Dana Point Headlands, Orange County, CA

Dana Point Headlands

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  • Location: Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center, 34558 Scenic Drive, Dana Point. From I-5, take exit 79 for Pacific Coast Highway. Head west on P.C.H. for 0.9 mile to Dana Harbor Drive. Turn left and follow Dana Harbor Drive 1.2 miles to Cove Road. Turn right and follow Cove Road 0.2 mile uphill to Scenic Drive. Turn left and follow Scenic Drive 0.2 mile to the interpretive center parking lot (open 7 am to sunset). Parking may also be available on Scenic Drive (note posted restrictions).
  • Agency: City of Dana Point/Orange County Parks & Recreation/Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM)
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 450 feet
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: Year-round (parking area open from 7am to sunset)
  • Dogs: Not allowed
  • Cell phone reception: Good
  • Water: Fountains at the trail head and on Strand Beach
  • Restrooms: Available at the trail head and on Strand Beach
  • Camping/backpacking: None
  • More information: Map My Hike report here; Yelp page here; trip descriptions here, here and here
  • Rating: 3

Not to be confused with the nearby Dana Point Sea Caves, the Dana Point Headlands Conservation Area sits on a bluff above the ocean. Using the preserve’s trails, the beach and some city streets, one can do a 2.8-mile loop with appreciable elevation gain, providing a workout with some scenic variety.

Begin by accessing the trail through the Dana Point Reserve. This half-mile arc strolls along the bluffs, furnishing panoramic ocean views and a surprising amount of solitude. Interpretive plaques describe the flora and fauna, which includes migrating whales. At the far end of the trail, you emerge onto Dana Strand Road. Follow it a short distance to the South Strand Conservation Area, where a paved walkway deposits you on the beach.

From here, head north either on a the paved Strand Revetment Trail or the beach itself. At the north end of the beach, the trail makes a hairpin right turn and climbs a staircase to Strand Vista Park. Head southeast, enjoying views of the beach below, before crossing Selva Road and continuing along a paved pedestrian path that threads between two residential communities.

After crossing Shoreline Drive, the trail becomes a single-track and climbs a knoll where a spur leads you to the highest point of the preserve. From here, you enjoy a sweeping view of the harbor and the south Orange County communities of Dana Point, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano. In the distance is Old Saddleback and if visibility is good you may see Mt. Baldy and the San Gabriels.

After retracing your steps to the main trail, you descend a staircase to Golden Lantern. On the opposite of the street, a short, J-shaped trail provides more views of the harbor. Complete the loop by following Scenic Drive uphill a short distance to the parking area. If the interpretive center is open, make sure to allow a little extra time to visit.

Dana Point Headlands
Start of the hike
Dana Point Headlands, Orange County, CA
Following the trail along the bluff
Strand Beach, Dana Point, CA
Strand Beach
Strand Beach, Dana Point, CA
Boardwalk at the north end of Strand Beach
Strand Vista Park, Dana Point, CA
View from Strand Vista Park
Dana Point Headlands, Orange County, CA
Suburban view from Dana Point Hilltop Park
Dana Point Headlands, Orange County, CA
Looking north from Dana Hilltop Park
Dana Point Harbor
Dana Point Harbor

Text and photography copyright 2018 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. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.



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