A public regional park in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA, Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park offers a refuge for wildlife. Whiting Ranch is comprised of riparian, oak woodland, grassland, chaparral, and coastal sage scrub habitats that are spread across a variety of canyons and hillside landscapes. The 2,500-acre park is primarily comprised of unorganized territory just outside of the city limits of Lake Forest. The park contains more than 17 miles of route that is divided into 23 separate paths, making it a popular destination for mountain bikers, hikers, and equestrian riders alike.
Cleveland National Forest Margarita is in close proximity to the park. Mountain lions frequent the area, where they hunt for deer and other small animals to feed on. Even though human attacks on animals are rare, they can occur, and visitors are advised to remain vigilant and avoid approaching the animals.
Whiting Ranch was originally part of a 10,000-acre ranch known as Rancho Canada de Los Alisos, which was granted to Jose Serrano in 1842 and later became part of Whiting Ranch. Drought forced Serrano to foreclosure on the property in 1864, after years of cattle and agricultural husbandry on the land.
The area was divided up by land developer J. S. Slauson in 1885, and Dwight Whiting purchased the majority of it in 1885. As part of his development plans, Whiting transformed a substantial chunk of the property into the city of El Toro, which is now known as Lake Forest. Whiting Ranch was largely undeveloped until it was sold to V.P. Baker and Associates in 1959, after which time it has been developed with the construction of new homes near the site.
Whiting Ranch has been the site of multiple wildfires in recent years, owing to the dry climate that prevails over much of the area. The 2007 Santiago Fire wreaked havoc on the neighborhood, destroying 90 percent of the property and leaving a scar that can still be felt more than ten years later.
The Silverado Fire, which occurred in October 2020 and followed a similar path to the Santiago Fire, burnt through much of the park and caused significant damage. The Bond Fire, a second wildfire that occurred in the same area in December 2020 but did not cause significant damage to the park, was contained within a few miles of the park. According to the Orange County Fire Authority, the Bond Fire’s forward progress has been delayed in large part by the Silverado Fire burn scar, which covers a big portion of Whiting Ranch and has caused significant damage.