Deer Canyon Loop (Crystal Cove State Park)
- Location: 8471 North Coast Highway, Laguna Beach. From the 73 freeway, take the Mac Arthur exit (the last one before it becomes a toll road). Take Mac Arthur 3.2 miles to its terminus at North Coast Highway. Turn left (south) and go 4 miles to the park entrance, on the left. From Laguna Beach, take Coast Highway north for 2.8 miles and the park entrance will be on your right. From downtown Huntington Beach, the park is 12 miles south on Pacific Coast Highway. Parking fee is $15 per day.
- Agency: Crystal Cove State Park
- Distance: 7.3 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
- Suggested time: 3.5 hours
- Best season: October – May
- USGS topo map: Laguna Beach
- Recommended gear: hiking poles
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
- More information: park map here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 7
This loop through the back country of Crystal Cove State Park is one of the more scenic and challenging hikes on the Orange County coast. Highlights include great ocean views, interesting sandstone geology, a quiet campground and nice wildflowers during the spring. The park’s entrance fee is, granted, higher than most other state and regional parks, but considering the length of this loop–and the fact that it can easily be extended–it’s not hard to get your money’s worth here, especially if you come with friends and share the cost.
From the upper parking area, head uphill on the No Dogs Trail. The fire road climbs steeply (400 feet in just over half a mile), but you’re rewarded right away with great ocean vistas, and views down into El Moro Canyon below. Stay left as the Poles Trail branches off to the right. You continue north, following a roller-coaster like course along the ridge. At 1.4 miles from the start, the West Cut-Across heads right. You continue north, climbing one particularly steep stretch, and at 2.2 miles from the start, bear right on the Ticketron Trail. (If you’re wondering how the trail got that name, that makes two of us.)
After the fire-road, hikers will probably find the single-track Ticketron Trail to be a nice change. It switchbacks down into the canyon, passing by some sandstone caves, and at 3 miles from the start, you reach Deer Canyon Campground. There are a few picnic tables, and you can sit and enjoy some of the only shade on the entire route.
After the campground, the trail makes a steep ascent (200 feet in a quarter mile) to join the Rattlesnake Ridge trail. Take a sharp right and begin heading south. The rugged Rattlesnake Ridge trail provides great views in all directions: the ocean in front and the canyons on the sides. The terrain is rough, so be careful on the descent.
At 4.6 miles from the start, the Rattlesnake Ridge trail makes a sharp right and wraps around the side of the hill, making a horseshoe-shaped curve before meeting up with the West Cut Across. Head left and make a sharp descent to the bottom of El Moro Canyon, where you meet a four-way intersection. Head right and follow El Moro Canyon south. The mellow descent on this last section of the hike is a pleasant contrast to the rigors of the back country.
Just before the lower parking lot, turn right on a fire roads that heads uphill. You’ll pass by the RV parking lot and eventually reach the upper lot, completing the circuit.
Text and photography copyright 2012 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.