Travel Blog

December 3, 2018


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 eighth 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


Habitat Hike at 2pm
Explore the diversity of habitats and life at Natural Bridges on this 0.5-mile, 1-hour walk. From tidepools to seabirds, freshwater wetlands to the Monarch Butterfly Preserve, you’ll likely continue your exploration long after your guided walk is over.

Length: 0.5 miles; 1 hr
What to Bring: Water and dress in layers.

Meeting Location: Meet at the visitors center.

Photo by Garrick Ramirez


Concrete Ship History Walk at 11am
Learn about Seacliff State Beach and its fascinating history on this 1-mile, 1-hour stroll to the Aptos Creek Bridge and back. Get the lowdown on the Concrete Ship, great storms from 1889 to present, “The Madman of Seacliff,” and much more. Get some fitness extra credit and hit the stairs for a first day scenic sweat!

Length: 1 mile; 1 hr
What to Bring: Water and dress in layers.

Meeting Location: Meet on the deck of the visitors center.

Photo by Rachel Endsley


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 afternoon stroll will open your eyes to the under-appreciated natural history of one of California’s most-visited state beaches. Return to New Brighton around 4pm and relax on the beach for an unforgettable sunset.

Length: 2 miles; ~2-3 hrs
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


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: 2.5 miles; ~2 hrs
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


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; 4 hrs
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.

Observation Deck Loop Hike at 11am
There and back again – from the redwoods, to the river, to the Sandhills, experience the multitude of habitats that you can find at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Enjoy a panoramic view while eating lunch with the acorn woodpeckers before returning to the redwoods.

Length: 4.5 miles; 3.5 hrs
What to Bring: Water, snacks, and hiking shoes.

Meeting Location: Meet at the visitors center.

Photo courtesy of Big Basin Redwoods State Park


Buzzard’s Roost Hike at 9am
Join docents Kathy Willott and Glenn Joy for a 5-mile hike to Buzzard’s Roost. Watch the environment change as you climb and enjoy the view from the top. Hikers should be able to do a steady uphill grade for 2.5 miles (elevation gain about 1,200 ft.), but group will go at a pace that allows you to enjoy the terrain, wildlife, and vistas.

Length: 5 miles
What to Bring: Wear good walking shoes, dress in layers, snacks, and water

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

Written by Molly Ressler and updated by Rachel Endsley