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December 13, 2017

Hike into the New Year with State Parks

Photo by Garrick Ramirez

Kick-start the new year with an energizing First Day Hike through ancient towering redwoods, sandy coastal stretches, and along soothing mountain streams. On January 1st, state parks across the country are offering free-guided hikes for the sixth year in a row. Get outside, connect with nature, and expand your knowledge of the wildlife, plant life, and people who were here long before us. In order of easiest to most strenuous, we’ve narrowed the list down to a few of our favorites. Whichever one you choose, you’ll start the new year feeling healthy, recharged, and inspired to explore more state parks in Santa Cruz and beyond. And don't forget to tag your photos with #VisitSantaCruz and #FirstDayHikes!

Photo by Garrick Ramirez

New Brighton State Beach

Begin Your Year at New Brighton at 2pm
Catch the first sunset of the year from the sandy shores of New Brighton State Beach. With a negative tide, you’ll have the rare opportunity to walk the full length of beach from New Brighton to Capitola. Explore tide pools, coastal geology, and ponder 5-million-year-old whale fossils. This leisurely evening stroll will open your eyes to the underappreciated natural history of one of California’s most-visited state beaches.

Length: 2 miles; ~2-3hrs
What to Bring: Water, snacks, and proper footwear (feet may get wet!)

Meeting Location: On the sand at New Brighton State Beach just below the day use parking lot.

Photo by Garrick Ramirez

Wilder Ranch State Park

Old Cove Landing Trail at 11am
Take in views of the Pacific Ocean, hidden coves, and beaches with wind-rippled sand disturbed only by the gulls, sanderlings, and other seabirds that flock to the water’s edge. If you arrive early, make sure to take a tour of the historic farm buildings around the interpretive center, home to the Wilders and their profitable dairy farm for nearly a century.

Length: ~2hrs
What to Bring: Water, snacks, sun protection, and walking shoes

Meeting Location: The Interpretive Center in the Wilder Ranch Cultural Preserve, located 2 miles north of Santa Cruz off Highway 1. For more information, please call (831) 426-0505.

Photo by Rachel Endsley

Henry Cowell – Fall Creek Unit

Fall Creek Hike at 9am
Hike along the rushing waters of Fall Creek in this lesser known northern section of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. The Fall Creek Trail meanders through towering second-growth redwoods to the historic lime kilns built in the late 1800s. Learn the stories behind these piles of moss-carpeted stone and the extensive logging that built the Bay Area and powered the kilns for decades.

Length: 4 miles; 4hrs
What to Bring: Water, snacks, layered clothing, and hiking shoes

Meeting Location: Meet at the Fall Creek parking lot, approximately 0.5 miles up Felton Empire Road. Rain cancels. For more information, please call (831) 335-7077.

Photo courtesy of Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Big Basin

Meteor Trail Hike at 10:30am
Mountain streams, oak woodlands, chaparral, redwoods—you’ll experience it all on this diverse hike in California’s oldest state park. The steep ascent is sure to get your heart pumping, but don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to catch your breath. Along the way, you’ll stop and learn about the forests, flowers, and Big Basin fires. Make sure you also take a moment to stare up in awe at the canopy of giant coast redwoods, some older than the Roman Empire. If the weather cooperates, all your efforts will be rewarded with a stunning view of the ocean at the top.

Length: 6 miles; 3.5hrs
What to Bring: Water, lunch, and hiking shoes

Meeting Location: Park Headquarters, located 9 miles north of Boulder Creek on Highway 236.

For a full list of guided First Day Hikes in Santa Cruz County, visit

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