Jeff and I have been exploring more beach hikes this year, in anticipation of much hotter summer and fall temperatures than we’ve had here in Southern California the last couple of years. That mission gave us cause to explore a very popular trail that I’d heard about a lot back when I lived in south Orange County before we were married.
Salt Creek Trail isn’t really much of a hiking trail, it’s definitely more of a neighborhood fitness walking trail that winds through the beach and some nice opens space in Dana Point and Laguna Niguel. The entire hike — except for a wrong little detour we took — is paved sidewalk. And it’s quite crowded with joggers and fitness walkers. But, it’s still worth exploring at least once if you need a beach hike with cool ocean breezes.
While some write-ups have you start at the canyon end in Laguna Niguel, we opted to go for the great beach views right off the bat, and parked at the Salt Creek Beach Park parking lot located off of Highway 1 and Ritz Carlton Drive. Parking permit dispensers take cash and credit card.
Although the trail heads east into the coastal hills and canyons, you actually start out heading west to catch the trail along the beach. Follow all the beach-goers under a tunnel along a paved road that heads to a beautiful park located right above the beach. Catch the paved sidewalk on your right and follow it along the coast, past expensive homes and a golf course. At about 2/3 of a mile from the parking lot trailhead, you encounter and walk through a tunnel that runs under Highway 1.
This stretch of trail, alongside Monarch Beach Resort and golf course instantly feels a bit warmer and drier than the beach trail. Approximately 1 mile later, you once again go underneath of a road — this time Camino del Avion. Here the trail parallels Camino del Avion until you reach an intersection a few minutes later, where the trail heads off to your right once again running alongside of homes (to your left) and a somewhat scenic canyon (Salt Corridor Regional Park) on your right.
Where the trail passes under Camino del Avion and makes a sharp left, we got a bit confused when we encountered a dirt trail 1/10 of a mile from the underpass, due to an older trail write-up that describes a dirt trail with creek access through much of the canyon. We followed the dirt trail, and it does indeed reach what might be called a creek (very dry this year), but this route provides no further access up the canyon, and appears to just be a service road. This detour adds 2/10 of a mile to your hike.
Because we weren’t too impressed with the canyon trail, and temperatures were warming up, Jeff and I decided to make Niguel Road our terminus instead of continuing to the eastern end point of the hike, Chapparosa Park.
When you reach your desired terminus spot, retrace your steps to return to Salt Creek Beach. Hiking the trail from the beach instead of Chapparosa Park allows you to soak in the beach at start and finish, and relax at the beach after your hike. It also lets you end the hike on a downhill.