Crystal Cove State Park is one of my favorite areas to hike in Orange County. Nestled in the coastal hills between Newport and Laguna Beach, Crystal Cove feels like a world away from the OC. There are beautiful bluff-lined beaches, challenging hikes and panoramic coastal views. You can even go backpacking! Crystal Cove State Park is one of OC’s best kept secrets.
Hiking at Crystal Cove State Park
There is a network of mixed use trails throughout Crystal Cove State Park. Hikers share the trails with mountain bikers and the occasional horse. From that network of trails, you can create a hike to suit your ability and schedule.
There are three main loops that have been mapped out, with something for each level of hiker.
- No Dogs to Poles to Moro Canyon Loop is a moderate three mile hike with a little of everything; hills, ocean views and canyons.
- Moro Canyon to Moro Ridge to BFI is an intermediate hike, but it’s no slouch. The considerable elevation gain makes this hike a great workout!
- The Perimeter Loop is the longest of the three, and traces the perimeter of the park’s interior. At over nine miles, this strenuous hike takes some time, plenty of water and is not recommended for new hikers.
SoCal Hiker Crystal Cove Tips
- During inclement weather, the park closes. Call (949) 494-3539 to check conditions.
- Parking is $15, but if you show your receipt from The Beachcomber, there’s no charge. You can display an annual State Park pass or pay the day use fee using the Passport Parking app on your smartphone.
- Many people park for free and hike or mountain bike into the park from Ridge Park Road.
- You can also hike into the park from neighboring Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, where the parking is $3. Or park on the street near Gate 12 for free!
- Do NOT try to park at the elementary school or Trader Joe’s parking lot unless you like having your car ticketed or even towed.
- After your hike, stop at the Shake Shack for a well-earned treat with a great views.
Essential Crystal Cove Resources
- Crystal Cove State Park – official site
- Crystal Cove Interpretive Association website – a non-profit organization with a wealth of info about the park.
- The Beachcomber
- Crystal Cove Cottage Reservations
Jeannie Pascuzzi says
Good morning Jeff, my husband, myself & our 2 dogs are invited to go on a hike this Sunday at Crystal Cove State Park with some friends and their dogs. Are dogs(on or off leash) allowed on any of the 3 main loops ? From what info. I could find, it doesn’t look like dogs are allowed. The park might be closed anyway due to the rain. I see the phone # you listed to call. Thank you for this awesome website and I hope you have a beautiful day, Jeannie
Jeff Hester says
No, dogs are not allowed on any of the “backcountry” trail either on or off-leash (which includes the three loops I describe). Dogs are allowed on the paved paths and at the car campground, but they must remain on-leash at all times.
Jessica Luna says
Hello, Jeff: Could you provide more info about backpacking in Crystal Cove? It would be my first time backpacking.
Rachelle Turner says
I am thinking of backpacking this trail to test my gear before embarking on a harder hike. Is there a specific place you are allowed to do this or a route to take for this?
Do you know if you need a special permit or pass to be there overnight?
I wanted to take my wife and daughter on an overnight backpacking/camping trip, and Crystal Cove looks perfect for us beginners.
Would you be able to give me specific information on how to get started? Pretty much where to start, where we would ultimately be able to set up camp, and what, if any permits are needed.
MATTHEW COOPER says
Could you explain which overnight hikes do have a water source near the camps and which do not. I am a new overnighter and would prefer not to pack in too much water due to pack weight. Using my filter on a stream or creek would be great for my freeze dried food! Appreciate your help.
SoCal Hiker says
Hi Matthew! I make a point of stating when and where there are water sources for overnight camping. In the Crystal Cove State Park backcountry campsites there are no water sources. You’ll have to pack in enough water for eating and drinking.
Hi Jeff! I think I’m going to try this hike with my family tomorrow! Even though you did mention in the blog that trying to park in trader joe will not work but if it’s for a couple hours (like 3 hrs) in the morning do you think it’ll be fine?
Jeffrey Hester says
Hi Ashey! I wouldn’t risk it personally. Let us know how it went.
Can you please explain where gate 12 is located exactly?
Hello! My family and I are training for a grand canyon trip next year. I am the only one who has backpacked and that was over 15 years ago!!! Our kids are 10 and 7 and are pretty good hikers, they logged over 100 miles this past summer! My question is which campground would you recommend for a training back pack “trial run” at Crystal Cove?
Hi. Do you know if we can park on ridge Park road overnight?
Jeff Hester says
I do not know, and I suspect not. That is not managed by the State Park but by the city, and my guess is that the neighbors would rather not have people there overnight. You could confirm with the City of Newport Beach.