Going The Distance: Running OC

One of my favorite parts of a vacation is starting the day with an invigorating run. Just past dawn, while my family sleeps, I slip into running clothes, tiptoe out the door and head off for five to 10 miles.  Vacation runs have taken me through quiet coves, charming riverfront villages and secluded corners of far-away destinations. In Utah, I’ve been first to the rim of Bryce Canyon and second through deer tracks in the glistening snow of Park City.

Happily, I get to come home to Southern California’s Newport Coast, still one of my favorite parcels of paradise. My regular runs feature endless ocean and hill views, and, as a bonus, we run in shorts almost year-round. When it’s unusually cold—say, 50 degrees—we dig to the bottom of the drawer for leggings. Here are a few options for an unforgettable vacation (or staycation) route.

15047_Pelican_Hill_Mag_255_CBr1F Trails in Orange County
Level: Moderate to Challenging • Distance: 6-10 miles • Trail Entrance: Back Bay Drive at Shellmaker Road, past the Newport Dunes Resort, Newport Beach

Silver rays of sunshine reflect off the calm waters of Newport Beach’s Back Bay, a serene spot for a fairly flat run. Natural habitats along the way attract more than 200 bird and native plant species; the path is lined with cattail and fragrant coastal sage scrub. Unspoiled bluffs to the east keep the morning road shady and cool.

“Back Bay is like an old friend that is comforting in its constancy,” says Talya, a member of my running posse. “I can choose between a flat, paved path and a dirt trail, and I always look forward to the little surprises, from a sudden waft of jasmine to a raccoon crossing the road.”

The route begins along Back Bay Drive, a one-way thoroughfare frequented more by runners and cyclists than by autos. Opt for a six-mile round trip from Shellmaker Road to Eastbluff Drive, or tackle the entire 10-mile loop by continuing along Eastbluff, taking a left at Jamboree Road, and then turning left again onto the footpath along the Upper Back Bay. Watch for Back Bay Loop Trail signs to return to the starting point.

buck_gully Trails in Orange County
Level: Challenging • Distance: 5 miles • Trail Entrance: On Poppy Avenue between 5th and Lilac Avenues, Corona del Mar

Tucked inside a canyon, Buck Gully challenges runners with a 2½-mile uphill climb and rewards them with a downhill run back. “It’s a good, steady hill workout without being too steep,” says Ceci, a former elite runner. “And on hot days we’re especially grateful for the shade.”

Restored in 2012 through a partnership between Newport Beach and the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, the Buck Gully trail is passable thanks to a series of metal bridges installed by helicopter during the project. Gazing upward, one can see splendid Pelican Hill homes dotting the landscape.

For the least treacherous route, bear right at the first major fork in the trail. You’ll soon pass through a lush area I nicknamed “The Enchanted Forest,” and cross a creek shrouded by low-hanging trees. This unexpected beauty is why my friend Mollie calls Buck Gully “a hidden gem in Newport Beach.”

Level: Expert • Distance: up to 11 miles • Trail Entrances: Top of Ridge Park Road, Newport Coast (no charge) or El Moro Ranger Station, Laguna Beach ($15 parking fee)


Incomparable ocean and mountain vistas await the hardy souls who tackle El Moro State Park. Runners have the option of following well-traveled fire roads or rugged single-tracks. Hills vary from undulating to unforgiving and steep.

You can’t avoid the hills, but for a moderate route, access the trail from the Ridge Park entrance and set off along Bommer Ridge, taking in bucolic views of Saddleback Mountain and the Pacific Ocean. After 1.3 miles, you can either turn back to the start or continue along Bommer Ridge into the Laguna Canyon Wilderness Park for as long as you dare.

The most challenging route begins at the El Moro Ranger Station, just off Pacific Coast Highway and across from the southern end of Crystal Cove State Beach. Follow Moro Canyon, turning right onto E. Cut Across, a.k.a. “I Think I Can.” Positive thinking is a must as you head up the 1.1 miles of grueling switchbacks. “Even when you’re in great shape, it’s a challenge,” says my running mate, Jennifer, “but the ocean views on the way down are the best reward.”

If you “thought you could,” and you did, turn left at the summit and follow the rolling route to Bommer Ridge, where you’ll take another left. Bommer ends at the high-elevation Ridge Park Road entrance, where water and restrooms will be much appreciated before heading down “No Name Ridge” to “No Dogs” and, finally, back to the ranger station.

I thank my lucky stars for these local running routes. And as for those vacation runs in parts unknown? When I return to the hotel room, the shades still drawn and my family still tucked in, I can’t wait to share my morning adventure with them, along with the wonderful sense of peace I feel in this joyful start to a new day.  end-of-story-icon

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