Tucked away neatly under coast live oak and sycamore trees in Trabuco and Live Oak Canyons, O’Neill Regional Park serves both as a day use picnic area as well as an overnight camping facility.
Close to the inner-city sprawl of Southern California, the hillsides surrounding the park are filled with cactus, sagebrush, and chaparral of scrub oak creating an environment that allows visitors to feel they are miles away from civilization.
O’Neill Regional Park History
Like many of the parks in the Orange County Park system, O’Neill is steeped in history. The area was first discovered on July 23rd, 1769, by Gaspar de Portola who was leading an expedition in an area that later became known as Orange County.
On the second day of his journey, he began to head inland so he could avoid the swamps and streams that filled the surrounding area.
While the group he was leading were camping out, one of the soldiers lost his musket, which was also known as a “Trabuco”. The entire area has since been named Trabuco Canyon in honor of that event.
Since its discovery, the park area itself has changed hands many times over the years and is currently a part of the Rancho Trabuco. The O’Neills have made many donations over the years, with the first coming back in 1948 when they donated 278 acres, and again in 1963, when they donated another 120 acres.
Things To Do O’Neill Regional Park
Nearly 11 years later, the county purchased another 232 acres, which led to another acquisition of 30. The last transaction came when 935 acres were dedicated by the Rancho Mission Viejo Company, bringing the park’s total land area to just shy of 3,500 acres.
O’Neill park has many seasonal activities, but the main draw is the picnic and campground facilities, as well as an equestrian campground, an arena and 18 miles of riding and hiking trails.
The picnic areas provide for single, and group users, and contains tables, barbecues, a large grass area, horseshoe pits and playground equipment.
O’Neill Park has trails for mountain bikes, horses, and hikers. Mesa trail and Live Oak trail are dog-friendly.
Park guests may also visit the O’Neill Park Nature Center, open every weekend and weekdays by request.
Camping O’Neill Regional Park
The 79 -site campground also incorporates 3.5 acres that are available for RV groups on a reservations-only basis. Hookups are available and camping fees are $20 per night.
The park itself runs from 7 in the morning through sunset on a daily basis. Although the trails are closed for three days following rain, camping at the park is open year-round.
Be sure to register between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. You can reserve individual areas of the park for your party if you wish.
You may do this ahead of time online, or in person when you arrive if you wish. Be aware that if you choose the latter, areas may not always be available.
Campsites at O’Neill Park are spacious compared to most campgrounds and include a picnic table, fire pit, and barbecue. Campsites 1 through 29 back onto Trabuco Canyon Road and are the least desirable. Campsites 31 to 78 are adjacent to seasonal Trabuco Creek and offer the best wilderness experience.
Showers, bathrooms, and potable water in close proximity to all sites and for only $20.00 a night O’Neill Park is a great place for camping. Dogs are permitted in the park on a leash at dog-friendly areas of the park: day use area, camping area, and Mesa Trail.
Getting to O’Neill Regional Park
O’Neill Park is located just north of Rancho Santa Margarita in Trabuco Canyon, 11 miles east of the San Diego Freeway via El Toro and Live Oak Canyon Roads.
Day use fees are $3.00 per carload, $5.00 on weekends and $7.00 on Holidays. Day use hours 7:00 AM to Sunset.
Nearby O’Neill Regional Park
Cooks Corner has been serving up grub at the entrance to Live Oak Canyon Road in Orange County since the 1920s. Cooks became a full bar when prohibition ended in 1933.