Newport Beach – A Hiker’s Haven
Hugging the rocky Pacific coastline, Newport Beach and its neighboring cities feature majestic mountains and hillsides carved by a vast network of trails — ideal for hiking and jogging year round. The diverse terrain and scenic landscape offer a challenging workout to hikers of all levels, as well as an opportunity to connect with nature. The view and refreshing ocean breeze from the top is just icing on the cake. Here, a few of my favorite spots, from easy to difficult.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Miles: 3.5 (loop)
Elevation: 50 feet
The salty sea from the harbor spills into this shallow body of fresh water known as “The Back Bay” that is home to more than 35,000 species of migratory birds. One of the most popular places in North America for bird watching, it’s also a favorite spot among local strollers and hikers. While the location features a 10.5-mile loop trail, this specific path offers a more leisurely exploration of the bay and all its beauty. Pick up the trail at the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center on the scenic bluff (the interactive exhibits here are worth paying a visit) and then head southwest along the cliff’s edge. Once you’ve taken in the view of the preserve from this perch, continue along the dirt path as you wind through open waters and salt marshes, sandy beaches and dunes, and the wetland’s wooded areas. These varied habitats and their diverse plant and animal life are what make this hike so special. Experience the sun’s warm rays between pockets of shade. Take in the scent of the abundant sea lavender. Be on the lookout for reptiles, coyotes, and even bobcats.
Crystal Cove State Park: Oceanfront Bluffs
Miles: 6 (round trip)
Elevation: 100 feet
Between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach to the south, Crystal Cove State Park boasts some three miles of dramatic coastline separated by rocky coves and jagged rock formations. Between them, a blanket of pale sand is often dotted with colorful beach umbrellas and swimsuits. Depending on the day, the ocean is either a sheet of blue-green glass glistening below the sun, or energetic with waves and white water crashing at the shore. Towering above, a path parallels the ocean, offering the perfect place for hiking and taking in all of the beauty that abounds. Park at any of the three bluff-top parking lots: Reef Point, Los Trancos (on the opposite side of Coast Highway), or Pelican Point. A ramp adjacent the path provides beach access. Be sure to explore one of the tide pools here — home to sea urchin, anemone, and starfish, among other magnificent creatures —and drink in the view of Catalina Island and Abalone Point. If you’re up for a post-hike bite, stop by the Shake Shack or Beachcomber Café in the Crystal Cove State Beach Historic District for brunch by the sea. I often kick off my Nikes here and add a beach stroll to my workout.
Crystal Cove State Park: El Moro Canyon/Moro Ridge Loop
Miles: 9.5 (round trip)
Elevation: 900 feet
I think of this trail as the 15-mile loop that ends with a stretch along Coast Highway from Laguna Beach to Newport Beach. That’s because once, when I wasn’t paying attention to the park signs or my sense of direction, I strayed off course and wound up at the bottom of the hill in the adjacent town. I’d run out of water and patience, and so opted to jog the highway back to my starting point rather than backtracking via the trails. However, if you pay attention to where you’re going, you’re bound to stay on track and thoroughly enjoy this challenging trek. My favorite time to go here is in the winter or spring months, especially after a rare moment of rain. The dusty beige landscape blossoms into a verdant one, becoming not only more scenic and aromatic but easier to hike — less slippery and easier to grip. I’d still be sure to wear a good pair of hiking shoes on this path though, and fill a daypack with plenty of water, SPF lip balm, and a few energy snacks. From the ranger station (where you’ll pay a one-time fee unless you have a State Park pass) walk back toward the entrance and pick up the fire road at the left. The loop begins about half a mile from here, uphill. You’ll ascent along the west-facing hillside to a rocky overlook before dropping into the cool canyon sycamores and then climbing once again. The best part of this hike is when you reach the Emerald Bay Overlook. Not only is this the beginning of your final descent after hours of exertion but the views of the Pacific Ocean as you wind downhill are epic — and the cool breeze against your face seemingly the best feeling in the world in that moment.