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A Guide to Crystal Cove State Park

A Guide to Crystal Cove State Park

With pristine beaches, gently sloping hills, and deeply wooded canyons, Crystal Cove State Park is a piece of heaven on earth. Team


7 min read

January 30, 2024

White sandy beaches, gently sloping hills, deeply wooded canyons — Crystal Cove State Park is a piece of heaven on earth. This gorgeous destination is one of the largest remaining open spaces in the SoCal paradise that is Orange County. 

Crystal Cove State Park’s miles of shoreline and over 2,000 acres of wilderness allow it to have recreational opportunities that appeal to everybody. Whether you’re looking to mountain bike, scuba dive, or explore tidepools and sandy coves — you’ll enjoy your time discovering this O.C. gem - which also happens to be one of the most beautiful places in Southern California.

How to get to Crystal Cove State Park

Explore the numerous natural wonders of Crystal Cove State Park, one of the largest remaining open spaces in the O.C.

Located right off the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach, Crystal Cove State Park is accessible and easy to find. If you’re driving, Crystal Cove State Park has parking available on the ocean side of PCH (at Reef Point Drive and Newport Coast Drive) and on the inland side at El Moro Canyon (next to El Morro Elementary School). Day-use parking costs $15; you can also opt to buy an annual pass for $195 if you plan on visiting more California state parks in the near future.

The general park area is open between 6 am and sunset, and the Crystal Cove State Park Historic District remains open until 10 pm. There are four entrances to the park; two by the bluffs at Pelican Point and Reef Point, one from Los Trancos, and one by the El Morro parking area.

Crystal Cove State Beaches

Some of the most beautiful California state beaches can be found at Crystal Cove State Park. The 3.2 miles of Pacific Coastline are divided into six sweeping beaches, each with its own unique features.

Moro Beach

This easily accessible Crystal Cove State Park beach stretches north from Abalone Point towards Muddy Creek. You’ll reach Moro Beach by hiking the short tunnel through the Moro day use lot. Popular activities at this Crystal Cove State beach are bodyboarding, paddle boarding, fishing, and kayaking.

Los Trancos Beach 

Los Trancos Beach is located in the historic district, where you’ll find the historic Crystal Cove Beach cottages that have been preserved and are not rented out to tenants.

Reef Point 

This popular beach is a go-to destination for Californians wanting to go scuba diving, surfing, snorkeling, and whale watching. The smooth sandy shores of this Crystal Cove beach are also a prime spot to watch the sunset in Southern California.

Pelican Point

Pelican Point is an expansive Crystal Cove State Park beach that’s a favorite among tide poolers and scuba divers. There are four bluff-top parking lots with access to this beach as well as multiple restroom and outdoor shower facilities. Like long walks along the beach? A one mile, multi-use trail parallels the ocean and offers sweeping views of the crashing waves and coastal wildlife.

Treasure Cove Beach

Treasure Cove Beach is popular with surfers and scuba divers wanting to explore the reefs and see marine life. The multi-use Bluff Top Trail takes visitors south to the Crystal Cove Historic District and north to views into Little Treasure Cove. Keep an eye out for the interpretive sign along the trail that informs visitors on the local marine life.

Little Treasure Cove

This Crystal Cove beach is located at the northernmost end of the park, between Laguna Beach and Newport Beach. If you’re a fan of tide pooling, make sure to visit this beach at low tide when the rocks and tide pools are exposed. The easiest way to access Little Treasure Cove is via the long paved path from the northern day-use parking area at the Pelican Point entrance.

The Best Crystal Cove State Park Camping Spots

Spend the weekend camping at Crystal Cove State Park for an unforgettable experience by the coast.

One of the most exciting things to do in Laguna Beach is spending the night in its beautiful wilderness, and Crystal Cove State Park happens to be one of California’s best state parks for camping. The park’s scenic Moro Campground boasts plenty of amenities, and opportunities for recreational activities nearby.

Moro Campground

Location: 8471 North Coast Highway
Amenities: Picnic tables, bathrooms, showers, potable water
Activities: Hiking, biking, swimming, surfing, scuba and skin diving, tide pooling, horseback riding, fishing, boating, paddling, wildlife watching
Number of sites: There are 58 total sites — 28 are for RVs and trailers, while 30 are designated “low impact” for soft-side trailers, van conversions, and tents. There are also 21 backcountry sites that must be reached on foot.
Dogs allowed: Dogs are permitted in the campground, in parking areas, and on paved roads, but they must be on a leash no longer than six feet. Only service dogs are allowed on the beach and in the backcountry.

Moro Campground is situated along the coastal bluffs of Crystal Cove State Park and is divided into three areas: Coyote Run, Sage Loop, and Dolphin Circle. All the sites boast impressive views and beach access — perfect for spending a weekend camping by the coast with the family. 

Lower Moro, Upper Moro, and Deer Canyon Campsites

If you’re in the mood for a “rougher” camping experience a la Survivor, you can also enjoy primitive camping at Crystal Cove State Park. The Lower Moro, Upper Moro, and Deer Canyon Campsites are secluded, primitive tent sites that are accessible only by foot and require at least a 3 mile hike inland. 

So, those thinking of embarking on a Crystal Cove State Park camping trip in the backcountry should prepare in advance. No drinking water is available at these sites, and wood and charcoal fires are strictly forbidden. (Pets are also prohibited.) Make sure you bring along a backpacking stove and pack according to the weather conditions.

Crystal Cove State Park Cottages

Take a step back in time and enjoy enviable coastal views by renting out one of the historic Crystal Cove Beach Cottages.

The Crystal Cove State Park Historic District is a 12.3-acre coastal destination featuring 40 rustic cottages. Originally built as a seaside colony in the 1930s and 40s, these cottages are one of the last remaining examples of early 20th-century coastal housing in SoCal.

The Crystal Cove State Park cottages are a sight to behold, so why not have a seaside adventure that’ll feel like traveling back in time? Studios, as well as one- and two- bedroom houses are available for overnight stays to the public through ReserveCalifornia.

Incredible Crystal Cove Hiking Trails

Walk along Crystal Cove State Park's hiking trails for captivating views that are bound to refresh your soul.

As one of the best state parks in California, Crystal Cove State Park has backcountry and forest areas which provide 18 miles of hiking routes through 2,400 acres of native wilderness. The higher trails boast beautiful views of the rugged backcountry and the strikingly blue Pacific Ocean, while the lower trails offer scenic routes along the seasonal Moro Creek through riparian woodlands of oak and sycamore trees.

No matter which Crystal Cove State Park hiking trail you choose, you’ll come across native plants and animals, and get a chance to escape from civilization for a little while.

El Moro Canyon Trail

Level of difficulty: Moderate
Round-trip length: 4.9 miles
Time: 2 hours
Type: Loop

This popular trail starts and ends at the El Moro Visitor Center. As its name implies, the loop gives you a tour of El Moro Canyon, then climbs over 800 feet in elevation to the ridgeline. The reward waiting at the top? Some of the best coastal views in all of Crystal Cove State Park, especially at sunrise. So if you enjoy breathtaking sunrise hikes, this is a hike to look forward to.

Don't forget to stop and take in the gorgeous vistas while hiking in Crystal Cove State Park.

Crystal Cove Perimeter Loop

Level of difficulty: Moderate-challenging
Round-trip length: 9.4 miles
Time: 4 - 5 hours
Type: Loop

This Crystal Cove State Park hiking trail can be considered as the grand tour of the whole park, as it passes by all three backcountry campgrounds and takes you up and down ridges and valleys. Along the way, you’ll get majestic views of the Pacific Ocean as well as Santiago and Modjeska Peaks. Although this trail is moderately uphill, the length of this hike can make it strenuous for some hikers. Make sure to take plenty of water and snacks with you so you can take a break at one of the three environmental campsites on your journey.

Crystal Peak Park Loop

Level of difficulty: Challenging
Round-trip length: 6.7 miles
Time: 3 - 4 hours
Type: Loop

This highly-trafficked loop trail is a favorite among people looking for a challenging Crystal Cove State Park hiking trail. Primarily used for hiking, running, horseback riding, and mountain biking, the Crystal Peak Park Loop leads you through many inclines and descents and later rewards you with amazing views of the park—and beyond.

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