Moro Ridge Trail View, black mustard, Crystal Cove State Park

Orange County Hikes – El Moro Canyon at Crystal Cove State Park

Hike Name: El Moro Canyon Hike at Crystal Cove State Park
Type of Trail: Loop
Exact trails used according to Crystal Cove State Park Hiking Map:
No Dogs (.6 mi)  –> Poles (.4 mi) –> E Cut Across (1.1mi) –> Moro Ridge (1.6 mi) –> B.F.I. (.1 mi) –> Walk Back to Trailhead (.4mi)
Total Distance: 4.2 miles
Elevation Gain/Loss: 1053′
Difficulty Level: Moderate
Cost: $15 for parking or use the California State Parks Pass
Crowded: No
Views: Yes
Restrooms: Yes, at trailhead
Good for:  
Families, ocean views
Date Hiked: 4/30/2017

Crystal Cove State Park is somewhat difficult to navigate. The park is split up across the Pacific Coast Highway, and there are multiple parking lots and access points to the beach. I’ve been camping there before, and it’s clear where to go then – but if you’re hiking, it’s a little less clear.

To start with, there are two parking lots by which to access the trailheads. (There is a third parking lot – Los Trancos – but do not park there, as it only leads to the beach.) We parked at the trailhead nearest to the Ranger Station/Visitor’s Center and started up what we thought was the Moro Canyon Trail.  Our intention was to do the “Difficult” or “yellow” loop trail.

For some reason the trails in this park are not well marked at all once you’re on them. It wasn’t clear what trail we were on  when we started, and it remained that way for much of the hike. I could tell we weren’t the only ones with this problem, as we encountered three or four other groups of hikers who stopped to consult with us about what trail we were on. Though we thought we were on the Moro Canyon Trail, we later found out we started on a small trail called No Dogs:


Just starting out on the No Dogs Trail



The No Dogs Trail is entirely uphill.

After No Dogs we were forced to go on Poles, which was a very steep downhill trail into the valley.


As you descend on Poles, you can spot the uphill Moro Ridge Trail heading up the hill across the valley.


From Poles, we took the E Cut Across, which connects to the Moro Ridge Trail. Maybe it was because we had already ascended one hill, but this one – though it looks pretty steep from afar – really wasn’t at all. From the top you’re greeted with pathways lined with black mustard and eventually, sweeping views of Laguna Beach on the way down:


A sea of yellow against a blue sky

Moro Ridge Trail View

Laguna Beach


It’s a flat downhill walk on Moro Ridge.


Views of Laguna Beach


More views of Laguna Beach on descent

At the bottom of the hill, we took a short path called B.F.I., which connected to the day use parking lot and the walkway back to our parking lot at the Visitor’s Center.  You can avoid this extra .4 mi by parking in the day use parking lot and starting the Moro Canyon Trail directly. To find the day use lot,  make the first right after passing El Moro Elementary School upon entering the park. If you go straight, as we did, you’ll end up at the Visitor’s Center and will probably end up confused on No Dogs.

My personal favorite ocean view hikes are in Malibu, but El Moro Canyon is quite nice for a quick afternoon hike. As a bonus after the hike, you can cool off at the beach or with a shake from the nearby Ruby’s Shake Shack.


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