Cave in Crystal Cove State Park, Orange County, CA

Moro Ridge/Moro Canyon Loop from Coastal Peak Park (Crystal Cove State Park)


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  • Location: Coastal Peak Park, Newport Coast. From the 73 toll road, take the MacArthur exit (the last one that’s free). Merge onto MacArthur, go 2.3 miles and turn left on San Joaquin Hills Road. Go 2.5 miles, turn right onto Ridge Park Road and drive 1.8 miles to the end, and access the trail from Coastal Peak Park. From P.C.H., take Newport Coast Drive north for 2.4 miles, turn right on Ridge Park Road and drive 1.5 miles to Coastal Peak Park.
  • Agency: Crystal Cove State Park/Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
  • Distance: 8.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
  • Suggested time: 4 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain, steepness)
  • Best season: All year but hot during the summer
  • Dogs: Not allowed
  • Cell phone reception: Good at the trail head and on the Moro Ridge Trail; fair on the East Cut-Across; none in Moro Canyon
  • Water: None
  • Restrooms: Vault toilets at the Upper and Lower Moro Campgrounds
  • Camping/backpacking: The route passes through the Upper and Lower Moro Campgrounds. Overnight parking is not allowed at Coastal Peak Park so if you are camping at either of these sites, you will have to access it from the park’s main entrance (or have someone drop you off and pick you up the next day at Coastal Peak Park). For more information on camping at Crystal Cove State Park, click here.
  • Recommended gear: Sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles; insect repellent
  • More information: Trip description (similar route including Moro Canyon) here; Crystal Cove State Park Yelp page here
  • Rating: 6

Updated July 2018

This route explores the extensive back country of Crystal Cove State Park, providing a vigorous and lengthy workout. Highlights include the secluded and shaded upper Moro Canyon, with some small caves to explore, and (on clear days) panoramic ocean and mountain views. The long, exposed stretches, including some steep ascents, may test the patience of some hikers and the power lines in lower Moro Canyon are hard to ignore, but this loop is still a solid destination for Orange County hikers. By parking at Coastal Peak Park, you can save yourself the parking fee required at the Pacific Coast Highway entrance. This means that you are doing the loop as a reverse hike, so plan for a long ascent back to the top.

Begin by following the Bommer Ridge Trail east from Coastal Peak Park, paralleling the 73 Toll Road, with good views of Old Saddleback in the distance. At 0.7 mile, you can leave the fire road and continue on the more interesting, single-track Fenceline Trail. At 1.1 miles, you arrive at a junction with your return route, the Elevator Trail (by hiking clockwise, as described here, you can save the most interesting and enjoyable part of the hike – upper Moro Canyon – for last and your ascent will have at least some shade. On the other hand, if you are off to a very early start, you can descend the Elevator Trail to Moro Canyon and ascend via the East Cut-Across; this option is best if you can complete the ascent before the sun rises over Moro Ridge).

The Fenceline Trail continues another 0.6 mile to Moro Ridge. Turn right and head south, following the rolling ridge line toward the ocean. You pass the Upper Moro Campground (2.3 miles from the start) and then the Lower Moro Campground in another 0.8 mile. Despite its name, the Lower Moro Campground is actually situated slightly higher than the Upper. This is a good spot to rest and enjoy some views.

After continuing south for half a mile you reach the East Cut-Across. This fire road drops steadily into Moro Canyon, losing about 600 feet in just over a mile. At the bottom, head north into Moro Canyon, gradually at first (200 feet of elevation gain in the first 0.8 mile) and then steeply (100 feet in 0.1 mile). After this climb, the trail drops into the welcome shade of an oak and sycamore woodland. A use trail leads to a shallow sandstone cave.

At 6.3 miles from the start, stay straight as the Slow’n’Easy Trail branches off to the left. The Moro Canyon Trail continues uphill 0.6 mile to a junction with a service road, at which point it becomes the Elevator Trail. A steep climb (300 feet in 0.4 mile) brings you back to the junction with the Fenceline Trail. From here, retrace your steps west 1.1 miles to Coastal Peak Park.

 

Crystal Cove State Park, Orange County, CA
Junction with the Fenceline Trail and Elevator Trail
Crystal Cove State Park, Orange County, CA
Old Saddleback from above the Moro Ridge Trail
Lower Moro Campground, Crystal Cove State Park, CA
Lower Moro Campground
Crystal Cove State Park, CA
View of Moro Canyon from the East Cut-Across
Moro Canyon, Crystal Cove State Park, CA
Hills in lower Moro Canyon
Moro Canyon, Crystal Cove State Park, CA
Cave in upper Moro Canyon
Cave in Moro Canyon, Crystal Cove State Park, CA
Inside the cave
Moro Canyon, Crystal Cove State Park, Orange County, CA
Sycamores in upper Moro Canyon

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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