Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park
33401 Ortega Hwy. (P. O. Box 395)
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
(949) 923-2210 or (949) 923-2207
Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park is an 8,000 acre protected wilderness preserve nestled among the river terraces and sandstone canyons of the western coastal Santa Ana Mountains. It is the largest park in the OC Park system. The park’s many fertile valleys contain specimen groves of native Coastal Live Oak and magnificent stands of California Sycamore. Seasonal wildflower displays and running streams add to the natural beauty. Wildlife is abundant and can often be seen along the parks’ numerous trails. The park has a long and interesting history which you can read on the OC Parks website.
The park is open for day use year round from 7 am to sunset. Camping is also year round with a check-in time of 2 pm and check out at noon. To make a reservation, go to the online reservations system, or call the reservations line at (800) 600-1600. If your camping party has 17 or more campers, you must camp in a group campsite. Call the park to reserve a group site.
Day use area has ample parking, stalls, restroom, picnic area
When you enter the park, the first camping area is Ortega Flats. This campground has 13 sites and the only electrical hookups in the park. Some reviews I read said there was a lot of noise from the road in this area. Next down the road is the San Juan Meadow Group Area. Beyond this, at the stop sign, go left for the Nature Center or right to continue to the other camping areas. Live Oak campground has 42 campsites. One of the two shower/restroom buildings is located here. Star Mesa Equestrian Campground is next with 23 sites. The Owl/Quail Group Campground is adjacent to that as well as the second shower/restroom building. Finally, at the end of the road, is the day use parking area. There is plenty of room for parking rigs and there are stalls for your horse while you picnic or just rest.
Amenities at Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park
- Amphitheater: Located at Nature Center
- Barbeques/Fire Rings
- Bicycling/Bike Trails
- Camping-Family Group: RV electrical hookups available
- Dump Station
- Equestrian Camping
- Equestrian Trails
- Family Picnic Area
- Hiking Trails
- Interpretive Center: Open Saturday & Sundays only, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Interpretive Programs
- Playground/Tot Lot
- Scenic Overlook
- Showers: in Live Oak Campground and in the Owl & Quail Group Camping Area
Dogs are not allowed in Caspers as they affect the native wildlife in unnatural ways. When marking their territory, dogs signal the native animals that there’s a predator in the area, which affects feeding and even breeding patterns. Horses are allowed because they are not predators and they are vegetarians. The scents they leave are not invasive. Park Rangers have observed deer and ravens scavenging their “road apples” for the digested grain that will show up in the poop. And speaking of poop, I had to laugh at some of the reviews on line. Several of them included complaints about the horse manure — the abundance of it everywhere! It reminded me of my instructor days, educating kids about the composition of horse poop and how stepping in it was not a big deal like dog poop.
The girls riding off without us!
The last time Nancy and I were at Caspers, Nancy was in a walking cast. Her horse had fallen on her at a sorting clinic and she broke her ankle and clavicle. Not to be outdone by her, a few days after her mishap, I stepped down off of my horse into a hole and badly sprained my ankle. We still went camping, horseless, and kept each other company in camp while the others in our group rode. Although we missed our horses and riding, it was a very peaceful, restful weekend. We both needed it!
On this trip, Nancy and I camped with the OC Park Rangers who were having a retreat. They camped in the Owl and Quail Group Campground and we were in space #9 in the equestrian campground. This site is right next to the short trail that leads to the group campground and the restroom/shower building.
Nancy left Friday morning with the horses to set up camp. I was supposed to join her that afternoon but wasn’t feeling well so I didn’t make it until Saturday morning. We needed a few supplies so I picked Nancy up and we drove the 5-6 miles into town. As soon as we returned, we saddled up to hit the trail.
There are beautiful vistas everywhere and trails of varying degrees of difficulty. The trail map is very descriptive and the trails themselves are pretty well marked. Trails range from rocky, single tracks to wide fire roads. Some are petty level, some are steep. There’s something for everyone!
We did a lovely, hour and a half loop that was fairly level. A good portion of this loop was shaded, especially through Cathedral Grove on the Nature Trail.
Click on the picture to see the interactive map
When we returned from our ride, we decided a nap was in order. As you can see from the photos, our site had no shade. Not many sites do, so I recommend you bring a popup or two. Nancy napped in the tent, which she said was quite warm. I put my chair just beyond our campsite in a lovely shady area and that, along with a great breeze, provided the perfect place to catch a few zees.
Looking up from the shady area where I snoozed
After our nap, we headed up the trail to the group campground. We played dominoes for a while then got to work on dinner, or at least Nancy did. She made a fantastic tri-tip, potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, and ranch beans. I did help. Later, we visited with the group around the campfire.
Sunday morning, we had breakfast, broke down our campsite part way and went for another ride. So much beautiful scenery.
We scouted all the campsites to evaluate them for a return trip with the Hot Trotters. We were surprised at how empty the campground was. Only three other sites were occupied besides ours. The equestrian campground has water in five locations so the sites nearest these are often considered desirable. These sites are 4, 10, 13, 18 and 21. We like sites 10, 11 and 12 for a group. They are large, double sites with four stalls each. Sites 2, 4 and 6 seem to have the most shade. There are also some extra stalls across from these sites so they might work for a group. There were a couple of other sites we liked but they didn’t have enough room for our tent. Each site comes with a fire ring with a removable grill, a barbecue grill, a table and at least two stalls. Some sites have hitching posts.
As a wilderness area, Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park is characterized by certain inherent dangers. These dangers include mountain lions, rattlesnakes, poison oak (leaves of three, leave them be), and rugged terrain. It is important to always be aware of your surroundings and stay on the trails. There’s lots of other wildlife including coyotes (they woke us up during the night), squirrels, skunks, rabbits, deer, and dozens of species of birds. There are also ants, spiders (including tarantulas) and, yuck, yellow jackets. They can be such pests around the kitchen area and when you are eating. Taking along some yellow jacket traps is a good idea.
Some of the critters we’ve seen at Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park