Chino Hills State Park, located in Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, preserves some much-needed "breathing room" in this fast-growing area. Nearly 3 million people live within sight of the Chino Hills and more than 9 million people live within a 40-mile radius of the park.
The 10,000-acre park is the state's most expensive, with more than $47 million spent by the time it opened for full-time use in 1986. Right now, Chino Hills is a park-in-the-making. Few signs or facilities have been installed, but plans call for 35 miles of hiking trails and 62 miles of riding trails.
Extensive grasslands blanket the slopes. The hills are covered with wild oats, rye, black mustard and wild radish. On south-facing slopes is the soft-leaved shrub community, dominated by aromatic herbs, including white, black and purple sage.
Since the current park trail system is largely a complicated web of old dirt ranch roads, hikers are advised to stop at the ranger station for a good look at the large topographic map that locates trails.
Directions to trailhead: Despite its adjacency to the metropolis, Chino Hills State Park can be a bit tricky to find. The park is west of California 71 between the Riverside and Pomona freeways. Traveling south on California 71 from the Pomona Freeway, visitors should turn right on Los Serranos Road and then make a quick left onto Pomona-Rincon Road. (Visitors heading north on California 71 from the Riverside Freeway will spot, before reaching Los Serranos Road, a left-turn lane leading directly to Pomona-Rincon Road.) A half mile of travel along Pomona-Rincon Road brings you to a brickyard with a mailbox marked "15838 Rolling M Ranch."
Take the dirt road next to the brickyard for two miles to the park entrance. Continue on the main park road and follow signs to the park office and ranger station. The road forks just before the ranger station. To the right is the ranger station and a trailer housing the temporary Visitors Center. Bear left one-half mile on the dirt road to a vehicle barrier and trailhead parking. The signed trailhead is located a short distance past the vehicle barrier on the right of the road.
The park is open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The hike: Hills-for-People Trail, named for the conservation group that was instrumental in establishing the park, descends to a small creek and follows the creek up a canyon. Shading the trail--and shielding the hiker from a view of the many power lines that cross the park--are oaks, sycamores and the somewhat rare California black walnut.
The trail, which can be quite slippery and muddy after a rain, passes a small waterfall. The slopes just above the creek bed are carpeted with lush grasses and miners lettuce.
Along the trail is evidence of the park's ranching heritage, including lengths of barbed wire fence and old cattle troughs. Sometimes a trespassing cow will wander down from a nearby ranch.
Near the trail's end, it ascends out of the creek bed to the head of Telegraph Canyon and intersects a dirt road. McDermont Spring is just down the road.
From McDermont Spring you may return the same way or extend your hike by continuing on Telegraph Canyon Trail (a dirt park road closed to public vehicular traffic), which stays close to the canyon bottom and its creek. It's a gentle descent under the shade of oak and walnut trees. Those not inclined to hike the 5 1/2-mile length of the Telegraph Canyon (all the way to Carbon Canyon Regional Park) might consider exploring this stretch before returning to the trailhead.
Ranch Road to McDermont Spring: four miles round trip; 400-foot elevation gain.