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Crystal Cove Red Route Hike

Crystal Cove Red Route Hike

In This Guide
  • Video & Turn by Turn Hike Directions
  • How to Get to the Crystal Cove Red Route Hike
  • Everything You Need to Know To Prepare for the Hike
Total Distance9.2 miles (14.8 km)
Hike Time3-4 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Hard
Total Ascent (?)1,600 feet (488m)
Highest Elevation1,010 feet (308m)
Fees & PermitsParking Fee
Dogs AllowedNo
Alerts & Closures (?)Crystal Cove State Park
Park Phone949-494-3539

The Crystal Cove red route is the toughest hike that the park recommends, calling it “a strenuous loop hike around the permitter of the park.” The hike doesn’t include a big mountain climb, but rather is a series of ups and downs through pristine native coastal scrub, a rarity in Southern California. The red route is well marked and easy to follow, there are bathrooms along the way, and it offers lots of opportunities for wildlife spotting and expansive ocean views.

Where is the Crystal Cove Red Route?

The red route starts at the Moro Canyon Ranger Station in Crystal Cove State Park. Crystal Cove is known for its beaches, but they’re also 18 miles of trails in over 2,400 acres of protected native habitat.

Use this trailhead address:
Crystal Cove State Park, Ranger Station and Visitor Center, 8471 N Pacific Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Crystal Cove Parking Directions
After you turn off of the PCH, finding the lot can be a little tricky. Go straight past the high school, bear right at the turn, and then make your first left into the parking lot.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 2
The parking lot at the ranger station is big but does fill up. When it’s full they will turn people away.

There is a fee to park at Crystal Cove SP. Please pay at the visitor center.

Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 3
The ranger station and visitor center is also worth a visit. There are interpretive displays and helpful rangers to answer any questions.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 4
There are bathrooms and water refill stations right next to the visitor center.

Do this hike as early as possible to avoid the crowds and heat.

Gear for the Hike

This is a long hike with lots of ups and downs, and I recommend proper hiking gear and footwear when you do it. Bring at least 2L of water with you and sun protection. There is no shade and in the summer it can be very hot here.

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Wildcat Small

My Goto Hiking Footwear: La Sportiva Wildcat
If you hike a lot or just want the best (but not the most durable) hiking footwear, the Wildcat trail runner is your best move.  It’s fast and light on trails, the sole gives me good grip off-trail or scrambling, and they dry quickly.
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Best All-Around Day Pack: Osprey Talon
I try so many backpacks and I can usually find something I love about all of them. But no matter how many I try, I always find that I come back to the Osprey Talon 33  (or for women, the Osprey Sirrus 36). It’s just the right balance between everything. You save weight because there is no frame, but the vented and padded back holds its shape, giving it a pseudo-frame. It’s big enough for long day hikes or overnighters, but when I don’t fill it on a shorter hike, it’s still nice and light. It’s got a sleeve for a hydration bladder and side pockets for Smartwater bottles.  I’ve been using (and beating) the same one since 2017 and it’s still going strong.
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Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

Stay Safe Out of Cell Phone Range
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Garmin InReach Mini (REI | Amazon | My Review) fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing.

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated December 2020.

My December 2020 Top Gear Picks

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.

Crystal Cove Red Route Trail Maps

Overall the trails are easy to follow and vary between wide sandy tracks and smaller single trail. The park is shared with mountain bikers, so keep an eye out, especially on the narrower sections.

Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 13
The Crystal Cove trails have this handy trail map at most junctions. Look for the rivit in the sign that tells you where you are.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 22
I’ve noted all the important turns in the hike directions below, but you’ll also see some of these dead end side trails along the way, used to access utility poles.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 28
Some areas may be closed for habitat restoration. One of the park’s missions is to protect native species and fauna.
Click Here To View Map

Download the Hike GPX FileView a Printable PDF Hike Map

Fenix 6 Pro

How are you going to navigate this hike?
To start, you should always have a paper map and compass. And it helps to print this guide out or save it on your phone. I highly recommend a GPS as well. I use the Garmin Fenix 6 smart GPS watch ( REI | Amazon | My Review) with maps (or the more affordable  Garmin Instinct). You can also use most smartphones. Check out my navigation recommendations and resources on my top gear picks page for options at all budget levels.

Elevation Profile

Crystal Cove Red Route Hike Elevation
You’ll roughly climb to the highest point by the middle of the hike, and then hike back to the same elevation. But there are a lot of small ups and downs that add up over the 9 miles of the red route.

Hike Landmarks

LandmarkDistanceElevation
Trailhead0170
Bridge0.550
Viewpoints Start1400
Lower Moro (Bathroom)3860
Uppe Moro Bathroom)3.8840
Deer Canyon (Bathroom)6640
Ridge Trail Views7690

3D Map

Crystal Cove Red Route Hike 3d Map
You can see from this 3d view that the red route does a loop around the permitter of the Moro Canyon area of the park.

Crystal Cove Red Route Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Watch This Video In 360/VR Why 360/VR Is Great

Turn by Turn Directions

Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 5
Start by following the boardwalk down from the parking lot.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 1
The boardwalk turns to dirt. Make the first left when you come to the intersection.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 6
The trail follows the road to the campground. Keep hiking straight.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 7
Avoid the beach trail to the right and bear left on the bigger trail.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 8
You’ll start descending into the bigger (lower) parking area. If you need to use a bathroom, you can do it in this parking area too.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 9
At the bottom of the hill (and at the trail board) make the left onto the Moro Canyon Trail.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 10
Right after the turn you’ll cross this big bridge.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 11
Avoid the side trail to the right immediately after the bridge.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 12
But make the next right after that last turn onto the BFI Trail.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 14
Here you can see the trail sign at that junction. You’ll have these trail signs along the route. And BFI stands for “Big (fill in the blank) Incline.”
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 15
The trail is narrow and gradually uphill.
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But then you get to the “BFI” part of the trail and it gets steep. Just take your time. This first climb will be the toughest on the entire red route.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 17
When you reach the pavement, make the left and follow it uphill.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 18
Now you’re on the Moro Ridge Trail, and it’s steep going as you climb about 500 vertical feet.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 19
The nice thing about this steep section is that you have great ocean views when you stop to turn around. On a clear day you’ll see from Catalina Island to Palos Verdes.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 20
Eventually Moro Ridge Trail levels out with some gentle inclines.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 21
Stay straight as a dead-end trail comes in from the right.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 23
At about 2.5 miles in, you’ll reach the junction with the East Cut Across Trail. Go straight.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 24
There are some ups and downs as you continue on the Moro Ridge Trail, but it’s mainly easy going.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 25
At around 3 miles in you’ll reach Lower Moro Campground. Bear to the right; the trails to the left go into the camping area.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 26
If you want to do some primitive camping at Crystal Cove, this is one of your options. You can make a reservation here.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 27
There are primitive toilets just off the trail in the campground.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 29
About a half mile after Lower Moro,  you’ll reach Upper Moro Campground.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 30
Upper Moro also has a primitive toilet.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 31
Continue hiking on Moro Ridge as it does a few short, steep climbs.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 32
At the top of one of the climbs, look for the left turnoff for Missing Link Trail, which you will follow for about 0.5 miles.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 33
Right after you start Missing Link, there’s a nice overlook, which on the day I did this guide, was covered in fog.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 34
The Missing Link Trail is small with lots of twists and turns.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 35
When you come to the junction with the Moro Canyon Trail, go straight through. On the right side of this fence is Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, an Orange County Park.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 36
After a very short stretch, bear right onto the Slow N Easy Trail.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 37
Just past the trail board, make the left onto the Fenceline Trail, which we’ll follow for about 0.5 miles.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 38
The Fenceline Trail is small like our last trail.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 39
At the end of the Fenceline Trail, make the left turn onto the Red Tail Trail.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 41
The trail is wide and meanders downhill.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 42
At the intersection with the Rattlesnake Trail, stay right on the wide Tickerton Trail and continue downhill.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 43
The downhill is steep, so watch your footing.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 44
At the bottom of the hill you’ll reach the Deer Canyon Campground, which has the last toilet before the end of the hike.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 45
The Red Route continues on the Tickerton Trail through the other side of Deer Canyon Campground.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 46
This part of the red route is quiet and peaceful.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 47
After a flat stretch you’ll have to do an uphill to climb out of Deer Canyon. It’s not nearly as tough as the first climb you did.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 48
When Tickerton ends, make the left onto No Name Ridge Trail.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 50
There are some ups and downs on this stretch.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 51
Keep going straight on No Name Ridge, avoiding the West Cut Across Trail to the left.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 52
More ups and downs. When it’s not foggy, you’ll start getting some good views from here.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 53
Stay right as the Poles Trail joins.
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And then joins again…. stay right.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 55
You’ll be able to see other hikers and trails as you continue down along the ridge, which is now called the No Dogs Trail.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 56
And you’ll also get sweeping views of the ocean once again.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 57
At the bottom of the hill you’ll reach a gate. Bear to the left.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 58
And a second later you’re back at the parking lot where you started!

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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