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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 Distance (?)9.2 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
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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.

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.

Lone Peak 5

Altra Lone Peak 5
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak is a solid choice that will leave your feet feeling great at the end of any hike. The feel is cushy and light, and if it had a car equivalent, this would be a Cadillac or Mercedes Sedan. The grip is great and they’re reasonably durable for this type of trail runner, which I think is better in most conditions than a hiking boot, and here’s why. The downside of this shoe is that it won’t last as long as something like the Moab 2 (see alternate footwear choices at the bottom of my gear page). I’ve been using mine for many miles and my feet always feel great. Watch my video explaining why they are a great shoe here.

Latest Price on Women’s Shoe
REI | Amazon

Latest Price on Men’s Shoe
REI | Amazon

Black Diamond Ergo Poles 2

Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
I’ve gone back and forth on trekking poles, but I think for most people they are a good investment. They help you dig in on the uphills, provide stability on loose downhills, act as a brace when crossing streams, and can probably poke away aggressive wildlife in a pinch. The Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good balance of light weight, durability, affordability, and ease of use. If you want something ultralight and a little more pricey, I’ve had great luck with the Black Diamond Z Poles too.

Latest Price
REI | Amazon

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated October 2021.

My October 2021 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 keep the website ad and promotion free. 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

Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File

If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.

Gaiagps

How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 6. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

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.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 16
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.
Crystal Cove Red Route Directions 54
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!

This guide last updated on April 8, 2021. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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