Arroyo Trabuco is a tributary of the Santa Ana River. It flows through the city of San Juan Capistrano, California area and out to the Pacific Ocean.

The Arroyo Trabuco begins in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains near Rancho Santa Margarita, California, southeast of San Juan Capistrano. It flows generally southwest through a canyon to its mouth at Sítio Estrella in San Juan Canyon, just north of San Juan Capistrano Beach. The lower portion of this canyon is protected as Arroyo Trabuco Open Space Preserve. It is a popular place for hiking and mountain biking in Orange County.

Arroyo Trabuco was originally named Rio de Los Temblores (River of the Earthquakes) by Spanish explorers because of frequent seismic activity along its course. The name was changed to Arroyo Seco (dry river) around 1849 when it was discovered that there was no permanent flow of water from the river into the Pacific Ocean.

Arroyo Trabuco is a perennial creek that flows year-round, originating at the base of Black Star Canyon and flowing southwest through parts of San Juan Capistrano, Rancho Santa Margarita, and Coto de Caza. Its watershed consists of portions of the Cleveland National Forest and several residential developments in the Orange County area. The main tributaries are Little Arroyo Trabuco and Palomar Creek. As with many Southern California watersheds, urbanization has caused Arroyo Trabuco to suffer from a number of water quality issues including non-native plant species, sedimentation, litter, and pollution from stormwater runoff. The City of San Juan Capistrano was once known as “The Jewel of the Foothills” for its natural beauty and close proximity to both nature and civilization. This is reflected in the fact that the Arroyo Trabuco watershed contains approximately 7,000 acres of wilderness area within the Cleveland National Forest. Additionally, it contains numerous parks and open areas providing access to hiking, biking, and equestrian trails for local residents as well as visitors to our community.

Arroyo Trabuco is one of the many small streams that flow into San Juan Creek, a 6.5-mile waterway that starts near the base of Mission San Juan Capistrano and flows to the Pacific Ocean.

The two-mile accessible trail runs along Arroyo Trabuco from where it begins near Angel Stadium to its confluence with San Juan Creek. A popular trail for hikers, bicyclists and dog walkers, Arroyo Trabuco’s main draw is the natural beauty of its riparian corridor—the area in which a waterway and its adjacent land interact.

The trail is an easy walk, with elevations ranging from 200 feet above sea level at the start of the trail to slightly more than 100 feet at its end. The hike is a great way to see wildlife, including ducks and geese, as well as hawks, egrets, butterflies, and other species native to this environment.

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