Crystal Cove Hike

Author: Sarah Marie Finley

Crystal Cove State Park Facts
  • States: California
  • Counties: Orange County
  • Hiker Level: Intermediate
  • Length: 9.7 miles (14.5 km)
  • Hike Time: 3:30 Hours
  • Highest Elevation: 1,025 feet (312m)
  • Total Ascent: 1,140 feet (347m)
  • Trail end points: Crystal Cove State Park - El Moro Canyon Visitor Center; No Name Ridge Access Trail
  • Trail surfaces: Dirt, Asphalt, Wooden Bridge
  • Trail activities: Walking
  • Pets Allowed: No
  • Park Website: https://www.crystalcovestatepark.org
  • Park Telephone: 949-494-3539

Crystal Cove is a multi-loop hiking trail in the heart of Crystal Cove State Park. The intermediate loop trail provides breathtaking ocean and coastal views down toward the canyon on well-marked trails. This loop provides a warm welcome to novice hikers and expert backpackers, through a network of well- maintained path and single-track trails. Visitors can ‘be free’ of modern technology across 15 miles of trails and 2,400 acres of backcountry land. The park is federally listed Historic site, featuring 46 vintage, coastal cottages originally built in the 1930s and '40s.

FUN FACT: Before Crystal Cove State Park was established, it was originally a trailer park. The state fought to evict the trailers for several years which is now the current parking lot of Crystal Cove.

Where Do I Park

Crystal Cove State Park provides multiple parking areas, entrances, and hiking trails. The four main entrances; two along the bluff at Pelican Point and Reef Point, including inland Los Trancos and School/State Park. Head down Pacific Coast Highway and through some twists and turns till you find the parking area for your selected trail.

Editor’s note: When you head off Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll pass a school on your right, at the first split veer right and follow the map.

Preserving 3.3 miles of coastline of endangered plant wilderness between Laguna Beach and Corona del Mar, take in the sites of coastal canyons in the backcountry of the park's rocky past. Following numbered markers, you can choose from a variety of trails depending on mileage or experience.There is a fee to park at Crystal Cove or show your California State Parks Pass at the park entrance. Showing up early is ideal, as the parking lots fill up fast, especially in the summer. Before heading out, fill up your water bottles and use the restroom as the next available rest area is at the mid-way point.

What Should I Bring?

Whether you dress in your gym attire or go all out ‘Sierra Nevada' style, make sure you are dressed for the season. It gets HOT in the summer. Keep it simple with hiking boots and a good pair of lightweight bottoms. Water is your friend and helps avoid passing out from heat exhaustion/stroke. At least 2L of water is recommended, along with a snack for energy along the trail.

Due to the delicate nature of the ecosystem, Fido is not allowed on this adventure. For Service Animal related questions, please contact the park directly.

How Do I Navigate the Trail?

First and foremost, do not depend on your smartphone. Cell reception is few and far in between and the last thing anyone wants is to get lost. Always have a handy dandy printed, paper map. Great way to take notes or map out interesting sites along the way.

Watch for trail maps-found at all trail junctions inside Crystal Cove State Park. To locate your position, look for the screw. If you do bring your smartphone and have a QR reader, interpretive markers are on the trail which can provide information.

If you need the latest in high-tech gear, then invest in a GPS. I recommend the Garmin inReach Explorer+ 2-Way Satellite Communicator, which is installed with preloaded DeLorme TOPO maps, onscreen GPS routing plus a built-in digital compass, barometric altimeter, and accelerometer. Just remember to have a printed section of the trail for worse case scenarios. It’s better to have and not need, then need and not have!

The Crystal Cove hike has you climb up Moro Canyon to the highest elevation to a scenic ocean view for your descent along a ridge. Stay focused as you look out along Bommer Ridge Trail, you’ll see the beautiful Santa Ana mountains, including Saddleback Mountain, the highest peak at 5,689ft.

FUN FACT: As the trail opens on a clear day, you'll see breathtaking views of the San Gabriel Mountains, Orange County, and Irvine. Keep a sharp eye for two massive concrete structures. The valley was home to blimp hangers during World War 2.

Keep an eye and ear, out for runners and bicycles, as they will most likely join you on your journey. Make sure there is enough room for them to pass.

Are Their Different Trails? Yes!

Each trail has a different endpoint or loop around to join others back at your starting point.

Moro Canyon Trail – A great 4-mile trail that is a popular option for visitors. Get the hard work out of the way, as the first two-thirds of a mile complete the steepest part. A popular route as the accessibility to other trails and views towards the ocean.

No Name Access Ridge - Along the western side of Crystal Cove State Park, West Cut Across Trail is 1.3 miles in length with two small hills connecting to No Name Ridge Trail.

Slow ‘N Easy Trail – An alternative to the Moro Canyon Trail, this offshoot provides a higher vantage point for breathtaking views and less foot traffic.

Poles Trail – The ‘shortcut’ in the Crystal Cove, Moro Canyon, and El Moro Western Loop at a quarter of a mile.

No Dogs Trail – A great beginner trail with a gradual climb coming from El Moro Canyon visitor Center. Fairly short, it provides a connection with other remarkable trails in Crystal Cove State Park.

West Cut Across Trail – Another ‘shortcut’ when accessing Crystal Cove or Moro Canyon Trail. At a little over half a mile, this is an alternative route, also connecting to the El Moro Western Loop.

The Geology Discovery Trail - a 9-mile loop with 900 feet of elevation you will experience twice up and over scenic canyons into the parks rocky past.