Dartmoor-Emerald Trail – Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
While orange county may not be the first place you think of when it comes to hiking in Southern California, there are some real gems to be had, overlooking the beaches that usually dominate people’s idea of the area. A number of these are in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. Michole and I spend a great deal of time on these trails, and they provide our primary training for bigger hikes in the nearby San Gabriels and beyond. This write up is for a loop of some of our favorite trails in the system. I will call this particular loop Dartmoor-Emerald, as it begins and ends on Dartmoor Street, and covers all three of the park’s “Emerald” trails.
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is nestled in the Laguna Hills, and provides amazing views of Laguna Beach just below, as well as some of SoCal’s larger peaks to the North and West. The park is primarily made up of fire roads running along the tops of ridges, which are bisected and connected by many winding, single-track trails cutting down into and across the valleys between them. The layout is great for short hikes, because you can link the trails together to create any number of loops at whatever distance you prefer your hike to be.
Dartmoor-Emerald begins on the street, in a neighborhood, in Laguna Beach. I know, I know, it’s an inauspicious beginning. Don’t worry though, you will soon have amazing views of the city and the ocean, and then leave them both behind.
Pass by the gate that marks the end of the street, and begin climbing Boat Road. This is not an easy start to the hike. It is about .75 miles of steady climbing on an uninspiring fire road. If your lungs and legs are burning however, just look over your shoulder and appreciate the ocean view and, hopefully, the ocean breeze for a few moments before continuing on. At the top of the climb you can pause to take in more great ocean views before following the trail to the right.
Boat Road turns to the right, and will continue as a fire road until almost exactly the two-mile mark, when it dead-ends into Bommer Ridge. As you follow first Boat Road and then Bommer Ridge, there are great views down into the valley on your left. This is where you are headed. Bommer Ridge is another fire road on a ridge, and this is the one that will finally lead you to the promised land of single-track.
Take a left on Bommer Ridge and continue on for about three fourths of a mile, until you see a trail sign on the right side of the trail that reads “Old Emerald.” (For some reason the trail sign is on the right and the trail diverges to the left.)
This is where the hike really starts to shine, in my opinion. Old Emerald Trail winds and twists its way for just over half a mile, all the way down into the bottom of the valley. Finally, you cross a tiny bridge over a stream that is dry unless you are there shortly after big rains. This brings you to Old Emerald Canyon Road, where you want to take a right.
You will only be on Old Emerald Canyon Road for a few yards, before Old Emerald Falls Trail diverges to your left. This section of Old Emerald Canyon Road usually has tree branches and vines that make for a very aesthetic tunnel, and a wonderful shade on a hot day. Don’t worry if you were hoping for more of Old Emerald Canyon Road, you will be revisiting it shortly.
Follow Old Emerald Falls as it diverges left from Old Emerald Canyon Road. With any decent amount of rainfall, a rarity here in Southern California, Old Emerald Falls can turn into a lush green jungle, more akin to the tropics than Southern California. Other years you feel that you are in the desert, a few hundred miles to the west. When it is overgrown, be careful. The tall grass conceals the many cacti that line this trail, and often encroach on its edges. When we hiked it this week it was the most overgrown we have ever seen it, with grass reaching over our heads at times!
Immediately after leaving Old Emerald Canyon Road, Old Emerald Falls will reach a Y. Old Emerald Falls follows the valley floor to the right. Ignore the trail that goes straight up the opposite ridge.
Ignore the Faint Trail that Ys Off to the Left. (Depending on Trail Conditions, it May be More Visible.)
Shortly, you will reach a steady incline. This is the falls for which Old Emerald Falls takes its name, though water would only run along the trail portion during very heavy rains, and we have only seen water moving along the edge of the trail once. Begin your climb up out of the valley! Like the start of the hike, this is not a particularly long climb, but it is steep, and after a rainy winter, we found it was almost like bushwhacking! At around the 4.6-mile mark, you reach the end of Old Emerald Falls, as it dead-ends into Moro Ridge, another fire road running along a ridgeline.
Take Moro Ridge to the right, and at the 5-mile mark, Moro meets back up with Bommer ridge.
Take a right onto Bommer. After about .2 miles, the trail forks, with Laurel Spur diverging to your left. Stay right to continue following Bommer Ridge.
Only .1 miles after the fork, you reach Old Emerald Canyon Road, leading back down into the canyon on your right.
Follow Emerald Canyon Road back down into the canyon. It seems like it goes on forever, down and down, mostly a straight fire road, narrowing as you near the tree tunnel where you left it earlier. Finally, just shy of 6.5 miles, you pass the turnoff for Old Emerald Falls, now on your right, and come to Old Emerald Trail, on your left.
From here simply retrace your steps, back up Old Emerald, right onto Bommer Ridge, back to the intersection where you will go right on Boat Road, and finally left down Boat Road and your return to Laguna Beach and Dartmoor Street.
This return journey offers amazing views both down into the canyon you hiked into and out of, TWICE, as well as of the ocean and beach communities below. If you can time it out, some of our most amazing sunsets came at the end of this trail, just before descending Boat Road back to Dartmoor Street.
Sunset from the Top of Boat Road with Laguna Beach, Long Beach, and Catalina Island in the Distance.
Of course, for a slightly shorter hike with less climbing, you could cut out either of the descents into and out of Emerald Canyon. Personally, if I were to do this, I would cut out the second one. That way you still experience Old Emerald Trail and Old Emerald Falls, as well as the compelling portion of Old Emerald Canyon Road. Only the part around this juncture is the tree tunnel that we love so much. The rest is really just your standard fire road.
If you have any additional thoughts about this hike, would like to see guides of other linking options for trails in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, or just have experiences there that you would like to share, please let us know in the comments below! We would love to hear from you.
We hope that this guide will be of some use to you, and help you get out and explore! If you found it useful, or think it may be useful to someone you know, then please, feel free to share it with your friends!
Until next time, safe travels, and happy hiking from Greenwoods Uncharted!
Dartmoor Street, Laguna Beach, CA
Gear We Used on This Trail
Altra Lone Peak 3
A great pair of lightweight, zero drop trail running shoes that are great for hiking. I first bought these shoes after I had injured my foot, and was looking for something with an especially wide toe box. I have loved these shoes for both hiking and the occasional run. If you have never tried zero drop shoes, they take a bit of getting used to, but I loved them so much I wish I could get backpacking or mountaineering boots that were zero drop!
Saucony Women’s Peregrine 6
Lightweight trail runners. If you are not ready to make the switch to zero drops, or if they just don’t agree with you, this is a great, neutral pair of trail runners. Michole has used these for fifteen plus mile hikes in rocky terrain with over 4,000 feet of elevation gain, and loved them every step of the way.
Men’s Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec
Another pair of lightweight, adjustable, folding poles. I use these and feel that they are the perfect pole for me. I am confident that if/when these poles are retired, I will replace them with another pair of the same. If you would like to read my full review of these poles, you can find it here.
Black Diamond Distance FLZ Women’s Poles
A great, lightweight, adjustable, folding set of poles. Michole uses these poles and loves them. In fact, she wrote a full length review on them. If you would like more info on these poles, you can read it here.
Osprey Stratos 36
This is a great daypack, and will likely serve you on overnight trips, depending on how lightweight and compact your gear is. It features Osprey’s “Anti Gravity” suspension system. This lets more air flow to your back and, more importantly, shifts the weight of the pack from your shoulders and back to your hips. I love the “Anti Gravity” suspension so much, it’s hard for me to imagine ever buying a pack without it. I wrote a full review for this pack, you can find it here.
Osprey Manta AG 28
A great women’s daypack, the Manta is a dedicated hydration pack that comes with a 2.5 litre reservoir. This has been an extremely solid day pack. Like the Stratos, it features Osprey’s patented “Anti Gravity” suspension. The external mesh storage compartment, as well as several divided compartments with easy access make this a great pack for storing snacks, gloves, hats, or anything else you might want on the go.