O'Neill's Trails--and Tribulations

O'Neill Regional Park, set on the edge of the county's rural canyon country and full of mature oaks, is certainly scenic.

Trails, though, are mostly an afterthought. The county recently completed a $1.6-million renovation of the park, but most of that was put into rehabilitating camping and day-use areas. The park's trails were left off the list, although a local equestrian group has been lately putting some volunteer muscle into fixing up the paths.

So while it's not an ideal destination for a full day of hiking, O'Neill is a great place for a picnic, and it does have several shorter trails that can provide the ideal post-picnic amble.

One of these is the Hoffman Homestead Trail, which traverses a hillside that parallels Live Oak Canyon Road (the approach road to the park) but stays mainly out of sight of that rural thoroughfare.

The trail head is at the end of a park road at some distance from the main picnic areas, so it's a quiet place to stroll. To reach the trail, take a hairpin right just after paying your $2 entry fee at the park's ranger station. Stay on the road to its end and park; the beginning of the trail is marked with a sign on the left side of the road near the end.

Aside from a few minor dips and climbs, the trail is fairly flat. Well-marked, the trail cuts through dense plant growth of the coastal sage community, fragrant and evergreen.

Some plants are still in bloom, and birds and butterflies are abundant.

Two brief but scenic detours take hikers back a short way into oak-lined side canyons. Much of the trail is shaded, but parts are in full sun, so avoid the trail at midday, wear a hat and bring water.

The entire walk takes about half an hour. It is not a loop, so hikers have to retrace their steps on the trail or walk along the park road to get back to the car.

A few words of warning: Maybe it was just a bad day, but I had trouble getting much trail information from park employees when I entered the park ("What's a good short hike?" I asked one. "I don't know," he replied. "Just park the car somewhere and start walking.")

When I returned later to ask about the Vista Trail, I was given directions to the trail head. From there, I walked a quarter-mile to the base of the actual trail, only to find that it was posted as closed because of storm damage.

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