Not far from downtown San Juan Capistrano, up the Ortega Highway (Hwy 74)and into the surrounding hills is an 8,000 acre wilderness nature preserve. The landscape changes from scrub brush to enormous, ancient oaks and sycamore trees by the time you reach Caspers Wilderness Park. Not only are there numerous hiking trails, there are picnic areas, barbeques, and even horse corrals for those wishing to trailer in their horses for trail riding. Following the dirt road to its end, we found a steep trail with mountain bike riders zipping along at a quick pace. Because I have no inclination to ride a bike at 45 degree angles, I simply asked the more brave at heart how they like the mountain biking at Caspers Park. I got a consistent thumbs-up!
For me, the less elevated trails were very appealing.
Depending on the season, wildflowers are ofen abundant. During the rainy months, the trail that parallels the creek at the bottom of Bell Canyon tumbles over granite boulders on its way to the ocean a short distance away. There are also guided nature hikes, which in my opinion, are a good idea, given the fact that this is a place where wild animals are often seen. Not only did we see hawks, vultures, egrets, and scores of rabbits and sqirrels, when you get into the higher elevations, mountain lions are known to have been encontered! In fact, upon entering the massive park, we were given a notice this was indeed mountain lion country. The rangers' advice: Don't run! Hold your ground and wave your hands. Convince the lion that you are not pray and that you may be dangerous to it (gulp).... (About this time, I'm thinking that a guided hike with a ranger is sounding good.)
No. We didn't see a mountain lion, thank heavens. And there were dozens of horse trailers parked, families enjoying the facilities, bicyclists and hikers along the trails. Would I recommend a visit? Yes, by all means.
One interesting note: The area is actually active geologically. Marine fossils can be seen in the park's riverbeds, and there was once even a natural hot springs spa, complete with guest cottages and a general store at one end of the park. The hot springs spa was closed many years ago when a fire burned the facilities, but some of the buildings' foundations are still visible.