Put Your Best Foot Forward: Santa Cruz County’s Top 5 Hikes
Santa Cruz County is home to rugged coastline, majestic redwoods, and trails to secret beaches making it the premier destination for your next hiking adventure! Join us as we go through our Top 5 Picks for hiking!
MOST ICONIC HIKE
What: Berry Creek Falls at Big Basin State Park
Big Basin is California’s oldest State Park and is home to the largest continuous stand of Ancient Coast Redwoods south of San Francisco. The park offers over 80 miles of trails and has a surprising number of waterfalls.
Walk: You have to work a bit for this one! Berry Creek Falls is just under 11 miles and climbs over 1000 feet of elevation. It features a series of year-round waterfalls, lush redwood forest and steep canyons.
Factoid: Construction was recently complete on an expanded deck and viewing area near one of the trail’s scenic waterfalls. The extra space (and seating) is a much appreciated addition for hikers seeking a comfortable spot to take it all in.
Pro tip* Veteran Berry Creek Falls hikers recommend a counter-clockwise loop starting on the Sunset Trail, turning left on to the Berry Creek Falls Trail, taking another left onto the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail, which returns to the trailhead. The Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District also offers a weekend bus service to Big Basin Redwoods State Park from spring through early December. If you’ve ever wanted to hike the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, no more inconvenient shuttling of cars or arranging for someone to drop off and pick you up. Use the Santa Cruz Metro and enjoy California’s oldest state park car-free! Check out our video here that’s jam-packed with reasons to add this day trip to your Santa Cruz bucket list. Click here to download a copy of the bus flyer in both English and Spanish.
Most Diverse Hike
What: Wilder Ranch State Park
Grasslands, oaks, knobcone pines, coastal redwoods, douglas firs, rugged coastline, tidepools, hidden beaches, Victorian farmhouse, barns — need we say more? Wilder Ranch boasts a wide assortment of terrain and habitat, and offers over 34 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails winding through coastal terraces and valleys.
Walk: By far, one of the most scenic spots to hike is the Old Cove Landing Trail, a 7 ½ miles round-trip located on the north coast that is one of the prime spots for wild flowers. You can access the beach from here and walk along the bluff leading to the cove.
Factoid: The Old Cove Landing Trail is wheelchair accessible! On a good day you will come across gulls, pelicans, geese, sea lions passing, and maybe even migrating whales. The park grounds also include restored Victorian homes, barns, shops, gardens, and a historic adobe for visitors.
Pro tip* Bring a jacket on this hike, as the coast can get a little breezy.
Best Hike for Families
What: Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Whether you’re a family with tiny tikes or tough teens, Henry Cowell has a trail for you and yours. The main park area features 15 miles of hiking and riding trails through a variety of forested areas with redwoods, mixed evergreens, ponderosa pines, and even sandhills. Some park trails run alongside the San Lorenzo River.
Walk: For stroller riders and little legs, try the Redwood Grove Loop. This one mile path is a breeze for hikers, but doesn’t skimp on impressive encounters with redwood giants. For slightly older kids – not in need of a stroller – take the River Trail for a scenic hike with great rewards – i.e. some water play!
Factoid: Did you know that there is a northern section of Henry Cowell called Fall Creek with an additional 20 miles of hiking trails? Although not stroller friendly, this is another great option for families looking to enjoy the forest and some creek exploration. Bonus: Banana slugs and newts are common on these trails.
Pro tip* Leave a change of clothes or towel in the car for the little ones. The streams sure are tempting!
BEST SEASIDE HIKE
What: West Cliff Drive
Although not considered a traditional “hike”, West Cliff Drive delivers on some serious strides with seaside views. Bustling beaches and surf spots to tranquil coves and wildlife, this coastal path serves up some breathtaking vistas.
Walk: Begin your 6 mile round trip trek near the Santa Cruz Dream Inn and let the Monterey Bay be your trail guide. Pass the famed Steamer Lane surf spot and a brick lighthouse which also serves as a Surfing Museum. When the path ends, take a peek toward the ocean and see the photogenic Natural Bridges State Beach. Add some steps to your outing and explore the monarch groves and short trails offered at the popular state park.
Factoid: No need to leave anyone behind on this one! West Cliff Drive is , stroller, wheelchair, dog, bike, rollerblade, and even segway friendly! Another bonus, it’s pretty hard to get lost on this trail!
Pro tip* When the waves are crashing against the cliffs, take a breather between Auburn and Chico Ave and try to spot the “blowhole” where water surges up into the sky mimicking our whale friends. Also, Fido will love this walk and the pup-friendly beaches along the way.
BEST “HIDDEN” HIKE
What: Quail Hollow Ranch
Quail Hollow Ranch’s 300-acre space offers scenic trails, majestic vistas, and a dazzling array of family-friendly activities — and is off-the-beaten-path enough to always seem to have plenty of space to roam. This “local secret” is one of the best kept of its kind in the county.
Walk: On the 2 ½ – mile long Sunset Trail and the mile-long Discovery Loop Trail, you’ll see oak riparian forests, a visitor center housed in an historic ranch house, and endangered Western pond turtles. The park also hosts a broad range of interpretive programs.
Factoid: The park – located in Felton – is also home to one of the best local examples of a sandhill habitat. In Santa Cruz County, sandhills – unique communities of plants and animals found only on outcrops of Zayante sand soil – are home to four species of plants that you can only find in this environment: Santa Cruz wallflower, Ben Lomond spineflower, Ben Lomond buckwheat, and the Bonny Doon (or silverleaf) manzanita. Click here for a park map!
For more information regarding hiking in Santa Cruz County, check out our website, or the Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks page!