Travel Blog

Happy New Year! Now Take a Hike

Photo by @eressler

If you want to start the New Year off on the right foot, then lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails at some of Santa Cruz County’s best state parks. On January 1st, state parks across the country are offering free guided hikes to encourage folks to get outdoors and learn about the local flora and fauna right in their own backyard (or perhaps someone else’s backyard if you’re still on vacation). We’ve rounded up a few of our favorites that are sure to send you into 2017 feeling healthy, happy, and ready for the next adventure.

Photo by @eressler

Wilder Ranch State Park

Coastal Bluffs 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: 2.5 miles
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 @eressler

Año Nuevo

Guided Elephant Seal Walk at 8:45am
You’ll probably hear them before you see them. BRAAAap, BRAap, BRap, Brap brap! The call of an elephant seal is like the sputtering motor of an ancient tractor roaring to life. As you walk over sand dune habitat, the whisper of native grasses rustling in the wind, the wild call is entirely unexpected and slightly concerning – the sound of a large, angry beast that’s best to be avoided. A docent naturalist will guide you within a safe distance of these massive pinnipeds so you can watch the males assert their dominance in violent fights for hierarchy and a claim to the females who’ve come ashore to birth their pups.

Note that this hike must be taken with a docent and advance reservations are required to guarantee a space on the guided tour.

Length: 3 miles
What to Bring: Water, layered clothing, sturdy shoes, and rain gear are strongly advised. Umbrellas and strollers are not permitted.

Meeting Location: Año Nuevo State Park is located off Highway 1, halfway between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz. For reservations and info, email Añ or call (650) 879-2033.

Photo by @eressler

Henry Cowell – Fall Creek Unit

Fall Creek 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: 3-4 miles
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 by Photo by @eressler

Big Basin

Buzzards Roost at 9am
If you’re looking for a bird’s eye view of the oldest state park in California, then Buzzard’s Roost will not disappoint. Climb through a variety of habitats from shady redwood groves to the exposed manzanita-lined trails of the chaparral. This is definitely a more strenuous hike than the other First Day Hikes, with a steady uphill climb for 2.5 miles and an elevation gain of 1,200 feet, but the view at the top is well worth the extra effort.

Length: 4.8 miles
What to Bring: Water, snacks, layered clothing, 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, visit, or check out our events page by clicking here.