Crystal Cove Red Route


The Red Route is one of my favorite hiking trails in Crystal Cove State Park. At 5.5 miles and over 800′ of vertical gain, this loop makes for a great workout. The length is about right to make it worth the trip, but won’t take all day. And the scenery is fantastic. The hike down Moro Ridge gives you some of the best coastal views in the park.

Trail Details
Distance: 5.5 miles
Time: 2 hours
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation gain: 820 ft
When to go: Year round
The trail begins and ends at the El Moro Visitor Center. Parking requires either a $15 day use parking pass (available in the visitor center) or an annual State Park day use pass. During the summer months when the daylight hours are longer, you can park here for free after 6pm when the visitor center closes. Just enough time to get in a quick after work hike!

The trail begins at the bottom of the parking lot. Take a left and follow the dirt trail that parallels the fence-line. Currently you’ll see construction underway on the new drive-in campsites being built at Crystal Cove that should be opening later in 2011.

As the dusty trail winds down to the bottom of the hill, and you’ll turn left and cross the bridge. This is the El Moro Canyon trail.

At this point you have to chose which way to hike the loop. You can take the first right and hike up the trail known affectionately as “BFI“. Polite hikers will insist that this stands for Big “Fat” Incline, although I’ve heard more colorful options, and tend to agree with the latter.

I prefer to take this loop clockwise, continuing up El Moro Canyon and “I Think I Can“, then descending via El Moro Ridge and BFI. The choice is yours.

Continue up El Morro Canyon until you reach the second trail to the right. This is called East Cutoff Trail, or “I Think I Can.” It’s a long, uphill slog. Don’t be surprised if you encounter a few mountain bikers climbing slow-and-steady up this hill.

When you reach the top of the hill, bear right to head down El Moro Ridge back towards the coastline. During the spring, the hills are dotted with wildflowers. In the summer, keep your eyes peeled for rattlesnakes! I’ve also seen rabbits and deer (yes, there are deer back here!).

El Moro Ridge meanders toward the coast, eventually descending back down. You’ll get great views up and down the coastline from Laguna Beach to Newport Coast. As you see Pacific Coast Highway, watch for the trail marker on your right. This trail becomes BFI and leads you back down to El Moro Canyon just east of the bridge you crossed earlier.

From here, retrace your steps back to the visitor center.

Crystal Cove Red Route Trail Map and Elevation Profile

Photo Gallery

Essential Crystal Cove State Park Resources


  1. says

    That’s great, I’ve done some of the trails on Crystal Cove, but not sure if I’ve done this one. I didn’t realize you were into hiking this much. Your site is really slick and prtty neat that you’ve tracked all your miles and elevation and stuff.

    I’m going to show my wife your site because she’s been doing a lot of hiking lately and wants to find new spots. Also, that map/wordpress plugin seems pretty slick. Gonna have to try it soon.

  2. says

    Thanks, Oscar! Crystal Cove is a great place to hike. The only thing to watch for is the lack of sun protection. You’re pretty much exposed throughout the park, especially at mid-day. Hat plus sunscreen is a must this time of year.

    If you have any tips on other hiking trails you’d like to me add, let me know and I’ll put them on my “to-hike” list.

  3. Catherine says

    So, just FYI. My friend and I went here after 6pm and got a $72 parking ticket. DO NOT go there after 6pm thinking you can park for free. False advertising, I promise you. I have the ticket to prove it. $15 is cheaper!

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