Explore the best local trails and get a workout at the same time with Fitness Hikes led by the Laguna Canyon Foundation.
By Jessie Dax-Setkus and Laguna Beach Magazine Staff
One of the best things about living in Orange County is the ability to go on hikes with breathtaking views all year round. And Laguna Canyon Foundation offers regular Fitness Hikes for those looking to get outdoors and break a sweat. Experienced hikers—including the nonprofit’s outreach and development director, Derek Breaux—spearheads these outings. Here, he describes what to expect when hitting the local trails for fitness.
Laguna Beach Magazine: Can you tell us about your background with hiking?
Derek Breaux: I have been hiking my whole life. My … experience started in the Superstition Wilderness [in Tonto National Forest] just outside of Phoenix, Arizona, with my parents and sister when I was 7 or 8 years old. A lot of what my family did for fun growing up revolved around camping and hiking. … For me, the promise of always seeing something cool … on every hike—even if it’s my 100th time on the trail—is what gets me excited.
What makes the Fitness Hikes unique?
DB: The Fitness Hike is unique because it is an opportunity to see some incredible trails in both Laguna Coast Wilderness Park and Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park while engaging with some extremely knowledgeable … volunteers. In order to motivate hikers to return every week, we offer the Fitness Hike in five different locations, each with their own unique challenges and reasons to join.
What is your favorite location for the Fitness Hike?
DB: My favorite … is our Nix/Little Sycamore route. It is a challenging route with over 1,000 feet of elevation gain, but the views of vast open space, geological features, wildlife and panoramic vista points … [are] well worth the thigh burn.
What are the health benefits of the Fitness Hike?
DB: Due to the fast pace and steep elevation gain of the Fitness Hike, frequent hikers are likely to build stronger bones and muscles, improve their balance, improve their heart health and decrease the risk of respiratory problems. … The National Park Service suggests that hiking helps to improve relational health as well—group … hikes like the Fitness Hike help to build and maintain friendships.
What can you see while hiking in Laguna?
DB: When hiking in and around Laguna Beach, you are immersed in the coastal sage scrub plant community, which is known as a biodiversity hot spot—a designation given to areas such as the Amazon rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. The coastal sage scrub is home to many native plants and animals, some of which are endangered species. … I love to pause during my hikes and admire all the small plants and flowers that most hikers don’t notice. Quiet and observant hikers are likely to be treated to exciting wildlife sightings, including foraging mule deer, birds of prey nesting in the cliffs and several species of butterflies.
What should a first-timer expect on the trails?
DB: First, check to see if there are any guided hikes coming up that interest you. It is always fun to hike with like-minded people, and guides are often extremely knowledgeable in the trail system along with the native flora and fauna. If you are venturing out on your own, try to familiarize yourself with the trail you plan to hike. … A hike is also more fun when you can become engaged with the scenery, so picking up native plant, animal or geology guides can turn your hike into a learning experience. Lastly, be sure you understand what areas are open and when; responsible hikers stay on the trail, follow the rules (be sure to check whether dogs are allowed on trail) and only hike when the park is open. Our wilderness parks close at sunset to give the animals a chance to forage and hunt, which will be disrupted if humans are present.