The Salt Creek Trail – go left or go right?
GEOGRAPHY OF THE LOWER SALT CREEK TRAIL…
The Salt Creek Trail is a decision tree that leaves the sea behind and climbs a canyon or two. This is not a straightforward “start here, end there” trail. Do I go left or right? You have options. Check out the map:
First thing to note. The Salt Creek Trail comes in two sections, some miles apart and not connected. There is the lower, seaward, section which starts on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and ends at a trail underpass by the Dog Park parking lot on Golden Lantern some 5.3 miles inland and uphill.
Inland and three ridges over is a second section. This starts four miles inland on Crown Valley Parkway, works thru the Laguna Niguel Regional Park and joins the Aliso Creek Trail. Between the two sections is a gap (cross country work here).
Let's start at the bottom, down at the coast.
DANA STRAND, 170’, GE: N33.46814 W117.71436
If you are as threadbare as the TrailBear, you will be over on Selva Rd. at the delightful Dana Strand Beach parking lot (free). There is lots of parking and you might just get one of the slots overlooking the Pacific. Zillion $$ views from this parking lot – you just can’t keep it though.
The Rather Rich folks below you at The Strand do get to keep it. This used to be a trailer park Back When. Now look at it. From formica to marble and beyond. You will see that some lots are still available. In fact, there have been some price reductions. There was an ad in the Wall Street Journal. Only $ 6.8 mil! Our operators are standing by!
For us there is a great new blufftop walk, nicely decorated. It continues out to Dana Point. Take the trail. Go the other way and take the free funicular down to the beach. Restrooms and water. For the skate punks, none of those cheesy metal anti skateboard bits on the concrete edges. No. Here we have starfish skate punk barriers draped over the edges. This is class.
From here you can bike lane down the PCH to Salt Creek Beach and the official lower trail end. TB used the sidewalk.
SALT CREEK BEACH, 68’, GE: N33.47682 W117.72131
Salt Creek Beach is an OC Regional Park (variable parking fees) at 33333 S. Pacific Coast Hwy.
Dana Point, CA 92629 (949)923-2280 or (949)923-2283.
Head down toward the ocean. The Ritz Carlton is on your left, flossy homes on your right and there is a vast sloping lawn ahead. The trail starts on a bluff overlooking the Pacific, just below the picnic plaza. This is a NICE place. You head up coast, under the flossy homes. The trail heads inland with a golf course on one side and the homes on the other.
You undercross the PCH and start climbing up the western side of the canyon – up something called the Salt Corridor Regional Park. The Salt Creek and golf course are below and on the right. Views up the canyon and views back down to the ocean. In about a mile, you reach the Camio del Avion underpass.
As you climb and descent and climb again, you will see that this is mainly a walker, dog walker, jogger and pram pusher kind of trail. Those numerous trash cans are not for your power bar wrappers. They are for packets of pooch poop – but you can use them. Upwind is best.
The trail winds in and out of ravines. This, combined with the brush, means short sight lines on tight turns. This trail is not banked for 20 knots. Not an issue going up, but there are some interesting downhill sections in all the up-ness. They would be more interesting if you could see the whole line.
CAMINO DEL AVION UNDERPASS, 140’, GE: N33.48798 W117.71961
You have choices. Left or right at Camino del Avion underpass? You have the option of going left on the main trail, which is climbing up the western side of the canyon, or going right to climb up to del Avion, take the bikewalk (wide sidewalk for bikes and peds) SE on del Avion to Niguel Rd., thence up that to rejoin the main trail at the Niguel Road undercrossing.
These two arms, on opposite sides of the canyon, make a small loop ride. What the Niguel Rd. alternate lacks in length it more than makes up in grades, both up and down. You alternate between hiking the bike up and standing on the brakes coming down. Take one going up and the other coming down.
SAN JUAN CANYON TRAIL JUNCTION, 279’, GE: N33.50894 W117.70729
When you have climbed to reach the Niguel Rd. undercrossing and continued upward, crossing the mouth of San Juan Canyon to the right, you will reach a trail junction. No signage, of course. Here are the choices. Turn right and you will climb on the main trail to Chapparosa Park, a full service trailhead. Let’s follow that choice to the end, then go back and check out the other option. Hint: TB went left.
CHAPPAROSA COMMUNITY PARK, 352’, GE: N33.51245 W117.69312
25191 Chapparosa Park Rd, Laguna Niguel
This is a pleasant sports park and your full service trailhead in this area. Water, restroom, parking, and baseball. From the park entrance, the trail heads up a steep grade, then relaxes into a delightful consistent grade – just like a rail trail. Just sit down and pedal up. It’s about a 3% grade all the way up to The Street of the Golden Lantern.
STREET OF THE GOLDEN LANTERN, 444’, GE: N33.50718 W117.68546
You have topped out at the Street of the Golden Lantern. At this point you are basically at the end of this section of the Salt Creek Trail. Of course, you can head down to the underpass to make it official. If you are using the Dog Park parking lot (which many do) as a no service trailhead, you go down and then back up the other side of the canyon to your car.
If your car is down at the coast, it’s payback time. All that climbing will now unwind. “Proceed with caution,” cautions the TrailBear (His GPS recorded 25.9 mph max speed in one section. Naughty, but fun naughty – and he has reformed – until the next drop appears. ) You don’t want to go slamming into a blind curve – because there you will find the Anorexic Blonde in the middle of the trail on the cell phone with three kick-dogs splayed across the entire trail – which is about 10’ wide.
Run over little Poopsie on your way to a yard sale or endo and there will be a scene. If not a Poopsie around the bend, you can find a nice wet patch of mud washed off the hill. It’s great for skidding and a physics lesson.
If you survive to reach the PCH underpass, take the Road Less Traveled By. That side trail by the underpass leading to the left climbs up to the new Sea Terrace Community Park. Nice facility. Did not see a water fountain or restroom, but it is a nice loop back option.
If you are parked at the Salt Creek Beach parking lot, there is a handy underpass connection at GE: 33.477519° -117.717484°. Otherwise, work your way to the corner of PCH and Niguel Rd. and take a bike lane or sidewalk back to Dana Strand.
TRAILBEAR GOES FOR A LOOP RIDE…
Rewind to the San Juan Canyon trail junction. Der Bear took the left side trail at the canyon junction. Not for him the board path to Chapparosa. (BTDT) Now there is a decomposed granite jogging path alongside the concrete bikewalk. Alas, the builders knew little and cared less about getting the water off the trail every 50’. It runs down the DG surface for many yards and washes mud over the bikeway.
MARINA HILLS X NIGUEL RD., 366’, GE: N33.51898 W117.70423
Up at Marina Hills Drive the underpass is under water. Doesn’t look too inviting when dry, less when wet. The official SLT goes up thataway, undercrosses MHD and continues up Niguel Rd. to Los Arboles Dr., where it enters a greenbelt running NE to top out at a private park.
Now you are rimrocked up on a ridge, trying to figure now to get down and over to the start of the inland section on Crown Valley Parkway. Let me know the solution. However, you have done the other leg of this section of the Salt Creek Trail and can feel pious.
TrailBear has a better option – a loop ride that lets you coast back down the hills above Chapparosa Park on your way to the coast.
Rewind to the choices back at Marina Hills x Niguel Rd. Left or right? Right! TB turned right (thisaway) and took the bikewalk up Marina Hills for a bit of a loop. Nice ride, decent grade. There is a full service park on the route – Marina Hills Park. At the corner of MHD and Golden Lantern, turn right and take the bikewalk down hill.
TB – duh bear - elected to turn down Chapporosa Park Rd. (The bikewalk here is on the far side of the road.) The smart move was to continue down Golden Lantern to the top of the trail. Then he could take the trail back downhill to the park and onward and downward to the lefts and the rights waiting below.
Pedal and learn, TB!
TRAILBEAR’S TRAIL SCALE
SCENERY = 4* Nice views in most directions.
TRAIL= 3* Numerous cracks across the trail and down the trail. Tight curves. Blind corners.
FACILITIES = 3* Decent enough but not an Irvine 5*. There is water and restrooms at the coast, at Chapparosa and at Marina Hills Park. Otherwise, plan on a dry trail with lots of uphill.
You get a nice aerobic workout, scenery, route options and a great descent which would be better if you could see far enough ahead to let it all out, safely. But remember – the curves are not banked for 20 knots.
Putting the icons on the map.