Enjoy a panorama of mountains, blue ocean, and plenty of urban sprawl from Orange County's Robbers Peak.

The name Robbers Peak commemorates the notorious outlaws Joaquin Murietta, Three Finger Jack, and others of the late 1800s. Swooping down out of the hills, these bandits terrorized farmers below and preyed upon passengers traveling the Butterfield Stage route. From Robbers Peak the miscreants could easily spot and evade sheriff's posses by slipping into the rugged ravines leading back toward the Santa Ana Mountains.

Whatever historical charm Robbers Peak has is not reflected in the current condition of its summit, which has a sandstone outcrop emblazoned with graffiti. Still, from this height you get a panoramic view of the lowlands to the south and west -- a composite of disappearing pastoral landscapes and spreading suburban sprawl. On clear days, the panorama includes the blue arc of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Catalina Island.

There's a trivially easy way to reach Robbers Peak from a public-access gravel roadway starting at Nohl Ranch Road and Serrano Avenue in Anaheim Hills -- but the looping route described here, beginning at Santiago Oaks Regional Park, is far more scenic and exciting. To reach the park, take Freeway 55 north from Interstate 5, and exit at Katella Avenue in Orange. Travel east on Katella (which quickly becomes Villa Park Road and finally Santiago Canyon Road) a total of three miles to Windes Drive on the left. Follow Windes Drive to the Santiago Oaks' parking lot.

On the main trail ahead, cross Santiago Creek at the first opportunity, and continue along the Santiago Creek Trail, with Santiago Creek on your right for 0.6 mile. At that point you reach a trail junction where Santiago Creek Trail continues south, bound for Irvine Regional Park, and the Bobcat Loop trail veers left. Go left, and shortly thereafter find and follow a steep, eroded trail going east up a ridge. As you climb, the massive Villa Park flood-control dam comes into full view, along with its spillway on the far side.

At the top of the ridge-running trail (1.1 miles) lies a 948-foot knoll (just west) with the best view yet of the dam and the endless suburbs beyond it. Continue northeast, along the same ridge, which undulates a bit as it climbs toward Robbers Peak. A side trail (the designated Anaheim Hills Trail) intersects at 1.6 miles on the left. Just beyond, in a saddle, the same Anaheim Hills Trail diverges to the right. Keep following the ridge, curling north and then west toward the 1152-foot summit of Robbers Peak, 2.0 miles from the start.

After taking in the comprehensive view, walk back down the east side of the peak and turn left on a dirt road heading west just below the peak. You go down along a ridge -- taking note of the Anaheim Hills Trail plunging on the left and a gravel road branching on the right leading to an elementary school on Serrano Avenue -- and proceed to junction with the Peralta Hills Trail (2.5 miles). Stay left on the Anaheim Hills Trail, choosing the more scenic alternative route back down to the starting point. As you descend, Anaheim Hills Trail becomes Oak Trail, and you soon find yourself in a wooded area close to Santiago Creek and not far from the parking lot where you began.

This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.

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