Crystal Cove SP
This 3 mile stretch of beach along the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the newest additions to the state park system. Along with its pristine beaches, it covers 3000 acres of hills, canyons and trails. It also includes primitive campgrounds that only backpackers can get to. A new addition is Moro campground which has some facilities. It sits in between the beach and the hiking trails.
Take a break from all the excitement of the main attractions to commune with nature and forget the hustle and bustle of civilization. Some of the trails are easily handled by young children 6 and up. Younger children may need help. If the kids complain too much about the hike, remind them about the second part of this excursion: The beach.
You can start exploring the state park with a hike in the wilderness area.
The park has about 17 miles of trails to pick from. Get a map online (map) or from the ranger stations. There are now 2 parking areas available for hikers. One of them is at the Moro campground day use area. The other is outside the campground next to the main ranger station/visitors center. I usually park at the campground because it also provides easy access to the beach area.
Tip: The entrance to the wilderness part of the park may be a little confusing. Just remember that it is behind the El-Moro Elementary School.
If you are looking for an easy hike, start from the back of the campground (away from the beach) and go over the wood bridge then turn left. Follow the trail through Moro Canyon. Turn left at the first fork and make sure that you stay on the left side (called Poles trail). There is a steep incline at this portion of the trail. Once you reach the top, turn left again onto "No Name Ridge" trail. This will take you down to the main ranger station. Keep going past the ranger station and turn left into "Moro Canyon" trail which will take you back to the wood bridge and the campground. This hike is about 2.5 miles.
If you prefer a bigger challenge, study the trail map and plan a longer loop. For example, you can take the Moro ridge to Moro canyon loop for a 5-mile hike. Many of the trails have a great view of the Pacific Ocean, but Moro ridge has the best continuous view. Some people call this the Red Loop. The reverse route (Moro Canyon to Moro Ridge) provides more spectacular views because while descending back to the Canyon you are facing the ocean.
Most of the trails are out in the open with no shade, so avoid going during hot weather and take lots of water with you. Moro canyon has some shade and follows a seasonal creek.
Expect to find sage, prickly pear cactus, monkey ﬂowers, goldenbush, lemonade berry, deer weed and oak. You can also find lots of birds, some rabbits and some eagles.
Tip: Those trails are also popular for mountain biking, so watch out for speedy bikes going downhill.
- Sun, Sand & Surf: The Ultimate Guide To Orange County Beaches
- Afoot & Afield Orange County: A Comprehensive Hiking Guide
- 101 Hikes in Southern California: Exploring Mountains, Seashore and Desert
Once you are done with the hike, keep your parking ticket and head out to the beach. Your ticket is good at all the crystal cove parking lots.
If you are already at the campground, just use the underpass to the beach. If you parked at the main ranger station, exit the parking and turn right onto PCH. Turn left onto any of the Crystal Cove parking areas.
Most of the beaches at the state park require a steep climb down stairs or ramps towards the beach, so be prepared. You can avoid those steep inclines if you are at the campground.
Tip: Try to pack light for this beach trip. Just remember that you have to climb the same steep stairs or ramp on the way back up.
Along the 3 mile stretch of beaches, there is a nice pedestrian and bike trail. You can take this very easy hike instead of the El-Moro Canyon trail. The advantage: great views of the ocean. The disadvantage: You can hear the cars along PCH.
For additional exploration, try the other beaches at this state park, each with distinct personality: Treasure Cove; Historic Crystal Cove; 3.5 Cove; Scotchman’s Cove; Muddy Creek.