Santa Cruz County is a primo spot for you and your pooch to get out and explore! Sandy beaches, coastal cliff paths, and plenty of dog-friendly eateries, hotels, and B&Bs welcome you AND your 4-legged friend. But one of the most frequently asked questions is: Where can I hike with my dog? We’ll answer that question with this list of the Best Pet-Friendly Hikes in Santa Cruz County that will really get those tails wagging!
And as always, please remember to clean up after your pet, stay only on designated dog-friendly trails, and keep your pup on leash while exploring Santa Cruz County!
HENRY COWELL REDWOODS STATE PARK
Henry Cowell is a must. Locals and visitors alike love the beauty of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Henry Cowell has it all. For hikes with the pup, use the main park entrance off Highway 9 and access the Pipeline Trail. This 6 mile out-and-back hike is on a paved road that travels through redwood trees, follows along the San Lorenzo River, and even passes under an active train trestle (wave hello to Roaring Camp Railroads)! Other trail favorites are the Meadow Trail, Graham Hill Trail, and Powder Mill Fire Road.
THE FOREST OF NISENE MARKS
If creek crossing, redwoods, and lush forests are of interest to your pup, he will love Nisene Marks. On-leash dogs are allowed on the Aptos Creek Fire Road and four single track trails below the steel bridge – the four trails are Aptos Rancho Trail, Split Stuff Trail, Terrace Trail, and Vienna Woods Trail. An insider’s way of explaining this is you cannot take pups past the winter gate (a gate that is closed during the winter) at the Porter Picnic Area parking lot. If you haven’t been before, we think the Vienna Woods Trail is a great one to start with – trees, wildflowers, mushrooms, banana slugs and the creek.
WEST GLENWOOD OPEN SPACE PRESERVE
With about four miles of trails, the West Glenwood Preserve is a great choice for hiking adventures with your pooch! Gorgeous vistas of the valley are around every corner and there are a variety of loops to choose from. In the spring, wildflower abound on the rolling hills. A few things to be aware of: the trails are currently one-way so please mind signs and have your mask ready when other hikers (or bikers) may want to pass. Also, there is a lot of sun exposure on these trails and it can be very hot on warm days so plan accordingly.
Tucked away in the redwoods of Scotts Valley, Lodato is a hidden gem of forested beauty. The entire route clocks in at 1.2-miles and a leisurely stroll will likely take less than 45 minutes (but it is a lot of uphill). Parking is free, and your leashed pups are welcome to enjoy the redwoods by your side. Just mind the poison oak which can creep close to narrow segments of the trail.
The secluded Byrne-Milliron Forest hides 402 acres of dog-friendly hiking trails and the unique Great White Redwood tree whose towering bark has been bleached by centuries of direct sunlight. Scattered throughout the trails are a number of sculptures by the late Jeff Helmer who stewarded the land for years and hid his folky artworks as a treat for hikers. Start with the 2.5-mile Byrne Trail to A.J.’s Point which passes by some of the forest’s best artwork. The 3-mile Great White loop will lead you to its namesake tree.
ROARING CAMP RAILROADS
Henry Cowell borders Roaring Camp Railroads where dogs are welcome on leash to explore the acres (including trails) of forested land. And for those pooches (or owners) who want to experience the grandeur of the redwoods and mountains but might need some help – hop aboard the train! Yes, your well-behaved pooch can hitch a ride on the steam train too. Please check current operating status of Roaring Camp Railroads before visiting.
POGONIP OPEN SPACE
There are miles of dog-friendly trails and secret treasures to discover at Pogonip Open Space. Leashed pups are welcome on several of the trails, but for an easy stroll with a big payoff, follow the Rincon Trail from the UCSC campus as it slopes downhill to the eastbound Spring Box Trail. A quick stroll along the Spring Box Trail soon leads to an unexpected spring-fed koi pond tucked beneath a redwood tree. Please don’t allow pups any sort of dip into the pond – let’s be sure to protect this treasure for all locals and visitors. For more Pogonip trail info, be sure to take a look at this helpful map to guide your dog-friendly hiking adventures.
PINTO LAKE COUNTY PARK
Pinto Lake County Park is located in Watsonville and has 183-acres of space for you and your pup to roam. The park includes a beautiful lake with fishing pier, baseball and soccer fields, playgrounds, trails, a dog park, and disc golf course. And to add some interest to your adventures at Pinto Lake, take the Art Hike Challenge! Organized by County Parks Friends, guests can download a map and locate murals that are scattered along the park’s hiking trails and wide-open spaces.
MORE WAG-WORTHY HIKES TO DISCOVER
Loch Lomond is a seasonal mountaintop gem that you and your pup will love. Although the reservoir is off limits for a dip, its surrounding 12 miles of trails and redwood vistas are worth every walk. Another great spot to explore are the wetlands in Watsonville. Leashed pups are welcome to walk the more than seven miles of Watsonville City Trails winding through 800 acres of freshwater wetlands.