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Hiking the Perimeter of Crystal Cove State Park

Crystal Cove Pano East

Crystal Cove Pano East

Crystal Cove State Park is nestled in the coastal hills between Newport and Laguna Beach. This hiking trail traces the boundaries of the inland section of the park, climbing up and down ridge and valley through coastal scrub. I love this park, not only because it’s so well located for Orange County, but because you really do feel like you’ve been transported to another place and time. As you enter the wilderness here, you soon forget that you are only a mile away from a sea of suburban tract homes. A hike through Crystal Cove is like a mini-vacation from suburbia.

Trail Details
Distance: 9.1 miles
Time: 3-5 hours
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation gain: 1,800 ft
Dogs: No
Hours: 6am-10pm daily
Parking: $15
This strenuous 9.1 mile loop begins and ends at the parking lot by the El Morro ranger station. To park here, you’ll need to pay a day-use fee or display an annual State Park Day Use pass in your car window. You can pay your Crystal Cove day-use fees using the Passport Parking app.

This loop is sometimes referred to as the Perimeter of the Park hike. The trails form a loop surrounding the backcountry of Crystal Cove State Park, and provides a grand tour of its features.

The route begins at the top of the El Moro Visitor Center parking lot. Pass around the gate and head up the double-track trail known affectionately as No Dogs. (Odd only because dogs are not allowed on ANY of the trails in Crystal Cove’s backcountry). Note that the sign calls this No Name Ridge, but the maps all call it No Dogs here.

As you head up the ridge, you’ll come to a couple of junctions heading right at the power poles (the aptly named “Poles” trail). Stay left and continue up and down the roller coaster hills of No Name Ridge.

At mile 2.25 you will reach the junction with Ticketron. This single-track trail veers to the right, winding down to the Deer Canyon trail. Turn left at Deer Canyon, watching for the campground on your left.

The Deer Canyon campground is one of three backcountry campgrounds at Crystal Cove. All have picnic tables, but do not allow open flames. There are a few chemical toilets, but no water; if you want to camp here, you’ll have to backpack in with everything you need!

I wondered who would go backpacking so close to civilization, but a friend pointed out that the backcountry campgrounds at Crystal Cove makes a great location to do an equipment check. It’s close by, so you could even hike in on a Friday afternoon. And if things go awry, you’re not far from the comforts of civilization.

Follow the Deer Canyon trail all the way up to the back of the park, passing through the gate to the Bommer Ridge trail. Technically, Bommer Ridge is part of neighboring Laguna Wilderness, but this trail is preferable to the parallel Fences trail that gets a lot of mountain bikers.

At about mile 4.75 you’ll reach Moro Ridge. Turn right through the gate and follow this ridge back towards the coastline. Along the way, you’ll pass two campgrounds on your right (Upper and Lower El Moro).

This ridge gives you great views of the ocean, Moro Canyon to you right and Emerald Canyon to your left. If you’re alert, you may also see artifacts from the days when this land was used for cattle and sheep herding.

Eventually you’ll turn right on to the affectionately titled BFI (Big F-ing Incline) trail, descending to Moro Canyon and the final hill back to the visitor center.

Reward yourself with a milkshake at the Shake Shack about a mile north on Coast Highway.

Trail Map

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Photo Gallery

Essential Crystal Cove State Park Resources

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