El Moro Canyon (Crystal Cove State Park)

Last weekend Ashley and I had a chance to visit the Crystal Cove State Park near Laguna Beach and Newport Coast. We did a hike in El Moro Canyon which is located in the heart of the Crystal Cove State Park. Crystal Cove State Park is a great hiking area that offers spectacular views and a great chance to see local wildlife. Ashley and I enjoyed the workout we got while on this hike, since portions of this park have some elevation gain. This is a great hiking location in the heart of the South Coast Wilderness.

Directions to Trailhead: To get to Crystal Cove State Park, from the 5 freeway, exit at El Toro Road and head towards the beach. When El Toro dead ends at the 133 make a left turn and go toward Laguna Beach. Follow the 133 to Laguna Beach and make a right onto Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). Follow PCH for a couple of miles and make a right into the area where El Moro Elementary School is and proceed up the road to the trailhead parking. Day parking at the trailhead is 15 dollars, which in our opinion is quite steep. A cheaper solution if you are planning on going to Crystal Cove State Park often is to make a donation to the California State Park Foundation who usually has a promotion that for a certain dollar amount you can become a member of the California State Park Foundation and receive a number of free parking passes in return that good at various state parks (Crystal Cove is one of those state parks). If you go hiking a couple of times, to Cystal Cove or other state parks like the Chino Hills State Park or Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, become a member of the California State Park Foundation more than pays for itself.

Description of Trail: We did a 7.8 mile loop while hiking at Crystal Cove State Park. We began at the main trailhead located by the Ranger Station at Crystal Cove State Park and headed out to the Deer Canyon Campground (a great spot for lunch and a back country camping site). We took the No Name Ridge Trail to the Ticketron Trail which takes you to the Deer Canyon Campground. We then followed the Red Tail Ridge Trail to Boomer Ridge. Once you hit Boomer Ridge you actually cross into the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. We made a right and followed Bommer Ridge until we made a right onto El Moro Canyon which brinks you back into the Crystal Cove State Park and all the way back to the Ranger Station. The hiking trails in Crystal Cove are in good shape but when you are hiking from the ocean out to Bommer Ridge just be warned there is a lot of elevation change going up and down. This hike is definitely a workout. The back country section of the Crystal Cove State Park contains 2,400 acres and is part of the larger 20,000 acre South Coast Wilderness. We have provided a Google map of our hike below. In addition if you want to print out a park map before you go click Here.

Further Thoughts: This was a fun hike in Crystal Cove State Park, but because we went on Memorial Day, there were a ton of people at the trailhead. The deeper we went on our hike on the trails in Crystal Cove State Park, the less people there were. I would imagine on a normal weekend or weekday there are much less people than we encountered on Memorial Day. At a couple of sections close to the beginning of this hike you have views of the homes in Newport Coast which distracts from the wilderness feel you have while on the rest of the hike. The one great thing about hiking in Crystal Cove State Park is the ocean breeze, especially when it is a hot summer day. Additionally, the trails on the higher ridges of this hike offer great views of Orange County and the greater Los Angeles Basin.

Crystal Cove State Park has a lot of wildlife, so make sure to have your camera ready when hiking in the park. While hiking here we saw three snakes, two of them were gopher snakes (one 2-3 feet long and the other 4-5 feet long) and the other was a striped racer (2 – 3 feet long). There was also a lot of evidence of other snakes, from the visible crossings on the trails. While hiking we also saw several turkey vultures, a couple of hawks, a falcon, and a roadrunner.

If you are bringing a lunch to enjoy, while on your hike, a great spot to have lunch is the deer creek campground which has a couple of picnic tables to sit at. This is what Ashley and I did and it was a great place to enjoy lunch deep in the wilderness Crystal Cove State Park offers hikers in Southern California. If you go hiking here during the rainy season we am sure you will find water in the streams in the canyons. While on this hike, the creek in El Moro Canyon still had a very small amount of water in it because of the good rainy season during the 2010 winter and spring. If you are hiking here during the summer make sure to have plenty of sunscreen, water, and a hat as some of the trails don't have a significant amount of shade.

When visiting Crystal Cove State Park, make sure to check out the visitor center as they have a couple of good exhibits on the surrounding wilderness area that are very informative and educational. There are also maps and other information about Crystal Cove State Park available at the visitor center. Crystal Cove State Park offers many different trail options (from easy to strenuous) and different loops that hikers can take while exploring the Crystal Cove State Park. We are looking forward to visiting other sections of this park soon. Bottom-line is Ashley and I enjoyed our hike here and highly recommend this park to others!

Rating: Elevation Gain: 900 ft. (Moderate - Strenuous), Distance: 7.8 Miles Roundtrip (Moderate).

Time to Complete Hike: 4 - 4.5 hours.

View El Moro Canyon in a larger map


  1. I've been thinking about using this park to get back into the habit of overnights. What's at Deer Creek Camp, besides the picnic tables? Porta-Johns? Is it a dry camp, or do they have a spigot? Thanks for any info you can pass on.

  2. Kirby it is a dry spot, so bring all your water. There was an outhouse, but it was lock/had a sign on it that said closed. They had about 2 maybe 3 spots that would be good for camping. There are 2 other wilderness camping areas in the park, but we have not seen those.

  3. I love Crystal Cove - it's the first park I tried hiking at, and despite trying dozens of other trails, it's the one I really feel "at home" on!

  4. Crystal Cove - El Moro is great place for trail running too. Mountain bikers also frequent this area. Try trails: No Dogs to West Cut Across (aka Mach One) to East Cut Across (aka I Think I Can) down to Moro Ridge which turns into Emerald Ridge Trl, then you will get incredible views of Emerald Bay...This is about a 4.5 mile loop that goes in a sort of circle back to Ranger Station. Lots of hills on East Cut Across make for great views!

  5. I clicked on state park foundations link, but I didn't see anything that promised 7 parking passes for doing so. Has anybody tried donating and gotten those parking passes in return?

  6. Good hike, rolling hills, but almost no shade. Make sure to bring an extra bottle of water to spare. Came in handy when my cousin was suffering from heat exhaustion - I poured my remaining water onto her head to cool her down. Saw a rattlesnake slithering away. Did this hike in March.


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