Outdoor adventures and nature enthusiasts love to explore the beauty of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Hiking through old-growth redwoods forests or to mountaintop ocean vistas, the many state parks and open spaces in the county provide endless exploration for visitors and locals alike. Love a good hike along a wild river or babbling brook? Check out a few of our favorites in the Santa Cruz Mountains, including one that leads to a 30-foot waterfall.
1. River Trail along the San Lorenzo River at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Skill level: Beginner — The 1.5-mile River Trail follows the river past beaches and towering redwoods to the bend at Cable Car Beach. It closely tracks paved Pipeline Road, for those who prefer road walking.
2. Aptos Rancho Trail to Old-Growth Loop at Forest of Nisene Marks State Park
Skill level: Beginner to Intermediate — Aptos Creek is never far away on this redwood-shaded hike to a strange grove of twisted trees. During winter the seasonal bridge comes down, so be prepared for a crossing or a shorter hike.
3. Fall Creek Trail at Fall Creek Unit at Henry Cowell State Park
Skill level: Beginner to Intermediate – Many hike options, but creek access as close as 0.6 miles from parking lot. Fall Creek Trail to South Fork Trail leads to the Lime Kilns after 1.5 miles. Great for young hikers, but longer and higher elevation hikes are also available. *All trails now open at the Fall Creek Unit.
4. Spring Box Trail at Pogonip
Skill level: Beginner to Intermediate – Pogonip features approximately 8 miles of beautiful hiking trails, but one favorite is the Spring Box Trail where you’ll find an unexpected spring-fed koi pond tucked beneath a redwood tree. One option to reach the koi pond is by taking a 3 mile trek beginning on the Spring Trail to Spring Box Trail. Just before the intersection with Lime Kiln Trail, there’s a small unmarked path to the right that loops through some old-growth redwoods. Under one of the redwoods you will find the spring-fed koi pond. *Please DO NOT touch the fish or disrupt them.
5. Hike to Maple Falls at Nisene Marks State Park (Current Closed: The last half mile of Bridge Creek Trail to Maple Falls is closed. Reopening expected Spring 2024)
Skill level: Intermediate – Approximately 8.5-mile hike along abandoned railbeds and trails tracking Aptos Creek. Be prepared for several creek crossings on the way to this 30-foot waterfall.
6. Loch Trail along Loch Lomond at Loch Lomond Reservoir
(SEASONAL: Open from March 1 – September)
Skill level: Beginner to Intermediate— Most of the redwood- and oak-shaded trails along the reservoir banks are fairly gentle, but footing can tricky in places. Loch Trail and Highland Trail can be combined for a 5-mile loop with good views and elevation gain.