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Day Hike

Trails Offer Glimpse of California's Past

November 21, 1987|JOHN McKINNEY

Moro Canyon Trail

Park Headquarters to top of Moro Canyon

Seven miles round trip; 700-foot elevation gain

Extending three miles along the coast between Laguna Beach and Corona del Mar, and inland over the San Joaquin Hills, 3,000-acre Crystal Cove State Park attracts bird watchers, beachcombers and hikers.

The back country of Crystal Cove State Park is part of the San Joaquin Hills, first used by Mission San Juan Capistrano as grazing land. Cattle raising continued under Jose Sepulveda when the area became part of his land grant, Rancho San Joaquin, in 1837. In 1864, Sepulveda sold the land to James Irvine and his partners, and it became part of his Irvine Ranch. Grazing continued until shortly after the state purchased the property as parkland in 1979.

Network of Trails

Former Irvine Ranch roads now form a network of hiking trails that loop through the state park. An especially nice trail travels the length of Moro Canyon, the main watershed of the park. An oak woodland, a seasonal stream and sandstone caves are some of the attractions of a walk through this canyon. Bird watchers may spot road runners, quails, Cooper's hawks, California thrashers, wrentits and other species.

After exploring inland portions of the state park, allow some time to visit the park's coastline, highlighted by grassy bluffs, sandy beaches, tide pools and coves. The Pelican Point, Crystal Cove, Reef Point and Moro Beach areas of the park allow easy beach access. An offshore area adjacent to the park has been designated an underwater park for divers.

Directions to trailhead: Crystal Cove State Park is located off the Coast Highway, about two miles south of Corona del Mar or one mile north of Laguna Beach. Turn inland on the short park road, signed El Moro Canyon. Drinking water, restrooms, interpretive displays and plenty of parking are available at the ranger station.

Park hours are 6:30 a.m. to sunset. There is a $4 entrance fee. Pick up a trails map at the ranger station, and consult the schedule of ranger-led interpretive walks which explore inland and coastal sections of the state park. Information: (714) 494-3539.

The Hike: Below the ranger station, near the park entry kiosk, pick up the unsigned Moro Canyon Trail, which crosses the grassy slopes behind a school and trailer park down into Moro Canyon. At the canyon bottom, you meet a fire road and head left, up canyon.

The walker may observe such native plants as black sage, prickly pear cactus, monkey flowers, golden bush, lemonade-berry and deer weed. A particularly showy native at this time of year is toyon, also known variously as Christmas berry or California holly. The rich green crown of toyon buses are aglow with red berries.

Long before Spanish missionaries and settlers arrived in Southern California, a native Indian population flourished in the coastal canyons of Orange County. The abundance of edible plants, combined with the mild climate and easy access to the bounty of the sea, contributed to the success of these people, whom archeologists believe lived off this land for more than 4,000 years.

Proceed Through Woodland

The canyon narrows and you ignore a fire road joining Moro Canyon from the right and another from the left. You stay in the canyon bottom and proceed through an oak woodland, which shades a trickling stream. You will pass a shallow sandstone cave just off the trail to the right.

About 2 1/2 miles from the trailhead, you will reach the unsigned junction with a fire road. If you wish to make a loop trip out of this day hike, bear left on this road, which climbs steeply west, then northeast toward the ridge top that forms a kind of inland wall for Muddy, Moro, Emerald and other coastal canyons.

When you reach the ridge top, unpack your lunch and enjoy the far-reaching views of the San Joaquin Hills and Orange County coast, Catalina and San Clemente Islands. You'll also have a raven's-eye view of Moro Canyon and the route back to the trailhead.

After catching your breath, bear right (easy) along the ridge top and quickly descend back into Moro Canyon. A three-quarter-mile walk brings you back to the junction where you earlier ascended out of the canyon. This time continue straight down-canyon, retracing your steps to the trailhead.

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