Travel Blog

Top River and Waterfall Hikes in the Santa Cruz Mountains

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.

During this time, please remember to social distance and wear your mask when paying parking fees, when in public areas, and while passing other hikers on the trails. Take the Safety Pledge and Let’s Cruz Safely this season!

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.

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.

Photo by @taylorjchris

Hike to Maple Falls at Nisene Marks State Park
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.

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.
*Please note that some trails are closed due to CZU August Lightning Complex Fire damage. The above trails are open, but please mind trail closure signs while visiting the park.

Loch Trail along Loch Lomond at Loch Lomond Reservoir
(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.

For more information on where to hike, do some wildlife watching, and enjoy Santa Cruz County beauty, check the Visit Santa Cruz County website!

Updated November 2020

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