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General Overview:

The El Morro Trail in Crystal Cove State Park is a fun early morning or afternoon adventure for Southern California hikers. In addition to single track trails, the trail features scenic views of the Pacific Ocean and various canyons in Crystal Cove. El Morro is an excellent training ground for novice hikers, trail runners, and even back backers! Yes, there are 2 overnight back backing sites further along the El Morro Trail (reservations required). 

The first section of the 4.2 trail loop is a moderate hill. Although challenging, the hill features panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, Laguna Beach, and Crystal Cove. When you reach the summit, the remaining section of the trail is rather flat, then declines back into the canyon.

Although it costs $15 for a day parking pass to Crystal Cove State park, this entrance fee helps maintain the trails and limit the amount of hikers in the park. If you still want to experience the canyons of Crystal Cove and not pay a parking fee, The Go Hike It team recommends the Ridgeline Hiking Trail in Newport Coast.

Length: 4.2 miles round-trip

The El Morro trail loop is easily accessible from various cities in Southern California and can be done in 1.5 – 2.5 hours, depending on your fitness level. The ease of accessibility and relative short distance makes it a fun hike to enjoy in the middle of the week after work. If you are not able to make it during the week, El Morro is also an excellent weekend adventure!

El Morro Hiking Trail Map:

View El Morro Hiking Trail in a larger map

Directions to Crystal Cove State Park (address for GPS): 38681 N Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA ‎

From San Diego Area:

  • Take the  1-5 North toward Los Angeles
  • Take the exit toward Beach Cities
  • Merge onto CA 1-N
  • Crystal Cove state park will be on your right.

From Los Angeles Area

  • Take I-5 South to the California 133 S exit toward Laguna Beach
  • Merge onto CA-133 South
  • Turn right onto CA-1 North
  • Crystal Cove state park will be on your right.
Where to Park: The parking lot is a short 2-3 minute drive down the hill past the Crystal Cove State Park’s entrance. It’s $15 for a day parking pass.
When to Go: Year-Round: Due to Laguna Beach’s moderate climate, hikers can enjoy the El Morro Crystal Cove State Hiking Trail year round. However, if you want to experience the trail during less popular times, we recommend going during the winter (just make sure to check the weather report).

How it Looks:  

El Morro Trailhead Entrance from Parking Lot
Sign that marks the route to the single track up the hill


Pacific Ocean view from El Morro Hiking Trail
Top of the El Morro Trail (make a left at this sign to return back to the canyon)


Top of El Morro Hiking Trail
Bottom of El Morro Hiking Trail
Ocean view from El Morro – Crystal Cove Hiking Trail


Crystal Cove Canyon View
Crystal Cove Hiking Trail Canyon View
Dog Friendly: No, only service dogs are allowed. Sorry, Pepper!

Intensity Levels: 

  • Barry-the-Bear:  “What a WORK-out! The hill to the trail’s summit was a challenge! Although there were points when I wanted to turn around, I’m b-e-a-r-y happy that I continued and finished the loop! The views in the canyon were spectacular!” 
  • Larry-the-Lion: “Oh yeah! This hike made me R-O-A-R with excitement! I’ve enjoyed other Crystal Cove State Park hikes before, but El Morro was definitely in a league of it’s own. The single track area made it worth it!
  • Chris-the-Cheetah: “I love to run the El Morro Trail! It’s an excellent training ground for Xterra Trail Runs. How can you beat scenic Ocean views, hiking, and getting a solid work out?”


What’s your favorite Orange Count Hiking Trail? Leave a comment below and share it with The Go Hike It hiking community! 

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