Monday, May 26, 2008

Newport Back Bay Trail

Us runners in Southern California are lucky in a lot of respects. We define "cold" as 65 degrees. Humid means 25 percent humidity. This year, it rained a total of maybe 15 days. Then, there are a lucky few who live near the ocean. For us, hot is over 80 degrees. In addition, we enjoy a *ton* of great trails to run on. One of those is the Back Bay Trail, which uses a series of paved, multi use trails around Newport Bay to provide a 12 mile training path.

I belong to the Cal Coast Track club. One of the programs that the club has are various marathon and half marathon training programs that take place during the year. I am currently part of the San Diego Rock n' Roll Marathon training group. A couple of weekends ago, we did a 12 mile training run around the Back Bay. I took advantage of the run to snap some photos. I thought I would dedicate a blog page to sharing this gem of a trail with others that may be interested in running the loop.

Cal Coast meets at Corona del Mar High School. The group is divided based on skill and experience, so in general there are always people to run with.

Every Saturday, we make our way out of the back of the track to Vista del Oro Street. We synchronize our Garmins, and with a hearty "GO" and a press of the start/stop button, we are off. The one neat thing about the trail network that we run is that Cal Coast has measured and marked mileage. The "Start/Finish" line is located at our starting point on the street. From that point, every half mile is marked on a number of trails.

I will be describing the Back Bay Trail as we leave CDM High School, and head to the north. The Back Bay trail is really comprised of two routes - "Upper" Back Bay and "Lower" Back Bay. Together these two routes make the Back Bay Loop. I will be describing the route by going out Upper Back Bay, and returning via Lower Back Bay.

The first mile is actually run on Eastbluff Drive. This is one of the few places where you share trail on a busy street. The grade here is gentle and downhill, so on a longer run you need to watch your pace to make sure you don't go out too fast. Just before getting to mile 1, you will get to an intersection with Back Bay Drive. If you want to, you could turn left here and do the route in reverse from what I will be describing here (out via Lower Back Bay and back via Upper Back Bay). There are some advantages of doing that. First, you will run down "the hill" (description coming later). Second, traffic on Back Bay Drive is one way going north. By running the trail in reverse, you will be facing traffic. If you are like me and run with an ipod, sometimes it's better to see the car that is about to hit you....

The disadvantage, though, of running in that direction is you will miss some of the tremendous views to be seen. The one to the left here is the first view of Upper Newport Bay just prior to mile 1. If you are wondering why you see no boat traffic on this pristine piece of water, it is because the Upper Bay is a State Reserve and is protected. Newport Bay is one of the last remaining estuaries in Southern California.

Just past mile one, the paved trail turns left at Jamboree Road. Here you will be running on paved/concrete trail for the next half mile. About a quarter mile past the left turn is a marked trail junction. Turning left at this junction puts you on the San Diego Creek trail, which provides several options for runs including the 22 mile Mountains to Sea Trail. But that is another story for another day. For this run, you continue straight ahead on the bridge over San Diego Creek.

This is the view of Upper Back Bay from the bridge on Jamboree Road. A little history - Jamboree Road was actually named in honor of the Boy Scouts National Jamboree held in 1953. It was the first National Jamboree ever held west of the Mississippi River, and was held where the present day Fashion Island Shopping Center is located.

Just past the bridge is Bayside Drive, where you will make a left. Across the street is Fletcher Jones Mercedes Benz, one of the largest Mercedes Benz dealers in the United States. When you make the left, glance down and you will see the yellow slash with the 1/2 painted in yellow. You've just passed mile 1.5 from our start point at the High School.

This photo is right at the 1.5 mile point as you turn left at Bayside. For the next 2.5 miles, you will leave traffic behind and run on a trail that you will share with walkers, cyclists, rollerbladers and the infrequent equestrian. In my humble opinion, this is the gem of this trail. The views along the way are outstanding as you look out over the back bay.

Just past mile 2.5, you will encounter the first of the uphill grades you will run into as the trail rolls through the coastal scrub. This one is the worst though - about a quarter mile in length. But, the grade is gentle, so other than a little hard breathing, it provides a good break in the routine.

Things pretty much remain the same over the next mile and a half. Outstanding views, gentle rolling hills, invigorating breezes. By mile 3, the trail has taken a gentle turn toward the south, and you parallel Irvine Avenue through the West Bay neighborhood of Newport Beach.

But, just prior to mile 4, the trail comes to an end. As the photo shows, you pop out onto a short stretch of concrete sidewalk.

Here is where the trail can get a little confusing. The sidewalk comes up to the intersection of Irvine Avenue and Santiago Drive. If you follow the Back Bay Trail marked on the sidewalk, you would continue south on Irvine Avenue. Our journey though, will require us to turn left on Santiago. Normally, there are yellow arrows on the street pointing the direction of travel, but here a repaving project has covered the arrows. So, trust me at this point and turn left.

Your left turn will place you in the Westcliff/Dover Shores neighborhood for the next 2 or so miles. The only trick in this neighborhood is just past the 4 mile marker. After turning left on Santiago, watch for the yellow 4 mile mark in the street. When you see that watch next for the left arrow on the pavement at Galaxy Drive. Turn left at Galaxy. Your next mile and a half are on Galaxy Drive. Just past the 5 mile mark watch for the small park on your left where you can refill your water at the water fountain.

The next point of confusion is past the park about a quarter mile where you run into an intersection at Polaris Drive. At Polaris continue straight! If you turn at Polaris, you will run down the hill toward the Newport Aquatic Center, which means you'll have another climb out of the "hole". If you have any questions, follow the yellow arrows to Santiago where you make a left turn. Follow Santiago until it begins to turn left, where you enter a trail just to the left of the start of the turn.

There are several yellow arrows - so just follow them to the trail.

At this point, you are off the street and back on shared paved trails. The trails run behind a neighborhood known as Castaways. The views are once again spectacular!

That's actually my youngest son rowing his single skull down on the back bay. Castaway's is the half way point on the trail. Keep your eyes peeled for the six mile marker! Past the six mile marker, the mileage marks will actually be counting down. Stay in the park and follow the yellow arrows.

The next mile or so has you going down this steep portion of trail to the intersection of Dover Drive and Pacific Coast Highway. You turn left at PCH and go over the bridge. As you go over the bridge you pass the yellow 5 on the street telling you that 7 miles are now behind you. Follow the yellow arrows and turn left at Bayside Drive.

This next section of trail is definitely my least favorite. The only view is of a concrete block wall on your right, and the back of the Newport Dunes Resort on your left. It lasts a little over half a mile .

At the end of that trail, and coincidentally at mile 8, you will pop put on Back Bay Drive (remember that name from mile 1?) Here you are back on a short but busy section of road. The can be a bit of auto traffic on this stretch of road with Newport Dunes on your left and the Newport Beach Hyatt on your right. This is a short stretch of road, and once you pass Shellmaker Island on your left (the State has a new Interpretive Center there), you are back on one way road.

For the next 3 miles you will be on Back Bay Drive. This is a popular stretch of road with many many cyclists, runners, walkers and inline skaters. But the caution is that cars also use this road. While the pedestrians flow both directions, auto traffic is one way travelling north. That means the autos are travelling the same direction as you are. A loud ipod and often you will not even know a car is there until it passes you. Stay to the left in the pedestrian lane to avoid any problems.

Just past the 1 mile marker (meaning 11 are behind you), you start up "the hill". This is a steep stretch of trail - gaining 100 feet in about a quarter of a mile. When you get here make sure to pay attention. Coming downhill can be Bomber Biker. The last thing you want so close to the finish is to be a casualty of an out of control cyclist.

At the top of the hill, it's time to take a brief rest, catch your breath, and turn right on Eastbluff Drive.

Here you rejoin the trail that you started on 11 and a half miles ago. Jog up the gently sloping hill to Vista Del Oro, turn right and greet the start/finish mark that started this whole madness!

That's the extent of the Back Bay trail - one of the pristine trails that we get to run here in Orange County!

If you want to see other pictures, feel free to visit my Flickr site at For a unique view of these photos on a map of this route, check out


  1. VERY helpful!!!! THANKS!!!!! The details are fantastic.

  2. Hi,
    Do you have any suggestions where to park please (cross streets) and are bathrooms available along the running path? Thank you.

  3. A bunch of places to park -

    (1)Bayview Drive off Jamboree (across the street from Fletcher Jones Mercedes) - closest to the 73.
    (2)Along Eastbluff Dr. on the West side of Jamboree (about a 1/2 mile from Fletcher Jones Mercedes).
    (3)The Big Canyon parking area along Back Bay Drive - continue south on Jamboree to San Joaquin Hills Rd., turn right, go down the hill and turn right on Back Bay Drive (one way), continue about 1/2 mile to the parking area on your left. There are usually porta potties here during the school year. During the summer there are not.
    (4)Along Back Bay Drive by Newport Dunes - turn right onto Back Bay Drive from Jamboree just past the Hyatt Newporter.
    (5)Bob Henry Park, at the corner of Dover Drive and 16th street on the West Side of the bay. You can park in the lot across the street from the park as well. There are restrooms located in the park.
    (6)The Peter and Mary Muth Interperative Center at the corner of University and Irvine Ave. Restrooms at the interpretive center if it is open.

    Also, for restrooms, you can always dive into Newport Dunes - but this is a private campground and the doors are locked. If you are lucky, you can catch someone coming out of one of the bathrooms to let you in.

    Have fun!