Travel Blog

Top 5 Kid-Friendly Hikes in Santa Cruz County

All Photos by Garrick Ramirez

It’s a gorgeous Saturday morning and you’re craving a vigorous mountaintop trek, but the kiddos only want to stroll a virtual landscape of pixelated zombies. Sound familiar? We’ve got the solution: easy, scenic hikes with fun surprises and engaging activities that your kids will love. With quality time outdoors and away from the screens, these five outings are your new weekend ace in the hole.


Wilder Ranch State Park
Parents will appreciate: the secluded beach coves, sculpted sea caves, and majestic views of the Pacific that fill this level 2.5-mile loop trail over dramatic coastal bluffs. Along the way, you’re likely to spot marine life including playful dolphins, grunting sea lions, and migrating humpback whales. You’ll also have numerous opportunities to dip down into sandy pocket beaches including Fern Grotto Beach named for its spring-fed, fern-covered grotto

Kids will love: the historic dairy farm’s pens of of livestock and regular Family Living History Days that bring the park’s historic barn structures to life. Kids can enjoy hands-on crafts, farm life demonstrations, and the sweet aroma of ginger snaps wafting from a wood stove in the 1897 Victorian home. Check the park’s calendar for upcoming event dates.


Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Parents will appreciate: wondrous groves of towering coast redwoods, the tallest and oldest living things on the planet. The popular, .8-mile loop trail features numbered, informative stops that are keyed to an interpretive brochure available at the Visitor Center. Don’t miss the nearby Bear Claw Tree, the park’s tallest redwood standing 285-feet tall.

Kids will love: being sworn in as a Junior Ranger after completing a series of fun, informative activities in a booklet found at the Visitor Center. Also, the rootin’, tootin’ Old West-themed grounds of Roaring Camp Railroads are just a few steps away! In addition to thrilling steam train rides through redwood forests, kids can participate in activities such as panning for gold and candle making (check their site for activity schedules).


Parents will appreciate: the hidden gems-and incredible diversity of landscapes-encompassed in the park’s 640 acres. For an easy stroll with a big payoff, follow the Rincon Trail from the UCSC campus as it slopes downhill to the eastbound Spring Box Trail. A quick stroll along the Spring Box Trail soon leads to an unexpected spring-fed koi pond tucked beneath a redwood tree. Head back to the Rincon Trail, veer north, and you’ll immediately stumble upon massive, 19th century limestone kilns with the overgrown appearance of an ancient stone temple. Behind the kilns is a spectacular rock garden whose stacks of balanced rocks are dotted with slips of handwritten notes and wishes left by visitors.

Kids will love: marveling at colorful koi fish swimming in the middle of a redwood forest, and scribbling private messages to tuck in between balanced rock piles. However, young ones may be disappointed to learn that there aren’t, in fact, any pogos at this park named for the Native American term for “icy fog.”


Rancho del Oso
Parents will appreciate: the easy peasy .4-mile Marsh Trail that quickly immerses you in the freshwater marshland habitat of Rancho del Oso, an under-the-radar gem off Highway 1. You’ll stroll through lush flowering vegetation, past animal tracks imprinted in the moist grounds, and, during the summer, cross a seasonal bridge spanning Waddell Creek. Note that the ground is often moist and/or muddy, so bring appropriate footwear!

Kids will love: the interactive wildlife exhibits and family-friendly events at the park’s exceptional Nature Center, housed in the former home of President Herbert Hoover’s niece. Little explorers can also pick up a free Junior Ranger workbook that guides them to the many natural wonders and diverse habitats just outside the Nature Center.


* UPDATE: Byrne Milliron is temporarily closed and a re-open date is currently unknown. VSCC will update when more information is released.

Byrne-Milliron Forest
Parents will appreciate: the stunning views of the Monterey Bay and Pajaro Valley from AJ’s Point of View, a scenic overlook reached via a moderate 1.5 mile trek along the Byrne Trail.

Kids will love: the many sculptures and trinkets left behind by the park’s former caretaker, the late Jeff Helmer. Helmer embellished the park’s many trails with amusing objects placed among giant redwoods, tan oaks, and big leaf maple trees. Most are found along the Leonard Bartle Trail which branches off from the Byrne Trail and is marked by a hulking wooden sculpture of three bears. Don’t miss the Cathedral Rest Spot with a church pew set in a forest and surrounded by a collection of objects that visitors are welcome to add to. There are many routes to reach these destinations, so reference the park’s trail map to chart a course that works for you and your family-including Fido because dogs are welcome!

While these trails are guaranteed outdoor family bliss, there are many other ways to entertain the little ones, from beaches to the Boardwalk. Check our site for more family activities here in Santa Cruz.

Updated June 2020

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