We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm, and adventure.There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open. – Jawaharlal Nehru
Every day, our lives seem to be stuck on routines – walking up, going to work, coming home, cooking, cleaning, and then going to bed.
Can you relate?
The worst part is that the cycle seems to go on day by day, leaving us weathered and yearning for a brand new adventure.
Humans were meant to connect with nature and not remain plastered behind digital screens. We were meant to get some sunshine, breathe fresh air, hear birds chirping, and catch a glimpse of the other creatures that inhabit this earth.
We were meant to chase after the thrill and joys that come from being outside.
With all the beauty and diversity that this world has to offer, it isn’t difficult to find such a place to bond with nature. You don’t even have to look so far to find your adventure. You simply have to search.
Today, I am bringing you somewhere special, one of my favorite places to go – Crystal Cove State Park.
We are going to run through everything you need to know about taking a Crystal Cove hike, including information about the county it is located in, trails in the park, gear to bring, and things to do there and around the area.
There is a place on the western side of the United States that satisfies all the different kinds of adventure seekers.
Blessed with towering mountains, glorious backcountry, energetic theme parks, historical centers, access to the great Pacific Ocean, and so much more, this place is a goldmine for adventure-seekers and outdoor enthusiasts alike.
Welcome to Orange County, California!
Get To Know Orange County
You probably would have heard “Orange County” at some point since The OC is a favorite setting for many television shows that show worldwide such as The O.C., American Chopper, Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, and more.
Not to mention numerous mentions on channels like National Geographic and The Discovery Channel.
But there aren’t just a lot of lovely places to visit in Orange County; there are legions of people as well, with a little over 3.1 million people calling it their home.
Orange County is the third-most populous county in California and the sixth-most populous county in the United States, so it is loaded with a wide range of people.
What makes Orange County so breathtaking is that quite a number of the cities there sit along the Pacific Coastline, opening up uninterrupted views of the Pacific Ocean.
Some of the most known places among them are Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, San Clemente, and finally, Laguna Beach – which is our special destination today.
Whether you are looking for pristine beach towns or popular theme parks, most of ‘The OC’ is framed by the oceanfront and luxury yachts, making it stand out as one of the most iconic destinations in California.
Apart from luxury, shopping, fun, and beauty, the beaches at The OC create the perfect waves to turn it into a surfing mecca. Everywhere you look along the coastline, you will find happy people, riding the waves on colorful surfboards.
Orange County is filled with shopping hotspots as well, so even if great adventures aren’t your cup of tea, you can relax at a spa after a long day of shopping. When they say it’s all here, they really meant it.
The OC is packed with loads of fun and adventure, it’s hard not to fall in love with the place, just like my family and I have, and it is a place we go to visit every chance that we can get.
After a hike or camping overnight on top of the mountains, my sons always insist on going to the theme parks nearby.
And then usually after a day at the theme parks, we stay another day at the beach to cap off the perfect weekend of fun and adventures.
Trails And Parks In Orange County
For me, though, the best thing about this lovely county is that it is brimming with parks and hiking trails that are perfect for anyone. There is enough to choose from to give you exactly what you are looking for.
Red Rock Canyon – For Beginners
If you are a beginner with not much experience, a trail you can check out is Red Rock Canyon. Red Rock is an easy walk and a gentle climb to the hidden Red Rock sandstone formations. Red Rock Canyon is also great fun for the family.
Stitton Peak – Quick Peak Climb
Reaching mountain peaks can be really difficult, but if you take on Sitton Peak, you’ll be able to reach the summit easier than you would for other hikes. At the top, you get hair-raising 360-degree views of Orange County.
Saddleback Mountain – For A Challenge
Stepping it up a notch is the Saddleback Mountain, which is actually made up of two peaks – Modjeska Peak and Santiago Peak. These are more challenging hikes with great rewards at the end.
Crystal Cove – For The Best Ocean Views
Last but not least, we go to one of the most, if not the most popular park to visit in Orange County – Crystal Cove State Park.
One of the reasons Crystal Cove is so popular is because of its unbeatable views of the Pacific Ocean. The trails run between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, giving unparalleled coastal vistas.
Crystal Cove hikes are also quite tame and gentle compared to other hikes like the ones in Saddleback Mountain, which is why people enjoy this hike as well.
Not to mention the fact that it is nestled between two beaches, making it close to many other tourist attractions, filled with a lot of activities that people enjoy doing either before or after a Crystal Cove hike.
Welcome To Crystal Cove
It doesn’t just have a charming name – Crystal Cove State Park is an amazing place to visit that rests inside Laguna Beach.
Interestingly enough, the name “Crystal Cove” was named by Elizabeth Wood back in 1927, because “the name seemed right for such a beautiful place.”
In 1912, an artist from Laguna Beach described how he found a rugged coastline “with cove after cove and headland after headland, golden cliffs and deep blue and purple oceans and clear emerald pools, lazy sea and pounding surf.”
To this day, that remains true and is one of the best ways to describe the vista that the place offers, rightly making it a Crystal in the coast of Orange County.
Along with a beauty that doesn’t seem to be affected by the years, are rustic cottages resting by the coast, creating a riveting time capsule of California that many visitors have come to adore.
Crystal Cove is huge – stretching out over 2,400 acres or 971 hectares of backcountry wilderness, coastal parklands, open spaces, and natural seashore, topped with 3.2 miles of beach.
All the natural formations perfectly illustrate the way mountains and oceans can come together to forge a majestic and harmonious panorama that we know and call Crystal Cove State Park.
Start your day early in the park, which opens at 6 am and closes at sunset. The historic district, however, closes at 10 pm, giving you more time to enjoy the trip back in time for a little bit longer after your day of hiking.
Things To Expect
Before you set out on your adventure to Crystal Cove, there are a few things you need to know.
First of all, no pets are allowed here – you can’t take your furry pals with you on this hike because the trails are well maintained and full of endangered native coastal sage shrubs, which need to be preserved.
The trail also gets hot since a majority of the trail is open backcountry with no trees, so bring a hat and sunscreen to protect yourself.
Since Crystal Cove is a pretty well known and popular destination in Orange County, it can get pretty crowded, especially during summer and holidays. So plan your trip way ahead of time.
It is important to be early because parking there is on a first-come, first-served basis, so you need to get there early or else you will be turned away at the entrance. The parking fee is $15 for the whole day.
From October 1 to March 31, however, the parking fee is $5 per hour from Mondays to Thursdays. The rest of the time is $15 for the whole day.
The trail is also favored among mountain bikers, so be on the lookout for them to avoid accidents and remember to give them away.
There is a restroom available at the information center, adjacent to the parking lot, which you can (and should) use before you go out on the trail. There are no rinse-off showers available though due to drought in California.
A highly important thing to remember is always to bring water. The trails in Crystal Cove do not have water, so you need to bring your own. If you do forget or need a refill, there is water available at the visitor center.
NOTE: There are quite a lot of rules and regulations of the park to ensure that the natural environment is as protected as possible.
Before visiting, please check out the official website’s FAQ page, where you will find frequently asked questions as well as very specific rules and regulations.
Hiking In Crystal Cove
When you search for Crystal Cove, you will come to learn that just like any State Park, there are numerous trails that you can select depending on the experience you want or the level of difficulty for the trail.
The State Park offers you 18 miles of hiking trails where you get to see the native wilderness that gives you a sense that you are slipping away from modern civilization and retreating into the beauty and solitude that the park grants to you.
Up in the higher trails, you’ll be able to see views of the mountain backcountry, unique geological formations, and the Pacific Ocean. On the lower trails, you traverse woodlands with oak and sycamore trees along the Moro Creek.
Crystal Cove has a number of different trails and different paths that you can take, but there are four main trails, which we are going to go through here.
Easy Trail [Out and Back]
If you’re looking for a nice and easy trail, this is the one to check out. The Easy trail is 3 miles long with a maximum altitude gain of 178 feet, which you could complete in about 1 – 1.5 hours.
It starts at the Ranger Station, where you walk downhill on a dirt trail before the campgrounds. Following the dirt trail will take you to a long bridge that once you cross, you’ll find yourself immersed in the allurement of Moro Canyon.
Continuing on the Moro Canyon trail, you’ll eventually find yourself at a junction of the “Poles” trail and the “West Cut Across” trail. At this point, you make a U-turn and retrace your steps back towards the ranger station.
It is a relatively quick hike with no intense uphill or crazy terrain and is actually part of the El Moro Canyon Short Loop Trail and the El Moro Canyon (regular) trail, giving you a peek at what you can aim for on your next trip there.
El Moro Canyon Short Loop Trail
El Moro Canyon Short Loop Trail is a popular and heavily trafficked trail in Crystal Cove that is 2.85 miles long with an elevation gain of 515 feet, which you can complete in about 1 – 2 hours.
You can hike, bike, or rent out horses for this trail just like all the other trails in the State Park.
You’ll see a lot of modern development at the fringes of the trail, but the deeper into the trails you go, you’ll find the open backcountry giving you a sense of peace and solitude – if there aren’t too many people, that is.
The best time to go on this trail is during the spring because all the wildflowers in the area are in full bloom creating a fascinating and colorful landscape. The trail is mostly treeless, so bring a hat, sunscreen, and water!
El Moro Canyon Loop Trail
El Moro Canyon Loop Trail is the longer or “full version” of the El Moro Canyon Short Loop Trail.
It is a 4.89-mile-long trail that you can complete in about 2 – 3 hours and is considered a difficult to moderate trail. El Moro Canyon Loop Trail has a maximum elevation gain of 744 feet all the way to the ridgeline.
The trail starts and ends at El Moro Visitor center and takes you through the canyon then up to Moro Ridge, where you are rewarded with what is considered to be the best coastal views of the park.
You can choose to ride horses on this trail or take your mountain bike out for a spin instead, which will get you up to Moro Ridge faster so you can enjoy the view for a longer period of time.
Crystal Cove Perimeter Loop Trail
The Crystal Cove Perimeter Loop Trail is the longest and most difficult route you can take. The trail is 9.5-miles long, with an elevation gain of about 1,500 feet.
The trail can be completed in 3.5 – 5 hours as you circle the entire perimeter of the Crystal Cove State Park.
The Perimeter Loop is a serious hike with loads of uphill and downhill paths and is meant for more experienced hikers. In this trail, you get the same spectacular views of the Pacific, along with views of the Santiago and Modjeska Peaks.
Backcountry Hiking Safety Tips
Preparing For The Hike
Before going on any hike, you must always remember to get to know the area you are hiking in so that you can be prepared for what is to come. For hiking in the backcountry of Crystal Cove State Park, here are a few safety tips:
When hiking, it is always a good idea to hike with a friend; that way, you always have a buddy with you in case something happens. In the case where you really MUST hike on your own, notify someone of your whereabouts.
Giving Way And Staying Safe
All the trails in the park are multi-use trails, meaning hikers, bikers, and equestrians use the trail. There is a general rule of thumb where bikers yield to hikers and hikers yield to equestrians, ensuring the safety of everyone.
The backcountry is filled with unseen hazards such as ticks, rattlesnakes, wild animals, Poison Oak, some cactus, and dangerous terrain, which is why you need to stay on designated trails only.
This ensures that you avoid not only injury to yourself, but avoid harming or damaging the natural environment that you are on.
Taking Care Of The Natural Environment
In addition, you need to remember that human food products are not good for the health and eating habits of the wild animals, so pack out what you pack in. This includes things you think maybe all right, such as sunflower seeds or even fruits.
Remember that you are visiting the homes of the wild animals, so treat the backcountry with respect. If you or your children see any animals, do not chase them or pick them up.
Animals that feel threatened or disturbed may try to harm you, and you definitely do not want that to happen. Disturbing them in their natural habitat will make their struggle for survival more difficult in the already harsh environment.
This is the same reason why dogs are not allowed on the trail – to reduce the chances of run-ins and the wild animals being disturbed by domestic pets.
An important point to note is that all the natural resources in the area are protected by the law, so do not collect or remove anything such as shells, rocks, plants, and animals.
Most Important Tip:
Finally, once again, remember to bring a lot of water for the entire duration of your hike. Bringing water is the number one rule of hiking that you cannot ignore, and you must follow religiously no matter what trail you are conquering.
Gear For Crystal Cove
A hike isn’t complete (and recommended) without a good set of gear.
Whether it is your first time to take on Crystal Cove or you’ve already gone numerous times, these are a few items that you will need to remember to bring with you while out on the trail.
You cannot go on a hike without a backpack – and having a high-quality backpack is one of the secrets of having a pleasant hiking experience. Pick a backpack that is the right size depending on whether or not you plan to camp out.
My favorite backpack and the backpack I often use is the Osprey Women’s Ariel 65 . I use a big backpack like this even during short, day hikes since I pack most of my sons’ things in my bag, so they can simply focus on enjoying.
Osprey also makes one for men, which is what my husband uses most of the time. He owns the Osprey Men’s Atmos 65 AG. They are both great bags that we have had for years and have still held together without any problems.
Of course, you must not forget about a good pair of hiking shoes. Grab the most comfortable ones you have since most of the moderate to difficult Crystal Cove hiking trails are quite long and on varying terrain.
If you don’t have trail shoes yet, you can try out the Speedcross 3 Trail Running Shoe for women from Salomon. I use these shoes when I want to go out on a trail run as well since they are lightweight and have a great grip
There are a lot of great trail shoes out there to fit any budget or any requirements you may need. Just do as much research as you can ahead of time so you can find the shoe that is perfect for you!
You’re going to get hungry, that’s for sure, so remember to bring trail snacks along with you. And bring a lot if you have kids!
My sons’ favorite treat is the Trail Mix from Kirkland because of the M&Ms that are on there! Most of the time they pick it out, leaving the rest of the nuts and dried fruits for my husband and me!
My favorite Trail Mix is the one from Raw Superfoods. It has a mixture of Goji berries, golden berries, mulberries, raisins, Brazil Nuts, Cashews, and Walnuts – all of my favorites in one bag!
Good Water Supply
Proper hydration is crucial, so you need to have a good supply of water that will last you the entire duration of the trip. It can get pretty hot in California, so it is absolutely critical to stay cool and hydrated.
I always bring with me my CamelBak All Clear UV PurifierWater bottle, which purifies water using ultraviolet light. This way, I know that I always have access to safe and clean water no matter where I go.
If you are going on a longer hike, opt for hydration packs instead, which you can either wear on your back directly or store inside of your backpack. Hydration packs give you easy access to a lot of water throughout your hike.
I have to say this again because it’s tremendously important – stay hydrated. Hiking, especially in hotter climates, always runs the risk of getting you dehydrated or getting heatstroke, which is both extremely dangerous.
Finally, if you can, try to bring a GPS with you, especially if it is your first time on Crystal Cove – or your first time hiking for that matter.
You should check out the ACR Electronics ResQLink+, which is a GPS and an emergency personal locator beacon in one, so in case something happens, or there is some sort of an emergency, you can easily be found.
For your hike at Crystal Cove, maps and detailed directions are also available online or at the visitor center so you can grab those as well.
Or, if you have a GPS watch, you can download this GPX file from Hiking Guy and load it into your GPS.
Things To Do And Things Nearby
As I’ve mentioned earlier, your tour of Crystal Cove doesn’t (and shouldn’t) end at the hike, since it is surrounded by a variety of activities that you can do right after. Here are some of my favorites, which I have done or visited with my family!
Crystal Cove State Park Historic District
Our world is filled with a long and rich history that dates back millions of years. We, as humans have always found ourselves fascinated with things of the past and how life used to be.
When visiting Crystal Cove State Park, you have the chance to be transported back in time by going to the famous Historic District, which sits on 12.3-acres along the coastline of the State Park.
The federally listed Crystal Cove Historic District has 46 rustic coastal cottages. They were originally built in the 1920s and 1930s around the mouth of the Los Trancos Creek, making them almost 50 years old.
The cottages are among the last remaining examples of how coastal development was in the early 20th century in Southern California.
The area has been restored, giving visitors the chance to stay overnight in 21 of those cottages as well as take part in educational and community programs.
If you are looking to make reservations for the cottages, you can visit here and check the Crystal Cove Beach Cottages section. The cottages are extremely popular, so if you really want to go, plan in advance!
The best part about renting out the cottages is that the prices are pretty low and friendly because the State Park administration wants as many Californians and visitors to experience the wonders of the historic District.
When visiting, you can also take a walking tour of the place, which is 0.9 miles of an out and back trail and is obtainable for all skill levels.
The walking tour is a great way to take an easy walk and to relax while taking a stroll along with the history of the early 20th century.
The Beachcomber Cafe
Ask any local where to eat when you’re in the area, and they’ll point you in the direction of The Beachcomber in the Historic District of Crystal Cove State Park.
The Beachcomber Café is a quaint little restaurant sitting along the shoreline, giving you the impression that you are walking into an old school diner with a type of surfer twist.
The café has a patio where you can enjoy your breakfast during sunrise or have a nice dinner while watching the sun go down, and the sky changes into hues of different colors.
The good food and great ambiance have quickly made it not only a local favorite but a visitor favorite as well. The café is usually packed with people, and you’ll have to wait, but I can assure you, it will be worth it.
This café is where my husband took me on a date long before we got married, and I quickly fell in love with the place. After we had taken a long hike, he brought me down to the café, and we ordered the Ahi Tuna Burger – definitely, a must-try.
The restaurant is open from 7am to 9:30pm, so be sure to find time in your schedule to drop by this charming little café.
Ruby’s Shake Shack
Your trip to Crystal Cove State Park won’t be complete unless you make a stop at Ruby’s Shake Shack, which is a traditional American diner with shakes to cool you off after a long day’s worth of activities.
If you are going this month of April, their shake of the month is Lemon Cheesecake! It is a simple, vanilla ice cream shake with a hint of lemon and cheesecake and of course, topped with whipped cream and a cherry on top.
Every month they have something new and special, so if you’re lucky enough to live nearby, try the flavor of the month and tell me in the comments what it’s like!
They have a wide range of different flavors ranging from the classics such as chocolate, vanilla, and salted caramel, all the way to exciting mixes of flavors like dulce de leche, Butterfinger, strawberry pineapple and so much more.
Ruby’s Shake Shack is my sons’ favorite place to go whenever we are in the area because each time we visit, they try out a new flavor of shake and dessert as their sweet little treat. I’m pretty sure your kids will enjoy it here too.
Events At Crystal Cove
The State Park also holds big events every once in a while that you can check out and take part in. They also have smaller programs and workshops each month that you can find in their events calendar.
Their Earth Day 2017 event, for example, which is on April 22, includes projects such as planting, weeding, and watering in the Historic District, as well as painting the curbs and educational banners, repairing ramps, boards, and signs.
An Earth Day by the beach isn’t complete, of course, without a beach clean up to help maintain the surroundings and keep it ambrosial for everyone.
Other past events that happened this month of April included their Art In The Park Celebration, which was an art show and a day full of workshops, performances, and all kinds of activities to celebrate art.
Each week this past month, the park also held jewelry making activities that utilize sea glass to create unique jewelry which anyone can take part in.
Month by month, there is always something going on in the State Park, so when you begin planning your trip, be sure to look at their calendar to see if there is some kind of special event happening on the dates you are planning to visit!
What my family and I usually do when we are out in The OC is take one of the hikes in Crystal Cove and then go down to the Historic District to grab a bite to eat at The Beachcomber or Ruby’s Shake Shack.
Then we’ll usually stay the night at the Historic Cottages (if there are rooms available), and then we spend the next day hanging out in either Newport Beach or Laguna Beach since there is so much to see and do in both those places.
When we are in Newport Beach, most of the time, we will rent out bikes and take a stroll along the sandy seaside. There are even electric bikes that you can rent out that come with tours of the area.
When it gets really hot out, we take a dip in the beach and do other water activities like paddleboarding and surfing.
There is also a vineyard and winery that my husband and I visited long ago before we had our sons, which is something great that you can do with your husband, wife, girlfriend, or boyfriend when you get the chance.
The truth is, there is so much in Newport Beach that you can do after your Crystal Cove Hike. The best thing to do is really plan out way ahead of time all the activities you want to incorporate on your trip to Crystal Cove.
Crystal Cove Is Calling
No matter what type of adventure you are looking for, Crystal Cove State Park and the areas surrounding it will satisfy your need to connect with nature and to get active and get moving.
If you’ve been stuck on your routine for far too long, its time to give yourself a break and enjoy the beauties that this world has to offer while you still can.
Always remember that hiking is a way to get close to nature, but you always need to respect it. Keep the trails clean wherever you go and try not to cause any damage to the places you are visiting.
There is much to be seen and much to do that you can take a number of different visits where you do different things, or extend your trip for a longer period of time.
But I have no doubt in my mind that you will fall in love with this place just like my family and I have.
As always, stay safe and have a happy adventure!