Crystal in the Rough

Oceanfront property in Orange County comes with a hefty price tag, but not if you're staying at one…

My Weekend Sherpa:

Want to do it Did it


Oceanfront property in Orange County comes with a hefty price tag, but not if you’re staying at one of Crystal Cove State Park’s Lower Moro hike-in campsites. The prime—and primitive—bluffside spots here are accessed via two routes (both uphill) and by reservation (because this isn’t car camping, there’s a reasonable chance of nabbing a site last-minute). We suggest ascending via the El Moro Canyon and I Think I Can trails to enjoy colorful flora and white-blooming stalks billowing up to 15 feet in the air. It’s a 3-mile hike to the 13 tent sites nestled in coastal sage scrub, with one big attraction: panoramas of the Pacific. Site 22 is prime for unobstructed ocean vistas, but for more privacy—and still great views—check out 32 and 24, off-trail. With fewer people and plenty of space to roam, the only sound you’re likely to hear is your tent being rustled by the sea breeze. On the return trip, mix things up with more coastal vistas on the Moro Ridge Trail.

TIP: The spread-out and secluded campsites at inland-facing Upper Moro campground (just over a half-mile beyond Lower Moro) offer views of the El Toro Mountains. Or, on the northwestern end of the park, you can find Crystal Cove’s remote and shaded Deer Canyon tent sites.

The backcountry trails and campgrounds at Crystal Cove State Park close after heavy rain. They are currently closed but should open by the end of the week. The park’s backcountry trailhead is located behind El Moro Elementary School (8681 North Coast Hwy.) in Laguna Beach. Here is a map to the trailhead. Camping permits are $25 and includes parking; day permits are $15. The park has 34 tent sites with four people allowed per site. Book through or call 800-444-7275. Here is a map of the park. Begin at the trailhead directly behind El Moro School. After 1.5 miles, go right at the unmarked T-junction (this is I Think I Can/E. Cut Across). At the fork with a posted map, go left to connect with Moro Ridge Trail; continue north on Moro Ridge 0.5-mile to Lower Moro Campground. On the descent, take Moro Ridge for 2.1 miles to singletrack B.F.I. on the right. After .3-mile, B.F.I. connects to El Moro Canyon; go left to return to the start. The park is open 6 a.m. to sunset; 949-497-7648. No grills or drinkable water source, so pack it in. Amenities are pit toilets, trashcans, and picnic tables. No dogs.


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