Salt Creek Trail: A short easy south Orange County hike from beach to canyon

Hike-At-A-Glance


Salt Creek Trail

Date Hiked: May 5, 2012
Best Season: Autumn Spring Winter
Check Trail Conditions: Salt Creek Beach (949)923-2280 or (949)923-2283
  • Distance: 6.0 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 295 feet
  • Route Type: Out and back
  • Trail Type: Cement
  • Difficulty: Moderate

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.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

The Salt Creek Beach parking lot.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

Head west through this underpass to catch the beach trail.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

Hikers are instantly greeted with gorgeous ocean views.

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.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

Where the access road to the beach ends, catch this paved trail on your right.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

The spectacular beach views make up for hiking on concrete.

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.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

Nothing says hiking quite like a perfectly manicured golf course.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

At about 2/3 of a mile from the parking lot trailhead, the trail finally veers east as it 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.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

The section of trail that climbs northeast away from the beach is much drier.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

Despite the rustic open space alongside the trail, one never feels quite "away from it all" due to all of the homes and golf courses.

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.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

About 1 mile past the Highway 1 underpass, you walk under Camino del Avion, and head immediately towards the trail on the left.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

This stretch of trail runs parallel to Camino del Avion.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

At 1/10th of a mile past the Camino del Avion underpass, you'll encounter a dirt trail that provides an optional 2/10th of a mile to the official hiking trail.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

This little optional detour is the only section of trail that feels like a real hiking trail.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

A view of the "creek" from that side trail.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

Back on the official trail, where Camino del Avion hits an intersection, the trail leads off to the right alongside Salt Corridor Regional Park.

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.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

Making the approach to Niguel Road.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

Those continuing to the official hike terminus use this tunnel to cross Niguel Road and pick up the trail again. We chose to end our hike at Niguel Road.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

Here you can see where Salt Creek Trail continues along past Niguel Road.

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.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

Looking back towards the beach.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

It is possible to see the ocean every now and then.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

Leaving the wild open space stretch of trail, back to the Monarch Beach Resort.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

Hiking the trail using this route (as opposed to starting in the canyon) rewards you with gorgeous beach views at the beginning and end of the hike. And allows you to sit and enjoy the ocean after your hike.

Salt Creek Beach Trail

Holly took advantage of relaxing at the beach park after our hike.


View Salt Creek Trail in a larger map

Salt Creek Beach Trail

Elevation profile. Click the image to see a larger view.

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