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The Salt Creek Trail, with more arms than an octopus, offers a variety of experiences for trail users of all types in Dana Point and Laguna Niguel. Featuring two sections, several branches and a mix of surfaces, the trail winds throughout the two communities, offering a scenic tour of the area.
The trail begins on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Salt Creek Beach Park in Dana Point and climbs up a coastal canyon, passing by a golf course and diving under the Pacific Coast Highway (State Route 1) along the way. Next it climbs the west side of the Arroyo Salado with Salt Creek below. Views of the ocean unfold behind you with the canyon ahead and below.
Continuing inland, the trail crosses Niguel Road, where trail users are faced with a choice: continue north to travel along Niguel Road to a terminus in a neighborhood on Niguel Ranch Road, or travel east through San Juan Canyon to Chapparosa Community Park and an endpoint by a dog park on Golden Lantern Street. Popular Chapparosa Community Park features a variety of amenities, including a playground, picnic tables, basketball and volleyball courts, athletic fields, restrooms and drinking fountains.
A disconnected section of trail begins farther north on Crown Valley Parkway and skirts the edge of the Sulphur Creek Reservoir to end in Laguna Niguel Regional Park. Across from the park—an ideal fishing spot—pick up the Aliso Creek Riding and Hiking Trail for a longer journey north or south along its namesake creek.
Parking for the Salt Creek Trail is available at Chapparosa Community Park (25191 Chapparosa Park Road) and Laguna Niguel Regional Park (28241 La Paz Road) in Laguna Niguel and at Salt Creek Beach Park (33333 S. Pacific Coast Highway) in Dana Point. Note that parking fees are charged at the latter two facilities.
I am a weekend bike rider and this trail has a lot of uphill riding as much as downhill. Closer to the beach you will get lots of walkers and runners so be careful on some of the turns you might take somebody out. The scenery is nice you can see the ocean and like everyone else I stopped for a picture. I started at the Laguna niguel regional park so next time I may start further back to get in a longer ride. Also I will Bring a swimsuit to take a dip in the ocean and there is a snack bar you grab lunch there. All in all great ride with some ocean breezes to cool me off.
April 3, 2011
I begin my trek from my daughter's home near Stonehill and Blue Lantern streets in Dana Point California. I normally prefer to utilize dedicated bike paths but since Dana Point's bike lanes are so plentiful and wide I choose to bike to the starting point today.
SULPHER CREEK PARK AND LAGUNA NIGUEL REGIONAL PARK LOOP
Today's trip begins a half block north of the intersection of Niguel and Crown Valley Parkway along the west side of CVP. It immediately leaves the busy six lane street and winds through beautiful, tree lined areas. It's soon evident how Sulpher Creek got it's name...P U! Fortunately it's short lived and not too strong of an odor. I notice some sort of a water treatment facility on my left just before reaching Laguna Niguel Regional Park. Choosing to ride around the east side of the man-made lake, I discover that it's not paved. The path is so well used though, that the clay soil makes a hard pan that's easy to navigate. If there was any rain however, I would avoid this section. The path so far has been busy as it's the first sunny warm Sunday in a while. The park is quite large and loaded with families having picnics. The restrooms are very clean with flush toilets and hand washing facilities. There is also drinking water available.
Once I get around to the north end of the lake, the path (mostly parking lot) is once again paved. The path and park come to an abrupt end at Alicia Street, just across Alicia from the lower parking area for the Aliso Creek Bike Path.
After a short break for trail mix and water, I continue. The smell of all those hot dogs and burgers grilling in the park make me very hungry.
The return trip along the west side of the lake is either parking lot or service road. There are many fisherman in small boats on this little body of water. I soon find out why. Turns out it's stocked with trout...VERY LARGE TROUT! Also, there is a small marina of sorts where small boats and fishing equipment can be obtained. They also have a small assortment of refreshments and snacks. The whole lake and park area are very beautiful and I find myself riding slowly, enjoying it. The lake is very inviting after all this pedaling, but swimming is forbidden.
Once I arrive at the south end of the lake I find the trail I rode on my way here. The whole loop is approximately five miles long. I return to my daughter's home via Crown Valley Parkway, Del Avion Street to Niguel Street and then up a steep half mile of Stonehill Blvd. The whole ride is 15.4 miles according to my trip meter. The ride is a roller coaster....just as much up hill as down hill.
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.
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