Travel Blog

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!

Seacliff State Beach

Cement 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, much more. 

Length: 1 mile, 1 hour

What to Bring: Water and layered clothing

Meeting Location: Seacliff State Beach Visitor’s Center

Natural Bridges State Beach

Begin Your Year at Natural Bridges State Beach at 10am
There’s a whole lot more than just butterflies at Natural Bridges. On this 2-hour, 1-mile hike, experience the “back-country” of the beloved park. Witness the diversity of over 5 distinct habitats and the animals that rely on living in the nooks and crannies of Natural Bridges.

Length: 1 mile, 2 hours
What to Bring: Water, snacks, hat and proper footwear (feet may get wet!)

Meeting Location: Natural Bridges State Beach Visitor Center

Photo by Garrick Ramirez

Wilder Ranch State Park

Englesman Loop Backcountry Hike at 9am
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: ~3hrs
What to Bring: Layered clothing, good walking shoes, water, lunch, snacks and binoculars.

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 Redwoods State Park

Bird Walk at 8am

Join us for a morning avian stroll to hear and see some of the amazing birds that reside in our park, from hawks to songbirds and waterfowl, and maybe even a woodpecker or two!

Length: 2 hours

What to Bring: Water and binoculars

Meeting Location: Meet at the main parking lot off Highway 9.

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
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.

Redwood Loop to Cable Car Beach at 12pm

Come and walk through the majesty of old growth redwoods forest. Hear the story of the redwoods and learn what makes the tallest trees in the world so special on our way to Cable Car Beach and back.

What to Bring: Layered clothing and water.

Meeting Location: Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park Visitor Center, For more information, please call (831) 335-7077.

Photo courtesy of Big Basin Redwoods State Park

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. We’ll take an early hike in hopes of seeing things that might be hiding later in the day and share our findings as we go. We’ll watch the environment change as we 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 we’ll go at a pace that allows us to enjoy what we see. 

Hike to Ocean View Summit at 10am

Escape the crowds on this 6-mile loop through shaded forest to a hilltop view of the coast. Join Docent Steve Stolper as we climb the Meteor Trail through the trees, gaining 600 feet before emerging at Ocean View Summit. After a relaxed lunch we descend back into the forest and return to headquarters. Bring at least one liter of water, lunch, snacks, and appropriate clothing. Meet at park headquarters. Free event. Vehicle day-use fee is $10. Event made possible by Mountain Parks Foundation and California State Parks.

Length: 6 miles

What to Bring: water, lunch, snacks and appropriate clothing

Sempervirens Falls Hike at 11am
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.

The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park

History Under the Trees at 10am and 2pm

Delve into forest history, and prehistory, while walking to the abandoned Loma Prieta town site and discovering marine fossils deep in the redwood forest.

What to Bring: Water, snacks and layered clothing

Meeting Location: Geroge’s Picnic area next to steel bridge before the winter gate

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

Updated December 2019