Tucked away in the mountains and dotting the landscape of the UC Santa Cruz campus stand the ruins of a once prosperous industry that helped put Santa Cruz on the map. The lime industry, which helped produce the mortar and plaster used to build the foundations of Santa Cruz and many cities across California, transformed the future of California when the Gold Rush brought thousands of new residents to the area. Many who came to Santa Cruz in the mid-1800s quickly realized that the area’s resource-rich environment, from the redwoods to the limerock, offered an even more lucrative future than gold. Before Santa Cruz became the city we know and love today, our town was one of the state’s largest lime producers.
The remnants of this once thriving industry now stand quiet; they loom hidden underneath layers of moss, overgrown ferns, and lush foliage. These ruins were once fiery lime kilns that utilized the high heat of burning redwood to produce lime from the nearby quarry sites. The intense heat of over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit would condense the limerock over the course of five days into blocks of lime which were eventually utilized as building materials. The entire multi-day cycle of loading the kiln, firing the rock, cooling the lime, and moving the finished product could yield over 1,000 barrels of lime. The lime produced in Santa Cruz represented a third of California’s lime supply and three-quarters of the lime supply for San Francisco. When need for lime drastically decreased after the introduction of cement, lime kilns were abandoned and slowly returned to the forest.
Visitors to Santa Cruz can stumble upon the ruins of these ancient lime kilns in several different areas. Here is a short list of the best lime kiln hikes that stretch from the redwood forests of Felton to the UC Santa Cruz campus and beyond! While visiting these portals to Santa Cruz’s past, remember that these are ruins requiring conservation and preservation. Please do not vandalize, graffiti, climb, or remove pieces of the landmarks. Respectfully view our history but leave no trace when hiking these trails and visiting these unique pieces of local history.
Fall Creek Lime Kiln
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park has a northern sector known as the Fall Creek unit, which features 20 miles of hiking trails spanning over 2390 acres of land. The main trails wind along a rushing river that leads up into the lush redwood forests. At the top of the Fall Creek Loop on the Lime Kiln trail, hikers can find the ruins of the largest standing lime kiln in the Santa Cruz area. These quiet ruins are covered in moss and luscious ferns, slowly becoming a part of the forest once again. The trail is roughly 3-5 miles depending on whether you hike the entire loop or just hike up to the lime kilns and back, and gains about 500ft elevation.
Pogonip Lime Kiln
Difficulty: Beginner to Intermediate
The Pogonip trails stretch across grassy plains, redwood forests, and includes a large lime kiln not far from the UC Santa Cruz campus. Vistors can reach the lime kilns by three different hikes. First, visitors can begin at Spring Street and follow the Spring trail up to the Spring Box trail which leads into the mountains for a roughly 4 mile round-trip trek. Second, begin your hike from Stevenson College on the UCSC campus and cross the road for a shortcut to the Rincon trail for a roughly 1.5 mile round trip excursion. Lastly, begin from Highway 9 and hike up the U-Conn trail to the lime kiln trail for a roughly 2.5 mile roundtrip hike. Hikers can find this lime kiln just past the intersection of the Spring Box and Rincon trails. For a special added bonus, above this lime kiln, visitors can explore a rock garden full of cairns, or rock piles, built over the years out of the leftover limestone discarded in the quarry.
Cowell Lime Kilns
The Cowell Lime Kilns are located on the UC Santa Cruz campus near the main entrance and represent the ruins of what was once the largest site of lime production in the state. Lime was produced at this site since 1853 and was later bought by Henry Cowell who oversaw operations here them from their peak in 1865 to the 1920’s when the demand for lime greatly decreased. At its peak, the Cowell Lime Kilns were the largest lime producers in California and were a major supplier of lime to San Francisco during the Gold Rush. The ruins are easily accessible to the public, and there are several parking areas right next to the kilns making this an easy hike for everyone trying to learn about the extensive history surrounding lime in the Santa Cruz area.