Hiking Crystal Cove

I have never had a problem with finding places to hike in Southern California. My issue is trying to narrow it down to one place. One of my favorite go-to locations is Crystal Cove State Beach. There are many trails that head back up into the hills and canyons, but I particularly love the trails that provide sweeping vistas of the beautiful coastline.

View of North Laguna coastline from Crystal Cove (photo credit: Dawn Palmer, 2020).

Even on a foggy or overcast day, I am usually rewarded with excellent views. Some of the trails at Crystal Cove are quite challenging – and definitely worth it! I can see far to the north, towards Long Beach, and to the south, towards Laguna. In the far off distance on a clear day, I can even make out Dana Point (see photo above, far edge of coastline on left). I have also been able to see Santa Catalina Island when the fog clears out. When it is sunny, the haze tends to make it more difficult to get clear photos of Catalina.

Santa Catalina Island; distant view from Moro Ridge Trail at Crystal Cove State Beach (photo credit: Dawn Palmer, 2021).

I have tried a few Crystal Cove trails now, and the one with the best view – Moro Ridge – requires a little bit of stamina to get up the first steep section (see view back down to parking lot below). The first time I tried the Moro Ridge trail, I brought my hiking sticks and wore hiking boots. If you are in good shape (which would help with getting up this part of trail), then you probably only need your favorite trail shoes. I did notice that my hiking sticks came in handy with navigating down the trail, as there are bits of sand that make it a little slippery. You can either turn around and go back down the same way after enjoying the view at the top, or hike a further loop, which is about 4.2 miles. The further loop does have steep declines on the return section that I used my hiking sticks on as well.

First steep section of Moro Ridge Trail at Crystal Cove State Beach; leads to awesome coastal vistas (photo credit: Dawn Palmer, 2020).

Sometimes I am not always up to a super strenuous hike up a steep trail. I tend to shy away from the steep trail when it is very sunny, hot or hazy. There is intermittent shade on the trail that leads to the best ocean views – you have to weigh the trade-offs.

East Cut-Across Trail to Moro Ridge Trail at Crystal Cove State Beach (photo credit: Dawn Palmer, 2021).

On some days, I prefer an easier trail, especially if I am going slower to take photos or did not come prepared – that happened once when I was wearing my hiking sandals and we decided on an impromptu hike. Fortunately, there are so many options for trails, that I can pick and choose which ones to take.

Looking back at trailhead; a couple of trail options at Crystal Cove State Beach – trail on the left leads to East Cut-Across Trail (photo credit: Dawn Palmer, 2021).

On easier days, the main trail (Moro Canyon Trail) out of the trailhead parking lot is wide and smooth (not rocky). It is still challenging, as there are some rolling hills. I was able to hike a little over a mile out – in my Chacos – before I reached a really steep hill and decided to turn around (see photo below). I would have preferred my hiking shoes from that point onward, and definitely more water, as the sun was starting to come out. I have been that way a few times, and it does lead far back into the hills to Lower and Upper Moro campgrounds and a trailhead off the 73 freeway. My husband has run it a few times – it is a favorite among runners.

Trail leading into Moro Canyon from Crystal Cove State Beach (photo credit: Dawn Palmer, 2021).

Here is another look back at the Moro Canyon Trail that I hiked. It is nice and smooth, but deceivingly steep. I thought it was a gradual incline, and it was not challenging to walk, talk, and take photos; however, looking back from where I came was surprising! I love it when I can get in a good workout that is disguised as an enjoyable, peaceful hike.

Moro Canyon Trail at Crystal Cove State Beach – looking back towards trailhead (photo credit: Dawn Palmer, 2021).

Of course, with this being fall and Halloween approaching, I couldn’t help but include a photo of a gigantic spider web. I am hoping the roped off areas and signs keep people on the trails to protect the surrounding ecosystem – but if not, then perhaps the spiders and other wildlife will be a reminder to stay on the trail.

Spider web at Moro Canyon Trail in Crystal Cove (photo credit: Dawn Palmer, 2021).

There are quite a few trail options at Crystal Cove State Beach that I plan on trying in the future – maybe not the “elevator” section that the Xterra runners love to take on – but there’s always something new to discover. I look forward to trying different routes, and to seeing the whales migrating this winter and the flowers in the spring. Regardless, my hikes always end with a visit to the beach at the other end of the parking lot, which is another reward in itself!

Relaxing at sunset at Crystal Cove State Beach (photo credit: Dawn Palmer, 2021).

I hope everyone gets out there and enjoys the beautiful fall weather. In case you missed it, here is a link to the trail map at Crystal Cove State Beach. Happy hiking, running, or backpacking!

Crystal Cove State Park Trail Map

Published by Dawn Palmer

I am an avid nature and ecology lover and enjoy sharing my photography in my blog writings. I will often be out early in the morning or late in the evening with my camera, trying to capture the peacefulness and beauty around me.

2 thoughts on “Hiking Crystal Cove

  1. From Jeanne

    We recently sold our Carlsbad condo. I liked it better in the winter when it was clearer. I’ll share with you some day.

    Sent from my iPhone



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