Crystal Cove Hike

Located in Laguna Beach just South of Newport Beach, California, Crystal Cove State Park offers 18 miles of hiking and mountain bike trails through 2,400 acres of backcountry wilderness. Whether searching for woodlands with massive oak and sycamore trees or an escape from the busy buzzing of the city below, overnight backpacking, hiking, and biking through Crystal Cove State Park is a fun way to get away and enjoy some of the best views Southern California has to offer. With blue ocean views and wildflowers in the spring, you’ll find a variety of native plants and animals that scatter the park throughout your journey.
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CRYSTAL COVE HIKE WWW.CRYSTALCOVESTATEPARK.ORG

OVERVIEW

Located in Laguna Beach just South of Newport Beach, California, Crystal Cove State Park offers 18 miles of hiking and mountain bike trails through 2,400 acres of backcountry wilderness. Whether searching for woodlands with massive oak and sycamore trees or an escape from the busy buzzing of the city below, overnight backpacking, hiking, and biking through Crystal Cove State Park is a fun way to get away and enjoy some of the best views Southern California has to offer. With blue ocean views and wildflowers in the spring, you’ll find a variety of native plants and animals that scatter the park throughout your journey.

In addition to a multitude of trails, there are three environmental campgrounds available by reservation throughout the park, beachfront hiking with rock cliffs and tidepools, and some patrons noted whale sightings depending on the time of year. Crystal Cove through El Moro offers a variety of terrain types and experiences for backpackers and hikers of any experience level and is a sure way to find harmony among the city if you’re looking for an escape.

CRYSTAL COVE TRAILS

Terrain : Gravel, Dirt, Rock Stairs (Well Maintained and Heavily Trafficked)

Style: Up and Back, Loops

Difficulty: Moderate

Routes: The Trails are Well Marked and Heavily Trafficked Dirt Roads

Features: Ocean Vista Views, Views of Santa Ana Mountains, Wildflowers at the End Spring

Highest Elevation: ~1000 feet (305m)

Tips: Get There Early (Avoid the Heat), and Bring Lots of Water

TRAIL DESCRIPTIONS AS LISTED ON WEBSITE: https://www.crystalcovestatepark.org/trail-descriptions-2/

EASY OUT AND BACK- MORO CANYON (GREEN ROUTE):
Time:  1 hour (approximate)
Elevation:  35’-178’
Distance:  3.0 miles

DETAILS:  Starting at the Ranger Station, walk downhill and turn left onto the dirt trail before the campground.  Continue on the dirt to the long bridge. Once you cross the bridge, you will be in Moro Canyon. Continue up the MORO CANYON Trail until you reach the junction with POLES and WEST CUT ACROSS.  Turn around here and retrace your steps back to the Ranger Station.

MODERATE LOOP TRAIL- NO DOGS, POLES, MORO CANYON (BLUE ROUTE):

Time:  1 hour (approximate)
Elevation: 35’-550’
Distance: 2.85 Miles

DETAILS:  Starting at the Ranger Station, walk uphill to the dirt road past a gate. This is the NO DOGS Trail which is a short, but moderately uphill hike.  Follow the trail until you reach the intersection with POLES which is a steep descent (electric poles mark the way downhill.) At the end of POLES, you will intersect MORO CANYON and WEST CUT ACROSS Trails. Turn right, downhill on MORO CANYON Trail, cross the long bridge, and bear right up a moderate uphill climb, past the campground and back to the parking lot.

DIFFICULT LOOP TRAIL – MORO CANYON, EAST CUT ACROSS, MORO RIDGE, BFI (YELLOW ROUTE):

Time:  2 hours (approximate)
Elevation:  35’-740’
Distance:  About 5 miles

DETAILS:  Starting at the Ranger Station, walk downhill and turn left onto the dirt trail before the campground.  Continue on the dirt to the long bridge. Once you cross the bridge, you will be in Moro Canyon. Continue up the MORO CANYON Trail (~ 1 mile) until you reach the EAST CUT ACROSS Trail.  Turn right and climb the steep, winding uphill to MORO RIDGE (~ 1.1 mile). Turn right towards the ocean and as you near the Coast Highway (~1.6 mile) look for BFI. Turn right on this short-with-some-steep single track which connects with MORO CANYON.  Turn left, cross the long bridge, and bear right up a moderate uphill climb, past the campground and back to the parking lot.

STRENUOUS LOOP TRAIL- PARK PERIMETER (RED ROUTE):

Time: 4.5 hours (approximate)
Elevation:  35’-1000’
Distance:  About 9 miles

DETAILS:  This route known as the “Perimeter of the Park” is the best way to experience the whole backcountry.  Take plenty of water and a snack and stop at one of the three environmental campsites for a view, a rest, or to use the portable toilets.  Starting at the Ranger Station, walk uphill to the dirt road past a gate. This is the NO DOGS Trail which is a short, but moderately uphill hike. NO DOGS connects with NO NAME RIDGE (bear left) which has several ups and downs. Pass the junction with WEST CUT ACROSS staying on NO NAME RIDGE until you turn downhill (right) onto TICKETRON Trail. This single track leads to DEER CANYON and CAMPGROUND.  Climb uphill from DEER CANYON, to RED TAIL RIDGE, bear left to near the park boundary gate. Turn right onto FENCELINE Trail (single track) eastbound which becomes MISSING LINK Trail (single track) and ends at MORO RIDGE. Turn right on MORO RIDGE which runs along the southeastern boundary of the Park. Stay on the ridge for 3+ miles, and turn right onto the single track- BFI. This trail leads to MORO CANYON where you turn left, go over the long bridge, bear right uphill, past the campground and back to the parking lot.

Crystal Cove Hike Map / Campground Map:

CRYSTAL COVE HIKE PARKING
Crystal Cove Parking:
It’s a $15 to park in any of the three state park parking lots. The lots are easily accessible and have adequate handicap accesses.

Crystal Cove Free Parking:
Free Parking is non-existent near Crystal Cove but if you feel like risking it you might consider parking across the street from the State Park in the Crystal Cove Shopping Center (walk in first so no one is suspecting) or sliding into a northern neighborhood in Corona Del Mar and walking into the park. Some people have mentioned that they were able to park at the Crystal Cove shopping center, or right in front of Mastros when completing night hikes, without being hassled. Just BEWARE when trying to skirt paying for parking, there are tons of places who are on the lookout for park goers taking up spaces and have no problem calling the tow company (the risk is on you [high risk, low reward])!

OVERNIGHT CAMPING

Crystal Cove State Park offers three hike-in backcountry campgrounds with a total of 32 remote campsites that are accessible only by foot. Each campsite contains vault toilets and a picnic table. No other amenities are available; therefore, you need to bring trash bags to carry out any waste you may have accumulated (leave no trace). Campfires are not permitted within Crystal Cove State Park (there are no fire rings), only backpack stoves are permitted. Although there are many views of the Pacific Ocean this is not beach camping and should not be quoted as so. No pets are allowed in the primitive camping areas. Cell phone service is intermittent but is generally obtainable if you use a larger carrier. To camp in the Primitive Campgrounds, it’s best to avoid the risk of being towed and park at the Park Office. From there obtain a backcountry permit from the Visitors Center before setting out for the campgrounds. Fees include entry for 1 vehicle. Any additional vehicle will be $15 per night. Crystal Cove State Park is open year-round (~$25 per night + $7.99 service fee). All camping reservations are made through Reserve California at http://www.reservecalifornia.com or call 1-800-444-7275 (online is easier). Reservations can be made 48 hours to 7 months in advance. Any unreserved sites will be sold at 10:00am each day for 1 night only. Be aware that the state park can close after heavy rainfall (which includes the trails and campgrounds).

PRIMITIVE CAMPSITES:

Lower Moro Ridge:

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Lower Moro Ridge campground is the most popular and easiest to reach of the three campgrounds because of its amazing ocean views. Lower Moro Ridge is located 3.5 miles from the trailhead.

Upper Moro Ridge:

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Half a mile North of Lower Moro Ridge, Upper Moro Ridge contains multiple picknick tables and views of Signal Butte.

Deer Canyon Campground:

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Located under a large oak tree Deer Canyon Campground is a shaded site in a small canyon which is 4.5 miles from the trailhead.

THINGS TO BRING

Be sure to bring a buddy if the crowds are light or you are hiking early in the morning, if you get in a tight spot or roll an ankle, a shoulder to lean on can make all the difference in the world. There isn’t much shade along the ridges so be sure to bring a hat, sunscreen, and lots of water! It gets extremely hot because much of the trail is completely exposed, so be sure to take an extra liter or bottle of water in addition to what you’d expect to drink. Hiking shoes are not required, because the grade is only moderate and similar to that of a dirt road; regular athletic shoes are perfectly fine. Hiking Poles are not necessary but can be used if you feel comfortable incorporating them into your hike (just remember they require more energy to use them). As always, bringing a medical pouch, and something to snack on is always a good idea! Just remember, Laguna Beach is known to reach over 100 degrees in the summer and stays hot and humid from April to October, so be smart about venturing out into the heat regardless of the time of year. Every time someone experiences heat exhaustion, they put first responders’ lives in danger, because the first responders then must go out in the same conditions with tons more gear (stretchers and medical gear) to carry that person down. Don’t be a statistic, plan accordingly and don’t endanger others!

ABOUT THE PARK AND TRAILS

Hours of Operation:

Day use in Crystal Cove State Park is open year-round from 6AM to Sunset. If you will be arriving after 5PM and are planning on hiking more than a quick workout, consider planning your hike for another day, because the park may close during your hike, and the Park Rangers will definitely fine you for being there past sunset.

Fees & Permits :

Parking is $15 per vehicle. Vehicles parked in violation of posted signs will be towed at the owner’s expense and fined by the city so beware. Check the section “Crystal Cove Hike Parking” above if you need more parking.

Dog-Friendly (Not Really):

Dogs are allowed in limited areas (paved paths only) near the highway and are always required to be on a 6ft leash. Dogs are not allowed on the hiking trails.

Amenities:

There are restrooms and water located near the park offices and parking. Primitive Campsites do not offer water!

Contact:

Trail/Park Website:
https://www.crystalcovestatepark.org/

Trail Map:
Crystal Cove State Park Map (pdf)

Trailhead Address:
8471 N Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Park Phone:
(949) 494-3539

ADDITIONAL TIPS, REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS, AND INFORMATION WHEN HIKING IN CRYSTAL COVE STATE PARK

  • Don’t expect a full-blown nature experience. You’re still in the city so expect heavy traffic and be courteous (hikers going uphill have the right of way). There are a lot of mountain bikers on these trails so keep your head up give them room.
  • Crystal Cove State Park is home to venomous snakes, lizards, and a variety of critters so be cautious on trails and don’t forget that even though you are close to the city, you still need to be alert in the backcountry.
  • Be sure to leave early and beat the crowds and the heat. Trails can get really crowded and extremely hot so the earlier you arrive the better your experience will be.
  • Check the weather before any hike! Things change fast, don’t get caught on top of a mountain while it’s lightning or storming!

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