Bicycling along Aliso Creek in Orange County

May 3, 2010 § 2 Comments

Orange County’s Aliso Creek just downstream of the 5 Freeway

Last week, I took Metrolink down to visit my sister’s family in Laguna Niguel – about an hour’s train ride from downtown Los Angeles. I used Google’s new “go by bike” directions, and found myself on the Aliso Creek Bike Path. As I travel around, I enjoy checking out various creeks to see what might make sense for restoration and revitalization in Los Angeles.

Aliso is Spanish for alder (tree.) There are actually quite a few Aliso Creeks in California and Arizona – including a Los Angeles River tributary. That Aliso Creek (also called Aliso Canyon Wash) runs north/south through the western San Fernando Valley, and has its confluence with the L.A. River just a half-dozen blocks west of Reseda Boulevard. The Orange County Aliso Creek, where I biked last week, runs nearly 20 miles from the Santa Ana Mountains, though the suburban cities/communities of Lake Forest, Laguna Hills, Aliso Viejo and empties into the Pacific Ocean in southern Laguna Beach. It crosses below the 5 Freeway just south of El Toro Road.

Aliso Creek at the 5 Freeway

My grandparents used to live in El Toro, not far from this creek, and we used to take walks into the undeveloped areas (then mostly farmland) – including what I think must have been Aliso Creek… though I am not entirely sure. I remember one exploration when grampa – William Gerhardt – and my brothers, sister and I were exploring a sandy creekbed, and I upset a hornets’ nest and ended up with some painful stings. Nonetheless, I think that some of these explorations may have laid some of the foundations for me becoming one of L.A.’s creek freaks.

Last week, I rode an approximately 2-mile stretch of Aliso Creek from Laguna Hills High School to Trabuco Road. The complexion of the creekbed varies from relatively natural to entirely reinforced with concrete, generally more natural as one heads upstream. Overall, it featured much more soft-bottom areas than what I am used to seeing on channelized waterways in L.A. County.

One of the best things about Aliso Creek is that it does have a continuous bike path, which, on a weekday late afternoon, was well-used by runners, walkers, and cyclists. It’s also utilized occasionally my nephews and niece. Along the path, the city of Laguna Hills has installed historical signage telling the early history of the area, including the Juan Avila adobe.

Aliso Creek just downstream of Los Alisos Boulevard in Lake Forest. Even in the absence of a nautural creekbed, the bike/walk trail is popular

Portions of the creek are all concrete. In these areas, the bike path crosses underneath bridges by going along the creek floor – somewhat similar to L.A.’s Arroyo Seco Bike Path. This solution could be useful for completing the L.A. River bike path – especially in the eastern half of the San Fernando Valley, where bridge abutments block at grade crossings. These valley areas could look somewhat like this photo (below); the channel is all concrete with the path along the channel floor and stair-stepped walls, allowing for able-bodied folks to enter and exit the channel easily.

Aliso Creek just upstream of Los Alisos Boulevard. Note the stepped concrete sides and bike path running on the channel floor along the right side of the photo.

It’s not perfection, nor restoration, but these sorts of solutions could be key to creating continuous paths/trails – which could really get more folks using our channelized rivers and creeks. Ideally this treatment would be applicable in places where there is not sufficient right-of-way available for more holistic restoration of natural functions.

Despite quite a bit of suburban encroachment, there’s still plenty of undeveloped land where tall sycamore and oak trees predominate.

Aliso Creek viewed from the footbridge downstream of Trabuco Road

With plenty of natural bottom, and quite a bit of adjacent parkland (at least in the stretches that I rode), Aliso Creek seems like a place where restoring endangered steelhead trout may be feasible. I’ll have to head down and explore more to confirm – hopefully with my nephews and niece …

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§ 2 Responses to Bicycling along Aliso Creek in Orange County

  • Jim says:

    Some good routes and rides here. I drove passed here 2 weeks ago on my hols. Great cycling along the coast. Good article – thanks

  • [...] Belong has written CicLAvia a nice big check — literally. Meanwhile, Joe also takes a spin up Orange County’s Aliso Creek. Enci Box suggests adequate bike parking would make L.A. a more bike friendly city. L.A.’s best [...]

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