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Exploring Crystal Cove
by David Womack
David Womack is an award winning screenwriter and the author of Mountain Bike! Orange County, published in November 2007. His blog, MountainBikeOC, offers detailed information on local trails and mountain-biking events.

Exploring Crystal Cove State Park

South of Corona Del Mar the coastline turns dramatic. Rock-strewn ridge lines rise nearly 1000 feet above the beckoning Pacific. Not surprisingly, this landscape harbors some of Orange County’s most gilded real estate. However, Crystal Cove State Park lies here as well – a pristine swath of coastline and canyons wedged between the Tuscanesque mansions of Newport Coast and the opulent bungalows of Irvine Cove.

With 2,000 acres of accessible back country and 3.5 miles of sandy shoreline, Crystal Cove is a boon for the recreation minded. The park is a popular destination for hikers, mountain bikers, beachcombers, surfers, divers and kayakers.

The parking lot behind El Morro School offers access to the park’s back country. Follow the aptly named School/State Park road inland from Coast Highway -- the lot lies about 200 yards behind the school. In the adjacent Visitor Center, rangers collect the $10 parking fee and dispense trail maps. A nice diorama of park wildlife is also worth looking at here.

El Morro Canyon Road begins at the lower end of the lot (just behind the school). This is the preferred starting point for most hikers and bikers. The road carves through the length of the scenic canyon, ending at the inland boundary of the park. At the base of the canyon, the road winds through broad, chaparral–laden hillsides. Look for blooming Monkey Flower and Jimson Weed along the roadside. In spring, blooming mustard paints the contoured canyon slopes with a brilliant yellow hue -truly an experience not to be missed. Farther back, the canyon narrows and ascends abruptly. A shady woodland of Sycamore and Oak offers a nice respite before the long final climb to the ridge. At road’s end, a fence line marks the boundary between the state park and the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park (also open to biking and hiking).

A simple return route follows the Fenceline Trail to the highest point in the park. Enjoy the unmitigated view of Saddleback and then loop back on Morro Ridge Road. Directions are easy: just head toward the ocean. Before the final steep descent, enjoy the bird’s eye perspective of Newport Coast. On clear days, Santa Catalina Island and the Palos Verdes peninsula will seem impossibly close.

Hikers looking for a shorter route might start up No Dogs. The dirt road begins near the visitor center and climbs gradually to No Name Ridge. Oddly, this rolling section of road doubled for Guantanamo Bay in the 1992 film, A Few Good Men. It’s doubtful you’ll be reminded of Cuba, but the views are spectacular. Enjoy the sweeping panorama before making the long, straight descent down Mach One and looping back on El Morro Canyon Road.

Published: Jul 23,2008 14:13
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