Chino Hills State Park: The Complete Guide

Chino Hills State Park

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Chino Hills State Park

Address
4721 Sapphire Rd, Chino Hills, CA 91709-6118, USA
Phone +1 951-780-6222

Escape the urban din and hustle at Chino Hills State Park, a former cattle ranch turned peaceful oasis in the hills near Riverside and Santa Ana Canyon. The 14,000-plus acres of undulating grassy hills, oak and sycamore-dotted woodlands, and quiet scrub-covered valleys are the perfect environment to hike, bike, bird, picnic, camp, or ride horses in.

Hands down the best time to visit is early spring when the wildflowers are mostly likely to be out, the hills are green (if there’s been enough rain), and animals are active. Otherwise, you'll do fine to plan your visit between late September and May. In the summer, it is extremely hot and brown. 

History

Before Europeans made their way to California, this region was the territory of the Gabrielino Indians. They lived along the Santa Ana River basin but set up temporary camps in the Chino Hills to gather acorns, elderberries, walnuts, and seeds. 

Once the Spanish built Mission San Gabriel in 1771, the hillsides became grazing grounds for the cattle they brought with them. During the Mexican Republic era, massive ranchos like Santa Ana del Chino and La Sierra Madre were established, and they continued to use the hills as cow food. Cattle ranching continued after Mexico gave California to the U.S in 1848. In 1948, Rolling M Ranch, the current site of the park's campground, was founded.

The state started looking into converting the Chino Hills into a park in 1977, but it did not become official until 1984. At that time, the park was 2,237 acres. Various private landholders have since sold their holdings to the state, and the park has expanded to more than 14,000 acres.

Things to Do

The small Discovery Center, located in Brea, has a variety of educational exhibits about animals (taxidermy warning!), plants, climate issues and wildfires, and the history of the park. It’s a popular place for school trips during the week. Staff and volunteers lead nature hikes, talks, and programs. Minors can become junior rangers.

Because of the large variety of habitats and microclimates, the park can be a good place to see some of the 200 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, and amphibians who call this place home in the wild. It is a good place for birding as several types of Central and South American birds fly there in the spring to nest and raise young in the riparian zones and along the creeks annually. Some such as the least Bell’s vireo, the California gnatcatcher, and the coastal cactus wren are considered rare, threatened, or endangered. 

There are also a lot of rare plants and trees represented here. Only a few thousand acres of walnut woodlands, a mix of black walnut trees, and coast live oaks still exist in the whole Golden State—and a hair over 1,000 are in preserves. Chino Hills State Park protects several hundred acres, as well as Tecate cypress conifers, found in just a few places in the nation.

For a picnic with a view, there are tables and shade at two vista points in Bane Canyon.

Wildflowers at Chino Hills State Park

Sumiko Scott/Getty Images

Best Hikes & Trails

More than 90 miles of multi-use trails are found zigzagging their way around the grasslands, hillsides, chaparral, sage scrubs, woodlands, and several creeks. They range from 0.8 to 16.5 miles in length and cover between 459 to 2,240 feet above sea level. Most are designated as moderate in difficulty. Night hiking, even if you’re camping there, is forbidden. There are equestrian facilities if you’d prefer to tackle some trails on horseback. Hikers and bikers should remember that equestrians have the right of way on multi-use paths.

Note that park trails are open from sunrise to sunset daily and parking lots operate between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Some highlights:

  • Bane Canyon Loop: The wildflowers are worth having to share this popular 5.8-mile trail in the spring. There is a shorter, 3.4-mile version as well.
  • Coal Canyon: This 9.8-mile out-and-back trail features a waterfall and Picnic Rock, which some have described as a mini-Moab.
  • Gilman Peak and San Juan Hill: Tackling trails that get you up to Gilman Peak and San Juan Hill, the tallest point in the park, is rewarded with wide vistas. Those views are particularly stunning when nearby mountain ranges are capped in snow.
  • North Ridge Trail: This 12.2-mile trails is currently being redone to address erosion issues in the precious walnut woodlands. Check for closures before heading out on it.

Where to Camp

Surrounded by hills and featuring a historic barn, windmill, and cattle chute, the Rolling M Ranch Campground has 20 sites near trailheads. Amenities include potable water, flush toilets, showers, and barbeque grills (at each space). In-ground fires are not allowed. Animals are welcome but must remain on-leash and must be kept inside a vehicle or your tent overnight. There is no backcountry or off-site camping. Camping trailers up to 30 feet are allowed. There is no vehicle access to campsites after dark. Sites are $30 a night. Reservations can be made online or by phone at 800-444-7275. 

How to Get There

The park is located off CA-91 near the city of Chino. It is about 30 miles from Riverside, 39 miles from downtown Los Angeles, and 109 miles from San Diego.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Day use is $5 per vehicle ($4 for seniors 62 and up) and is payable by card only at the unmanned machine next to the restrooms or at the kiosk when an attendant is present.
  • Park passes such as the California Explorer Vehicle Day Use, Golden Poppy Vehicle Day Use, Limited Use Golden Bear (not valid between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day), Golden Bear, and the Distinguished Veteran Pass are also accepted here. The Disabled Discount Pass qualifies the holder for half-price camping and day use. 
  • The park closes for at least 48 hours following more than a quarter-inch of rain because the soil’s high clay content causes extremely slick trails and roads. It makes activities far more treacherous and also causes damage to the paths. The park also closes when the National Weather Service declares a Red Flag Warning for extreme fire danger in the region.
  • All trash must be packed out.  
  • Rattlesnakes live here and occasionally they come out to sun themselves on the trail. If one crosses your path, just give it a little time to slither away. They feel the vibrations of your footsteps and generally do not strike at humans unless provoked. If it doesn’t want to move, alert a ranger. Do not try to relocate snakes by yourself.
  • Be on the lookout for ticks.
  • Always check the weather, dress in layers, drink lots of water, bring a first-aid kit, and know that cell phones usually don’t work here. 
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California's Chino Hills State Park: The Complete Guide