Laguna Bowl Loop

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As seen in the Nobody Hikes in L.A. Guidebook!

The only shade on the whole hike – enjoy it!
Looking back on Laguna Bowl Road – which fortunately you go down, not up.

Text and photography copyright 2010 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Laguna Bowl Loop

  • Location: Laguna Beach.  From downtown, take Pacific Coast Highway to Aster Street.  Head north on Aster for 0.3 miles, go right on High Drive, go one block and take a left on Poplar.  Take Poplar to its end and park on the street.
  • Agency: Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
  • Distance: 3.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 950 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (steepness)
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season:  Year-round (hot in summer)
  • USGS topo map:  Laguna Beach
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat
  • More information: here
  • Rating: 5

Ronald Reagan supposedly once said that politics is like show business: you have a heck of an opening, coast for a while and have a heck of a close.  He could have also been talking about the Laguna Bowl Loop in south Orange County.

This loop provides a quick and vigorous workout–very close to downtown Laguna Beach.  Although the beginning stretch is sure to get your blood pumping and your hams burning, the hike’s coastal location keeps it cool during the summer, especially if you get an early enough start.

From the parking area, head northwest on the paved Water Tank Road, through a gated fence (#19), into the park.  The beginning of this ascent is, simply put, one of the steepest sections of trail I’ve ever hiked.  Fortunately, it doesn’t last very long.   After arriving at the titular water tank, look for a single-track trail heading right next to the metal fence.  The ascent continues on this trail for another half mile or so before finally leveling out at a fire road.  Here, your efforts are rewarded, as your quick climb has removed you from the noise of the streets below.

At 1.5 miles, take a hard right on the Laguna Bowl Road, which heads south over a few rolling bumps on the ridge.  To the left are nice views of the Santa Ana Mountains and to the right, the rest of Laguna Coast Wilderness Park and neighboring Crystal Cove State Park.  Stay right at a signed junction and then begin a very steep descent.  The fire road ends at gate #18, where you take a right onto Laguna Canyon Road.  Go for about a quarter mile (past the Laguna Playhouse) and take a right on Acacia.  Then take an immediate right on High Drive and head uphill.  There is no sidewalk here, so be careful of cars.  Follow High Drive around its curve to another ascent which will bring you back to Poplar.  The sign is obscured by a tree so make sure you don’t miss it.  Take a right and head back to your car.


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