A couple of years ago, for a previous column, I wrote about the parks of Fullerton. There was one just north of Parks Junior High School that I recently discovered I hadn’t fully explored. From the street, a wooden sign simply says, “Tree Park,” although its official name is West Coyote Hills Tree Park. At the time, I thought it was a small area of drought-resistant landscaping that was well-maintained by the city of Fullerton. However, a month ago, I revisited the park, because I was hoping to photograph a few trees for a graduate school assignment. At that time, I walked down a dirt slope from the upper part of the park and found a large lower portion of the park that was definitely not visible from the street.
According to the city of Fullerton’s website, West Coyote Hills Tree Park opened in 1979. Taking up roughly 11 acres, the park overlooks a series of suburban neighborhoods on nearby hills. Located two blocks north of Rosecrans on Parks Road, the outdoor space has a lot of hidden hiking trails running through it. Most of the park is unseen because it slopes down away from the main road into a basin. With its mature shade trees, the park provides a pleasant environment for picnics and relaxing walks for the residents of the local neighborhood.
In the part of the park that’s visible from the street, there are paved sidewalks that maneuver around a series of drought-resistant plants and excellent landscaping. Three benches look out at a view of the surrounding hills. The trees growing on the hillside below frame a clear view of north Orange County. When I visited the park, there was a trail in front of the benches that was blocked off by caution tape from the City of Fullerton Landscape Division. The trail was closed because a portion of an oak tree’s trunks had been uprooted, fallen over and was blocking access to the basin from this path. [Editor’s note: According to Parks and Rec Commissioner Jensen Hallstrom, that blocked off “trail” is actually an illegal bike trail, and not an official trail]. It’s important to note that the park is named Tree Park because of the thick number of trees between the upper area, and the basin below.
There are two ways down to the basin. Visitors can take different paths that begin on the far-left side of the upper park area. One is steeper than the other and heads up a hill. The other path is a wide one, which starts out steep at first, but gradually becomes easier. This is one of the first trails you see in the upper part of the park. It’s an unpaved, dirt path that descends a hillside with cacti on it. In between this trail and the steeper one are hidden, narrow bike trails that run between the trees and look as though they’d be fun to ride on. All trails lead to the same place—a wide, open area filled with trees, patches of grass, a small, very dried up stream of water with late spring wildflowers blooming nearby.
I chose to take the steeper route. There were a few bicyclists climbing up a dirt incline where a posted white warning sign reads, “Warning – Steep grade ahead; Bicycles prohibited; Use lower trail.” The sign was put up to deter bikers from riding on this trail. I waited until the cyclists passed and walked the same way, looking down at the park and admiring how well kept the grounds were.
The dirt path wound its way along the edge of the hillside, which overlooked a shaded grove with a variety of different trees. The trees I saw were very healthy and green, most likely from the last rain in early April. The trail was at a high elevation with a low ceiling of tree cover, and I could look out at neighboring hillside communities. The path followed a fence, made a turn, and continued following fences separating the backyards of homes from the park. At the end of the curve was another white warning sign and on this part of the trail, there was a steep slope down toward a sidewalk on Coyote Hills Drive. The hills in this park are almost like cliffs because they are so steep.
Along my hike, I spotted a brown, cotton-tailed rabbit, and several birds, including a blue jay. I also saw a bushy-tailed squirrel, and a lizard, which was frozen for a great deal of time on a tree. Within the basin, there were purple, white, and yellow wildflowers blossoming in a grassy, neatly-trimmed meadow running adjacent to the sidewalk along Coyote Hills Drive, where another entrance to the park could be found. At this entry point, there were signs posted explaining that all motorized vehicles are not allowed inside the grounds. I followed the relatively flat trails in the basin until I reached the wide trail that led back to the upper portion of the property. I found this to be a surprisingly calming wilderness area in the middle of a busy suburb. Tree Park and the parking areas around it are closed from sunset to 7am.