Member Hike


7650 points
Hike Name: El Morro Canyon "West Loop", Crystal Cove State Park
Country: United States
State / Region: California
Nearby Town: Laguna Beach
Rating: 4 stars
Directions: The trail parking is located just North Of Laguna Beach, South of Corona Del Mar on Pacific Coast Hwy. Turn into the Parking lot of El Morro School and drive around the West side of the school, turning North to the Parks’ parking area. Visit the info center for a parking permit ($10 ouch!). The Trailhead is South of the Info Center towards the bottom of the lot.
Total Hike Distance: 8.00 miles
Hike Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Permit Required: No
Hike Starts: North of PCH behind school
Hike Ends: North end of parking lot
Trails Used: Various, See map
Hike Type: Roundtrip, Loop Hike
Backcountry Campsites: Yes
Backcountry Water Sources: Streams
Management: State Park Service
Contact Information: Crystal Cove Interpretive Association
P.O. Box 4352
Laguna Beach. CA 92652
Best Season: Winter, Spring, Fall
Users: Hikers, Bikers, Horses
Hike Summary: Visit the info center for a parking permit ($10 ouch!). The Trailhead is South of the Info Center towards the bottom of the lot. Inside the information center are examples of local wildlife, a 3-D model of El Morro backcountry, and helpful park employees and volunteers. Trail maps are available here as well.

El Morro Canyon is a great way to experience Southern California’s diminishing coastal upland ecology. Despite Growing development in the area, the Crystal Cove “Back-Country” is relatively wild. I visit the park once or twice a year. The route I chose to outline is in my opinion, offers the best variety of terrain. There are a lot of tough ups and downs, but it certainly not the most difficult route possible within the parks trail system. Most of the trail offers no shade, so early mornings are best on hot days. This is also prime rattlesnake terrain so please use caution.

The trail begins below the Information center at the bottom of the lot. It follows an easy flat path for about half a mile, passing behind a trailer park. The trail curves NE and begins a gentle descent to the canyon bottom. A stream runs alongside the trail. During times of high rain, it can cause thick mud on the trail.

Other than the occasional mud, the trail is pretty easy going through the canyon. There is some shade including a live Oak grove at the end of the canyon. Windswept boulders make a good resting place here (see picture).

As you climb out of the canyon the shade disappears for good. At nearly 3 miles you reach a junction. Straight ahead is a section called the “Elevator”. This way is very steep. Go left up “Nice and easy”. If you look closely enough, you can find rocks with fossilized shells along this stretch. Also watch for snakes. I have spotted rattlers on two occasions in this area. This path continues about 2.5 miles to the fence line.

Take the narrow footpath along the fence line about 200 yards until it meets with the trail/road heading south. A short walk from the junction is the Deer Canyon Trail Camp. There are picnic tables and a nice shady streamside swing. Take advantage of this resting place. This is the last shade you will encounter.

After leaving the trail camp, the trail descends a short distance. A stream follows alongside. The trail then begins a series of steep ups and downs. The steepest descent coming just before the west “Cut across”. It’s easy to lose your footing here. Watch out for bikers in this area as well, the steep ups and downs are heavily used by them. The highlight of the up and downs are the ever changing views. The ocean view is fleeting until you reach the final ridge where the view opens up. The panorama view of the canyons and oceans found here are the best in the park, well worth the punishment. The ridge follows a curve towards the parking lot then descends sharply.

You reach a bulletin board with pictures of resident wildlife, and soon the north end of the parking lot.
Road Conditions: Primary Paved Roads

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