apply to the winters I experience in Orange County, California. Yes, we are having a fairly frigid winter season, but we never have a white winter. Snow is the norm in many parts of the country and even a few hours away in our local mountains, but not here.

It’s hiking weather and the hills are alive!

Rain has been plentiful for us this season and our reward is a visual one. We don’t need to imagine it. We see it. We live it.

Riley Wilderness Park

green grass in Riley Wilderness park January 2013

If you live here you know this greenery is short-lived. After spring, usually in June sometime, the hills begin to turn a muted shade of brown. And that’s okay, if you like brown.

I prefer green, though.

green grass riley wilderness park orange county, ca
my sis taking it all in

I will hike Riley year round, but in the summer months I usually visit later in the day. This park is one of the least crowded outdoor places in the OC park system. Exactly how I like it. Rarely do we run into other people, but the weather was in the mid-50s and the locals were out to enjoy.

Perfect hiking weather, really.

filtered light oak tree orange county, california
oak tree on the Sycamore Loop trail
mule deer riley wilderness park orange county california
mule deer walking a well-worn trail

Riley Wilderness Park is a fantastic park to view wildlife. Mule deer sightings occur each time I visit. We saw two groups of four this day.

nature in orange county california

oak tree mule deer trail and pheasant run trail
broken oak in between the Mule Deer and Pheasant Run trails

Oak trees are my all time favorite. This oak with its broken branch sits begging to be photographed.

cacti coastal sage scrub habitat riley wilderness park
cacti on the Mule Deer trail

Near the top of Mule Deer trail there is a surprise waiting. Seemingly out of nowhere a coastal sage scrub habitat grows. Cacti litter the trail and if you visit later in the year you will see colorful, blooming cactus flowers.

Have you hiked our green hills lately? What is the color of winter where you live?

We hiked almost every trail in the park making somewhat of a figure eight.

The trails we took this day:

  • Mule Deer
  • Skink Vista Point
  • Vista Ridge
  • Oak Canyon
  • Sycamore Loop
  • back to Mule Deer
  • Pheasant Run
  • Wagon Wheel Canyon

Today’s Stats:

  • 4 miles
  • Elevation: up 3147 total feet / 3985 total feet down
  • Altitude: 474 feet

Riley Wilderness Park at EveryTrail


Additional posts at Riley Wilderness Park:


  1. says

    beautiful pictures!
    Have not been to Riley in WAY too long — used to hike there every Tuesday.
    One of our favorite Rangers is @ Riley – Donna K!

  2. Christine says

    Looks like a great park. And you’re right, the greenery doesn’t last long enough. We have a nice spot in my neck of the woods, to hike, when its green. LOL. The brown drab doesn’t entice. Thank you for the review. Great pics!

  3. Jeff Hester says

    I like the photo of the tree with the sun behind it. And any hike in OC where you spot deer is a treat! I’ve seen deer in Crystal Cove, Aliso-Woods Canyon, and even the San Juan Hills!

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