El Modena Open Space

Photos by Kelsey Reinhardt

A view from a trail at the El Modena Open Space. Photo by Kelsey Reinhardt

One of the first adventures I took in Orange was to El Modena Open Space. It’s only a 15 minute drive from Chapman and is the closest natural area to campus.

This area is on the edge of Orange and close to Santiago Oaks Regional Park. There are plenty of gorgeous rolling hills spotted with wildflowers and cacti, and the space offers a great view of the city of Orange and its surrounding communities. Although it’s not a huge space, it’s the closest hiking option to campus and provides a great view. This is the perfect place to get off campus to watch the sunset and see the city lights for an evening.

When we arrived at El Modena, we hiked for a little while and were able to see cacti, birds, different kinds of plants and some bunnies. After only a few minutes of strenuous walking uphill, we got to the top and had a beautiful view of miles of the city, hills and mountains, and could even see the ocean in the distance. The sunset was beautiful, and soon we headed back down.

Things to do:

  • Hike. There are about 2.5 miles of hiking trails in this space to walk or run. You can go for as long or short a time as you’d like. There are multiple trailheads to start or finish at near the road where you can park.
  • Admire the interesting rocks and wildlife surrounding the trail and hills (the last time I went I saw rabbits!). The amount of cacti is really a unique feature, it really feels like you’re in the desert.

A beautiful sunset seen from El Modena Open Space. Photo by Kelsey Reinhardt


  • El Modena Open Space is part of the lower (in elevation) western side of the Santa Ana mountains which used to form volcanoes. There is still visible evidence in the rocks that volcanoes have erupted there before. Obviously, El Modena is not going to erupt anytime soon, but it’s interesting to know that the rolling hills used to be volcanoes.
  • About 15 million years ago, during the Miocene age, different kinds of rock, basalt, andesite and tuff were formed by the melting lava after the volcanoes erupted. These deposits go 700 feet deep under the Earth’s surface. They are formed by melting lava from the volcanoes.

A trail at El Modena Open Space. Photo by Kelsey Reinhardt


  • Unfortunately, since the trails are near the road, it’s not as secluded as some of the other parks around the area and you can hear faint traffic.
  • Be careful going back down the trail because the ground is dusty and can get slippery, especially if you’re walking at night.
  • Don’t disturb the plants or animals on the side of the trail, they are fragile and should not be touched.
  • Try parking on the side streets across from El Modena. It’s free and not usually busy.

Even though it’s a small place to explore, it’s easy to get to and is a nice escape from the Orange Plaza and Chapman’s campus. It’s a beautiful sight to see the sunset from on top of the hills and sometimes, if the sky is clear enough, you can see the sun setting on the ocean.

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