Loch Lomond: Santa Cruz’s Awesome Hidden Reservoir

Among Santa Cruz’s best kept secrets, the Loch Lomond Recreation Area in Felton, might be the most spectacular. Hidden amidst the lush redwood forests in the San Lorenzo Valley and Santa Cruz Mountains, the glistening lake draws visitors with scenery, serenity, and activities such as boating, picnicking, and hiking. As of March 1st, Loch Lomond is open for the season, so it’s the perfect time to discover this awesome recreation area. And no, you won’t find any sea monsters.

The lake is actually a reservoir that was developed in the 1950s to supply drinking water to the city of Santa Cruz. Why the Scottish-sounding moniker? It’s named after a famous inland waterway in Scotland. Formed by an earthfill dam that barricades Newell Creek, the reservoir stretches three miles long, spans 175 acres, and is roughly 150 feet deep. The area was heavily logged in the mid 1800s, but you would never know it today. A wall of towering Douglas firs and redwoods encircles the lake lending the feel of a distant alpine setting. In reality, it’s only 13 miles from the beach!

Loch Lomond abounds with natural scenery but the most inspiring views are from being out on the water. You aren’t allowed to swim in the reservoir, but you can tool around via boat, exploring the lake’s many secluded coves. Rent your vessel of choice from the lakeside Park Store which has a fleet of aluminum boats – some with electric trolling motors, others with good old-fashioned oars – and colorful pedal boats. The motorboats are snatched up first, so arrive early if you want to give your arms or legs a rest. Guests are also invited to call ahead and reserve a boat in advance (reservations: 831-335-7424). Because of contamination concerns, visitors can only use their own boats when they are kept stored at the lake (a monthly fee covers storage and cleaning).

And as of April 2022, Loch Lomond is offering tours the second weekend of the month on both Saturday and Sunday! From noon to 1:00pm, enjoy an interpretive tour of the lake with one of the park rangers. Tours can accommodate up to 25 people and visitors can sign-up in the park store. The pontoon boat tours are first come, first served and are free of charge. 

Fishing is big at Loch Lomond. You’ll see numerous folks casting a line from the shores and out on the water. The reservoir is regularly stocked with trout, but you also have good chance of pulling up a largemouth bass, bluegill, or catfish. Anyone age 16 and over needs a fishing license which you can purchase at the Park Store. The store also sells bait, tackle, snacks, and hot and cold drinks.

With gorgeous waterfront picnic areas, Loch Lomond begs you to load up your cooler. There are barbeque grills too, so don’t forget the charcoal. Some picnic areas are remote and not easily accessed from a parking lot, so you may need a wagon, boat, or tireless arms to haul out your supplies. Our favorite? The handful of picnic tables set on charming Clar Innis Island, a tiny, middle-of-the-lake landmass that Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn would adore.

Much of the surrounding area is off limits to the public, but the southern portion of Loch Lomond is criss-crossed with 12 miles of trails. We love the 2.3 mile Loch Trail, a flat one-way jaunt that skirts the southern shore. The shaded path dips in and out of quiet coves offering stunning waterfront views the entire way. If you really want to work those calves, tack on the Highland Trail, an old service road that climbs to the top of a forested ridge with panoramic views before dropping back down to the main park road. Check out a trail map here. And a pro-tip: stay on the trails and watch out for poison oak.

Loch Lomond is open Thursday through Tuesday (closed Wednesdays) from March 1st through Labor Day and then only on the weekends through mid October. Hours are 7 a.m. to Sunset (check the Loch Lomond website for specific closing times month by month; all boats must be off the water one hour before closing). Admission is $10 per car. The best parking — closest to the lake and Park Store — is limited so get there early to snag a good spot. Pups are allowed but, no matter how much they yearn to take a plunge, must remain on dry land. For more information including boat reservations, call 831-335-7424. Or visit the City of Santa Cruz’s Loch Lomond Recreation Area site.

All Photos by Garrick Ramirez
Updated 2022