Laguna Beach may be known for its beaches and art culture, but it is also a popular Orange County hiking destination that boasts trails with amazing views of the Pacific Ocean and surrounding hills. These trails are easily accessible from downtown Laguna and the Main Beach, whether a short drive up the Pacific Coast Highway or a brief trip inland. A popular itinerary is to head out early on the trail before the crowds and then come back into town for brunch at one of the many local eateries in the area. Here are the best hikes in Laguna Beach that should be on your list.
Best time to hike in Laguna
Cooler months from November to March are ideal since there is often not much shade on the trails. Though the summer coastal fog during the morning can provide a shield from the sun, just be prepared with sun protection when it burns off. September and October are usually the hottest and driest months of the year.
It does not rain frequently in Southern California, but when it does the trails are often closed due to safety reasons, so be sure to check the park’s website right before you go.
Summer can also be a busy time to visit Laguna not just because of the tourists, but also the different festivals that take place. The biggest ones take place mostly in the summer and are the Pageant of the Masters (early July – early September), Sawdust Art & Craft Festival (late June – late August), Laguna Art-A-Fair (early July – early September), Festival of Arts (early July – early September) and Annual Winter Fantasy Festival (weekends mid-November – mid – December).
Getting to Laguna Beach
Laguna Canyon Road (Highway 33) is a single-lane road that goes from the 5 and 405 in Irvine and can have heavy traffic, especially during the summertime. This is the road that takes you from inland to downtown Laguna Beach. Another option depending on where you’re driving in from is to go through Newport Beach along the 55 to Highway 1, which is closer to northern Laguna Beach and Crystal Cove State Park. Of course, if you are coming up from the coastal cities either from the north or south you can just hop onto Highway 1 for a scenic drive to Laguna.
- Trail precautions – be careful where you step, since there are rattlesnakes, especially during the warmer months. If you do encounter one give it a lot of space and it will not bother you. There are also coyotes and other wildlife that call Laguna home, so be on the watch out, especially if you have little children or dogs in your group.
- Bring plenty of water and sun protective gear – the weather can be deceiving and cool mornings can burn off into hot afternoons, so be sure to pack accordingly.
- Understand trail right-of-way – most of these trails are multi-use, where equestrians are first, then hikers, and lastly mountain bikers.
- Get there early – it’s best to start out early since the weather is cooler, crowds are thin, and parking is still available, especially in the smaller lots.
Best Hikes In Laguna Beach
There are three main wilderness areas in Laguna: Crystal Cove State Park, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Aliso, and Woods Canyons Wilderness Park. These make up what is known as the Laguna Green Belt, with over 20,000 acres of open space.
Crystal Cove State Park
One of Southern California’s best coastal hiking areas with numerous trails, this state park should not be missed if you are in Laguna. Spend the morning hiking the trails and then relax on Crystal Cove State Beach and visit the historic cottages afterward. The park is open from 6:00 am to sunset. For a meal with a view, The Beachcomber is a popular restaurant in a restored beach cottage that is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Entrance into the park is $15 per vehicle or you can enter with an annual California Park Pass. There are four different parking lots within the park:
- Los Trancos – located near the inland area of the park, close to the Beachcomber Cafe (validation for 3 hours is given if you spend more than $15), and has a shuttle to the Historic District, can pay hourly ($5/per hour up to $15).
- Lower Moro – provides easy inland access to most of the trails and the beach
- Pelican Point -at the northmost point of the park
- Upper and Lower Reef Point – these two parking lots are situated on the oceanside of the PCH and have easy access to trails
If you plan to stay overnight in the park, there is Moro Campsite has 57 sites, allows both tents and RVs, and has bathrooms with coin showers. There are also three other campsites: Lower Moro, Upper Moro, and Deer Canyon which require visitors to hike 3-miles in to reach them and have limited amenities. There is also the option to stay in the historic cottages whether you want a studio, a one or two-bedroom, or a hostel-style dorm. Reservations are available on Reserve California and can be booked six months in advance.
El Moro Canyon Trail
This popular 5-mile loop has hard-to-beat views of the Pacific Ocean and El Moro Canyon. It’s a busy trail with hikers, horseback riders, and mountain bikers, but you can find quieter moments if you go earlier in the morning. The trail is moderately difficult since it includes a steep incline of 800 feet to a ridgeline overlooking the ocean if you choose to go clockwise (recommended).
There are various levels of trails if you want to make the hike shorter (3 miles) or longer (9 miles).
The trail starts and ends at the ranger station and there should be parking in the Lower Moro lot. It’s open year-round, with stunning wildflower fields in spring.
Bommer Ridge Trail
For a longer (but not strenuous) hike, this 7.4-mile trail is another popular trail that boasts ocean and coastal town views. The trailhead is located in the northern region of the park. The trail is a loop and you can make it longer or shorter depending on your desired activity level. This trail also gets crowded, and there is little shade so bring sun protection and plenty of water.
There is usually street parking on Ridge Park Rd.
This mostly flat trail is situated right along the coast and offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. The trail is 3.2 miles, but there are multiple entry points so you do not have to hike the entire trail. Afterward, spend some time exploring Crystal Cove Beach and the beach cottages at The Crystal Cove Historic District. You can also hike up the hillside to Highway 1 and get a burger and shake at Crystal Cove Shake Shack which has some of the best views of the beach below.
Parking is available at the Los Trancos parking lot.
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
One of the quieter hiking areas, this park borders Laguna Canyon Rd and has 7,000 acres of canyon trails for hiking, horseback riding, and biking. Keep a lookout for rare and endangered species and wildflowers in the spring. The Nix Nature Center is a great place to stop and learn more about the surrounding area.
Laurel Canyon Trail
Highlights of this easy to moderate level 3.6-mile roundtrip hike to the waterfall are hiking through quiet meadows and the ominous Ghost Rock. For those who want a longer hike, continue on past the waterfall and after 1/2 a mile uphill you will be rewarded with an ocean view on a clear day. For this hike, you can continue on the trail until you reach Willow Canyon Trail where you started.
The trailhead starts at the Willow Staging Area, where there is limited parking (get there early!).
Laguna Bowl and Water Tank Road Loop
With unbeatable coastal panoramic views, this 3.9-mile hike is definitely worth the difficult workout in the beginning with plenty of steep climbs. Start counterclockwise at the Laguna Bowl where you will get the killer 1.5-mile workout, before heading on to Water Tank Road Loop for a moderate-level hike. To do an out-and-back hike you can choose to just go on Water Tank Road and park on Poplar Street.
For the entire loop, there is paid street parking as well as a paid Parking Lot 10 across Laguna Canyon Road.
James Dilley Greenbelt Preserve
There are miles of trails in this preserve, including an easy hike to Barbara’s Lake (one of Laguna’s only natural lakes) which is around 3 miles. Fun fact: the preserve is named after a local Laguna Beach bookstore owner who was inspired to preserve more green spaces in the 1960s.
There is parking in the provided lot with pay machines.
Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
This wilderness area offers 4,500 acres of open space and 30 miles of hiking trails to explore. The park hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Parking is $3 per vehicle.
Top of the World
If you want unparalleled ocean views, this popular hiking trailhead is the spot to go. There are numerous hiking trails that you can choose from, from an easy stroll to the lookout spot or a more challenging trail that will go deep into Aliso and Woods Canyons Wilderness.
The trailhead is located next to Alta Laguna Park, where you can find flush restrooms and water fountains as well as a small parking area. If the parking lot is filled up, residential parking in this north side Laguna neighborhood can usually be found.
West Ridge Trail
If you start at the Top of the World, this is the main trail you will take from the trailhead next to Alta Laguna Park and where Car Wreck, Mathis Canyon, and other trails branch off of it. The trail is 2 miles roundtrip and is considered a moderate level hike with wide pathways and stunning views of the surrounding hills and the ocean beyond.
Car Wreck Trail
This 3.8-mile loop trail off of West Ridge Trail offers panoramic views of Catalina Island and Mount Baldy on a clear day. Hike past the wrecked 1946 Dodge 5-passenger coupe that it’s unknown how exactly it ended up there. The trail is a moderate activity level and can be a bit steep in places, but the loop joins onto the Mathis Canyon Trail, which is not as steep as going back up the Car Wreck Trail.
The trailhead is the Top of the World and once you head down the West Ridge Trail, you will see a sign for the Car Wreck Trail on your right.
Canyon Acres Trail
Another way to reach the Top of the World is through this challenging 2.4-mile loop trail that starts out in a residential neighborhood and then ascends sharply up to the lookout. The trail is steep, so make sure to wear proper footwear with grip.
There is limited parking at the trailhead on Canyon Acres Drive.
This popular short, but steep .5-mile loop trail promises great views of the ocean and ends at the top of Alison Peak. There are stairs that help with the rapid incline, but bring proper footwear to combat the loose dirt.
Early birds get the street parking on Valido Road.
Other Laguna Hiking Trails
Salt Creek Trail
Located near the border of Laguna and Dana Point, this area has many flat, paved trails that are ideal for groups with strollers and wheelchairs. For those who prefer a more strenuous hike, there is the option to go all the way down to Salt Creek Beach, which is a 7.6-mile hike roundtrip.
Nearby street parking is usually available.
Thousand Steps Beach
Technically 200 steps, this hike down to the beach is not easy, especially going back up your legs (and chest) will feel the burn. There are showers and restrooms at the bottom of the stairs. One of the highlights is the beach homes high up on the hill which often have elaborate elevators to go up and down to the beach.
There’s limited parking on Highway 1, but if you go further into the residential neighborhoods you’ll have more luck there.
Photo source: flowers, hikers in laguna
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