Santa Cruz, a picturesque destination on California’s central coast, offers an abundance of natural beauty and diverse landscapes perfect for outdoor enthusiasts.
Hiking enthusiasts can explore over 70 scenic trails in the Santa Cruz area, allowing for a wide range of experiences – from breathtaking ocean views to serene redwood forests and impressive waterfalls.
Some of the top-rated hiking trails include the challenging Sunlit, Big Ben, Fall Creek, and Lost Empire Loop, which boasts a 4.7-star rating from over 1,000 reviews, as well as the peaceful Neary Lagoon Loop Trail, perfect for bird watching.
Trails vary in difficulty and elevation, ensuring that hikers of all skill levels find a trail that suits their preferences and physical abilities.
Iconic Santa Cruz Hikes
Fall Creek Trail
Fall Creek Trail is a beautiful hike that takes you through lush redwood forests in the heart of Santa Cruz.
Known for its pleasant scenery and serene atmosphere, it offers a great way to escape the city and enjoy nature.
As you meander through the trail, you will find various points of interest such as the old lime kilns and remnants of historic mill sites.
This moderate hike is approximately 7 miles long with an elevation gain of around 900 feet, making it suitable for most skill levels.
Old Growth Loop
The Old Growth Loop is a shorter, 1.2-mile trail located in the majestic Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
A perfect hike for families and those with limited time, it offers easy terrain and a chance to view some of the most impressive ancient redwood trees in the park.
As you walk through the enchanting forest, you can marvel at the Mother and Father Trees, two of the widest redwoods in the area.
The trail also takes you past the Santa Clara Tree, which is the tallest tree in the park. With interpretive signs along the way, this hike provides both an educational and enjoyable experience.
Wilder Ridge Trail
Wilder Ridge Trail, located in Wilder Ranch State Park, is a fantastic choice for hikers looking for stunning coastal views.
This 7-mile hike features an elevation gain of around 1,000 feet and boasts diverse landscapes from rolling hills to sheer cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
As you traverse the trail, be on the lookout for hidden coves, pristine beaches, and opportunities for whale watching during migration season.
With its moderate difficulty level, Wilder Ridge Trail is an excellent option for those seeking a breathtaking and memorable Santa Cruz hiking experience.
Santa Cruz offers numerous trails for families to enjoy and explore the beautiful outdoors.
These trails combine easy accessibility, stunning views, and opportunities to observe and learn about nature.
In this section, we highlight two main sub-sections: Nature Walks for Kids and Easy Trails.
Nature Walks for Kids
Taking your kids on nature walks is an excellent way to introduce them to the outdoors and help them develop a love for nature.
One of the best trails for kids in Santa Cruz is the Old Landing Cove Trail at Wilder Ranch State Park. This 2.4-mile trail offers an easy stroll along the Pacific Ocean with opportunities for whale watching and bird spotting.
Another great option for a kid-friendly nature walk is East Glenwood at Glenwood Open Space Preserve. With engaging activities and fun surprises along the way, this trail guarantees quality time outdoors, away from screens.
For families looking for easy hiking experiences, the Old Cove Landing Trail at Wilder Ranch State Park is also an excellent choice.
This 2.6-mile trail has minimal elevation gain and provides breathtaking coastal views, making it perfect for a leisurely family outing.
Another easy trail worth exploring is the Aptos Creek trail, which meanders through lush forests and offers plenty of opportunities to observe wildlife. This trail is not only an easy hike but also allows families to get up close and personal with the outdoors.
Redwood Forest Hikes
Santa Cruz is known for its diverse landscape, which includes both stunning coastal scenery and majestic redwood forests.
Two of the most popular redwood forest hikes in Santa Cruz are located in
- Big Basin Redwoods State Park
- and Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Big Basin Redwoods State Park is California’s oldest state park, established in 1902.
It is home to some of the tallest and oldest Redwoods in the region. The park offers a variety of trails, suitable for hikers of different skill levels.
One of the most popular trails in Big Basin is the Berry Creek Falls Trail, a challenging 11-mile hike that rewards nature enthusiasts with breathtaking views of cascading waterfalls, lush forested landscapes, and tranquil creeks.
Hikers should be well-prepared with a jacket and essential hiking gear, as certain sections of the trail can be quite cold due to the dense foliage and lack of sunlight.
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is another fantastic destination for redwood hikes in Santa Cruz.
The park features a wide array of trails, with options for both beginners and seasoned hikers.
A must-visit spot in the park is the Redwood Grove Loop Trail. This easy-to-navigate, 0.8-mile loop trail takes visitors through a spectacular grove of towering redwood trees.
The Redwood Grove Loop is perfect for first-time visitors and those with limited time, as it provides a captivating snapshot of the marvel that is the redwood forest.
Another notable trail at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is found in the Fall Creek Unit. This 7.7-mile trail explores a beautiful area of the park where the Big Ben Tree and Barrel Mill Site reside.
Fall Creek Trail offers hikers the chance to discover the park’s secluded redwood forests while escaping the crowds, making it a peaceful and immersive redwood hiking experience.
Coastline Trails and Beach Hikes
Ohlone Bluff is a scenic trail with stunning ocean views. It offers a chance to observe gulls flying overhead and even spot whales during migration season.
As part of the Wilder Ranch State Park, the trail provides a perfect opportunity for both casual strolls and more adventurous hikes along the coast.
Tidepools can be found along the shoreline, making this trail an attractive destination for families and nature enthusiasts alike.
Old Cove Landing Trail
The Old Cove Landing Trail is a 2.4-mile hike located within the Wilder Ranch State Park, just north of Santa Cruz.
This relatively short trail is perfect for people seeking an easy coastal getaway with stunning ocean views. As you wind your way through the trail, make sure to take advantage of the pristine viewing spots to observe the magnificent coastline.
The trail is accessible via Coast Road and promises an invigorating experience that shouldn’t be missed by any hiking enthusiast.
Hidden Gems of Santa Cruz Hiking
Moderate to Challenging Hikes
For those who are seeking more of an adventure, there are a few moderate to challenging hikes in Santa Cruz that will not disappoint.
- One such trail is the Maple Falls hike, found within the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. This challenging trail spans 7 miles (round trip) and includes stunning waterfalls, lush greenery, and breathtaking redwoods. Be prepared for some steep sections and unmarked trails, which will test your hiking skills.
- Another rewarding hike is the Berry Creek Falls trail in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. This challenging, 11.2-mile hike offers a 2,335 feet elevation gain and takes you through a thriving forest setting, with waterfalls along the way.
Lesser Known Trails
Aside from the popular trails, Santa Cruz has some hidden gems that are worth exploring.
A unique spot is Natural Bridges State Beach, which provides a short, yet beautiful hike. Wander through a eucalyptus grove filled with monarch butterflies (during the migration season) and explore the natural bridge formations along the coastline, with picturesque views of the Pacific Ocean.
A lesser-known treasure in Santa Cruz County is Quail Hollow Ranch. This 300-acre park preserves diverse habitats, including mixed evergreen forests, sandhill chaparral, and grasslands.
Quail Hollow Ranch offers a range of trails for hikers of varying abilities, with some routes providing opportunities to see the Santa Margarita Sandstone formation and other geological wonders.
Whether you’re choosing one of the more challenging hikes or exploring the lesser-known trails, these hidden gems in Santa Cruz will provide rewarding experiences and unforgettable memories.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the best redwood hikes in Santa Cruz?
The best redwood hikes in Santa Cruz can be found at locations such as Big Basin Redwoods State Park, which offers the famous Berry Creek Falls hike. This is a rigorous day hike through the thriving redwood forest, taking you to a beautiful waterfall.
Where can I find easy hikes in the area?
For easy hikes, Wilder Ranch State Park offers a diverse range of trails suitable for all abilities. Additionally, you can find more easy hiking trails on the AllTrails website, which features over 71 scenic trails in the Santa Cruz area.
What are some secret hiking spots?
While some hiking spots are not well-known, Santa Cruz County offers many hidden gems. Locals might be familiar with special spots nesting along the rugged coastline and majestic redwood forests. Remember to always respect the environment and practice Leave No Trace principles when exploring these less-traveled routes.
How do I get to Old Cove Landing Trail?
Old Cove Landing Trail is located within Wilder Ranch State Park. To reach the trailhead, head to 1401 Coast Road, Santa Cruz, CA, and follow the signs for Wilder Ranch parking. From there, you can begin your exploration of the scenic coastal trails, including Old Cove Landing.
What can I expect on the Enchanted Loop trail?
The Enchanted Loop trail winds through a diverse landscape, offering hikers a picturesque experience featuring lush forests, vibrant ferns, and babbling creeks. Hidden within the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, the trail boasts its unique charm that entices hikers to explore further.
Is Fall Creek Trail a popular hike in Santa Cruz?
Fall Creek Trail is indeed a popular hike in Santa Cruz, particularly for those seeking a peaceful and scenic trail along a lovely creek. The trail offers a combination of stunning redwoods, old-growth forests, and a serene atmosphere that attracts many hiking enthusiasts.