Crystal Cove State Park
in Orange County is prized for its glistening beaches, but there’s also 2,400 acres of backcountry, including a 9-mile hike (or mountain bike) to a high point that rewards with gorgeous coastal scenery. Begin at the trailhead just past El Moro Elementary School, adjacent to the ranger station (where you can pick up a map; park rangers refer to this hike as the perimeter loop, and the map references it as the “strenuous” hiking option). Things start on the up and up right away on No Dogs Trail (a creative way of saying no dogs on the trail). Traverse the rolling hills before looping around and encountering the marquee 3-mile stretch at the highest point in the park: Moro Ridge is a mostly flat, meandering path that lets you soak in huge views up and down the coast. For 3 miles you’ll be seeing the ocean, as well as Palos Verdes Peninsula to the north, Catalina Island to the west, and, on clear days, as far as San Diego to the south. Moro Ridge eventually descends, allowing you to peer over the beautiful local beaches while still getting north-south coastal views. Hiking north on the BFI Trail and connecting to Moro Canyon, you’ll be paralleling the coast until a moderate uphill climb brings you past Moro Campground and back to the parking lot.
BONUS BACKPACKING: Want new adventures in 2016, but not ready to leap into intense backpacking? Do a test run here. Along the perimeter loop are three primitive campsites that are a good introduction. Ask the rangers about Deer Canyon, Upper Moro, and Lower Moro campgrounds.
From north or south, take Hwy.1 (PCH) and follow signs for Crystal Cove State Park and Moro Campground, just south of the Reef Point Dr. exit. Pick up a trail map at the ranger station. Trail connections for this hike are: No Dogs to No Name Ridge to Ticketron to Red Tail Ridge to Fence Line to Missing Link to Moro Ridge to BFI to Moro Canyon. Bike friendly. No dogs.