10 Amazing Hikes in Santa Cruz, California for Cherishing Memories

I’ve spent days in this beach town, watching the water waves, its soothing relaxing sound, and enjoying the perfect climate, eating delicious seafood. But escaping into woodlands to explore the different kinds of natural beauty in Santa Cruz was the best memory I made. 

There are a lot of day hikes in Santa Cruz that will boost your adventurous soul. 

Hikes in Santa Cruz, California

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You’ll find easy, moderate to difficult hiking trails in Santa Cruz which will perfectly fit your trekking adventure. Before hitting the trails remember to get the best affordable hiking boots, rain gear, hiking winter jacket, and all the specific necessary hiking gear. Santa Cruz is the land of surf, mountains, stunning coastline, and chilled vibe that oozes from this seaside town. 

There’s a lot to love about Santa Cruz – the beaches, the seafood but Santa Cruz walking trails are for love for the outdoor enthusiast. 

And in this post, you’ll learn all the popular hiking trails in Santa Cruz to explore and what to know before you go for it.  

I brought my travel laptop and wireless travel router with me and spent a month in Santa Cruz exploring its beauty and not harming my office life. If you’re an adventure junky like me then my recommendation for the hikes in Santa Cruz will be perfect for you to unwind the beauty.

10 Most Scenic Hiking Trails in Santa Cruz

1. Sequoia Trail, Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Distance: 4.2miles

Difficulty level: Moderate

Approx. time: 1.5 hours

Type: Loop

The Sequoia Trail in Big Basin is the famous Santa Cruz hike which is near Boulder Creek. 

There are three main highlights of this trail – First, Sempervirens Waterfall which is a roughly opal blue color 20-foot waterfall plunging into a forest grotto. Second, Slippery Rock is a steep rock surface that is bare of any trees. Thirdly, the Redwoods which are over 1000 years old standing with all pride and beauty.  

Read Also: Best Places to See Redwoods near San Francisco

Along the Sequoia Trail, there is a Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail which is another beautiful hiking spot near Santa Cruz. This trail starts from the Civilian Conservation Corps Center and you’ll also come across scenic campsites like Jay Camp and Wastahi Campground.

This dramatic landscape, a windy road that is getting into the woods, small bridges, and crossings under the big trees make it a heavenly experience. Sempervirens Waterfall is one of the best waterfalls in Santa Cruz. The wildflowers and vibrant plants all around the trail make it the most memorable hike in Santa Cruz.

Tips: 

  • To go for this hike you have to pay $10 as a parking pass. Remember to carry cash.
  • Try to reach the spot by 9.30 AM to beat the crowds. 
Sequoia Trail
Sequoia Trail

2. Redwood Grove Loop Trail, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

Distance: 0.9 miles

Difficulty level:  Easy

Approx. time: One hour

Type: Loop

The Redwood Grove Loop Trail is flat and shaded by 250 feet tall old big trees making it the best spot to explore and hike in Santa Cruz.

There are two main highlights of this trail – First, ‘The Giant’, these trees have been here for centuries and are 270 feet tall and over 17 feet wide. Second, the Redwood family circle is home to numerous small trees along with the famous bog tree. Third, the Fremont Tree which has big hallows and was once the home of John Fremont. Fourth, the Phantom of the Forest has albino white foliage with a large burl. 

You can reach Red Groove Loop from Santa Cruz BeachBoardwalkwhich is seven miles away. This 4,650 acres of natural beauty is a fantastic hiking trail in Santa Cruz to behold in the Santa Cruz Mountains. You’ll encounter grasslands, rivers, sandhills, a local swimming hole, old lime kilns, and some old trees which are 150 years old. 

For all pet lovers, this is a dog-friendly hike in Santa Cruz which is surrounded by redwoods and also has a live train track. Your dog will love the fresh air and open-air narrow-gauge steam which is one of the attractive places on the Redwood Grove Loop Trail. 

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Tips:

  • To go for this hike you have to pay $ 10 as a parking pass.
  • The trail is flat and easy for non-hikers too
  • The tree bark has a lot of tannic acids. 
Hikes in Santa Cruz | Redwood Grove Loop Trail
Redwood Grove Loop Trail

3. Berry Creek Falls, Big Basin Redwood State Park

Distance: 10 miles

Difficulty level: Difficult

Approx. time: 3.5 hours

Type: Loop

One of the oldest state parks with redwoods all around lies Berry CreekFalls, the best Santa Cruz hike

This trailhead begins near the Big Basin Park Headquarters and shares a place with SunsetTrail and Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail. You will also come across West Waddell Creek StateWildernesswhere you will find gorgeous lilies blooming. This hike will enrich your experience with the view of giant sequoia standing strong over centuries. Berry Creek Falls Trail is an ideal trail in Santa Cruz with three waterfalls. 

Follow Timm’s Creek trail & Sunset Trail, which is considered the hardest stretch of the hike. But you have to climb 500 feet to reach the top of the ridge splitting the Timm’s Creek drainage from the Berry Creek drainage. 

You’ll be amazed to see manzanita and copes of knobcone pine and the view of Waddell Creek’s canyon. After a few walks, you’ll reach the final trail and will be amazed by the cascading waterfall, trickling creeks, and its beauty. The tiring hike is all worth the money! 

Tip: Carry a winter jacket because this place is naturally cold because of the canopy which traps the sunlight from coming inside.  

 Way to Berry Creek Falls
Way to Berry Creek Falls

4. Old Growth Trail, Forest of Nisene Marks State Park

Distance: 1.3miles

Difficulty level:  EasytoModerate

Approx. time:  One and half an hour

Elevation Gain: 269 ft 

Type: Loop

One of the hidden gem hikes in Santa Cruz is the Old Growth Loop Trail at Nisene Marks State Park.

To reach Old Growth Loop Trail you have to pass through Marcel’s Forest which is another beautiful trail that passes through ‘The Advocate Tree’. This area is shaded with kiosks, banana slugs that make an amazing sight to begin the hike. Walk through the Split Stuff Trail, Aptos Rancho Trail to reach the Old Growth Loop. Along the way, you’ll witness waterfalls, redwood groves, and the ocean.

It is an easy day hike in Santa Cruz, perfect for beginners. But if you want to make it interesting and long then follow the side trails and reach Twisted Grove, which is beautifully decorated with funky-looking gnarled redwood trees. Redwood giants in this area are more than 1,000 years old, you’ll be wondering to look up to them and find standing strong surviving the storms, earthquakes, droughts, and whatnot. 

The trees in the Old-growth trail look dull brown and tend to be gnarled, reflecting their age. The redwoods seem to be naturally confined to the ravine. 

Tips:

  • The seasonal bridge across Aptos Creek is taken down  every year before the rainy season. 
  • This is one of the best winter hikes in Santa Cruz. The bridge is put up fromMay to October. 
  • Be careful, there is poison oak and occasional biting of insects. 

5. Old Cove Landing Trail, Wilder Ranch State Park 

Distance: 2.3miles

Difficulty level:  Easy

Approx. time:  One hour

Elevation Gain:85 ft

Type: Loop

Old Cove Landing Trail is fairly level with minimal changes in elevation and the most kid-friendly hikes in Santa Cruz.

Along with the trial, you’ll come across cormorants, snowy plovers, seagulls and migrating whales, the rocky cliffs, and the beautiful sight of the Pacific Ocean. The 7000 acres Wilder Ranch State Park, Santa Cruz coastline, and crest of Ben Lomond Mountain are a mystical thing to behold. 

The trail starts near the Wilder Dairy Cultural Preserve and the Old Cove Trail meets a bluff where you’ll witness the beautiful cliff edge. Take the trail down to the ‘fern grotto’ a huge cave tucked away on a quaint little beach. This is such an adventurous hike! 

Explore the area, walk over the historic ranch section of the park and click beautiful pictures in front of cypress trees and plants. Hike 2.5 miles more to reach Ohlone Buff, which is also a great place to relax and take a couple of spurs down the beach. Continue along the coastline across the beach to witness the best view you have ever witnessed.

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Tip: You’ve to buy tickets which are $10 per person. 

Old Cove Landing Trail
Old Cove Landing Trail

6. Maple Falls, The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park

Distance: 6 miles

Difficulty level:  Moderate 

Approx. time: 3 hour

Elevation Gain:823 ft 

Type: Out and Back 

You’ll be surprised to know that the Forest of Nisene Marks is the result of reforestation. 

The redwood you’ll be seeing around is the result of second-growth and the best hikes in Santa Cruz. You have to follow the Aptos Creek fire road to the Loma Prieta (“dark hill”) grade Trail to reach this beautiful spot. 

You can explore the most adventurous winter hikes in Santa Cruz through canyons hopping over rocks and small stream beds without bridges under the big tall trees and sometimes over broken trees lay the beautiful Maple Falls behind a huge boulder. 

With the view of crystal-clean streams, the waterfall, the redwood forest, and the scenic stretch, everything about this place is perfect for avid hikers. This is one of my favorite hikes in Santa Cruz. 

Tips:

Recommended Post: 10 Most Useful Apps for Hiking

7. Pogonip Creek Nature Loop, Pogonip Open Space

Distance: 1.6 mile

Difficulty level: Moderate

Approx. time:  2-2.5hour

Elevation Gain:69 meter 

Type:  Out and Back 

Pogonip Creek Nature Loop, a popular bike trail in Santa Cruz that connects Santa Cruz mountain bikers at UCSC and Wilder Ranch State Park. 

Pogonip is about 3 miles up from the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. This 640 acres forest is a great spot providing you the best views of nature through beautiful meadowlands and the best experience of hiking in Santa Cruz.

This trail is pet-friendly and also connects with the Prairie Trail. Hike northwest to reach Brayshaw Trail then head west to reach Spring Trail from where you can hike to the Lime Kiln Trail, or hike towards Box Spring Trail. In the intersection of Box Spring Trail and Lime Kiln Trail lies the koi pond. 

There are a lot of things to do in Pogonip with your pup. You should bring a lot of dry fruits, drinking water and also your pup’s special treat to enjoy the beautiful nature and just relax. 

Tips:

  • There is poison oak along the Spring Trail.
  • Mountain lions have been spotted – just be careful 
Pogonip Creek Nature Loop
Pogonip Creek Nature Loop

8. Saratoga Gap Trail, Castle Rock State Park

Distance: 11 miles

Difficulty level: Moderate 

Approx. time: 4.5 hours

Elevation Gain: 1,010 ft 

Type:  Loop 

Gorgeous views, unique waterfall, and strange yet natural sandstone formation make Saratoga Gap Trail one of the best hikes in Santa Cruz.

The main attraction of this hiking trail is Castle Rock Falls, Castle Rock, and Goat Rock. The view of the rocks, waterfall, and rock climbing experience is inspiring and worth remembering.

The landscape and the terrain of the Saratoga Gap Trail are beautifully decorated with attractive moss trees, sandstone rocks, and lichen-covered boulders. This trail merges with the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail which is another great hike in Santa Cruz. Park your car at the CalTrans and start hiking from Castle Rock Park Main Entrance.

Tip: Parking at the Castle Rock park main entrance is $10 per car. 

Saratoga Gap Trail
Saratoga Gap Trail

9. Wilder Ridge Trail, Wilder Ranch State Park

Distance: 7.7 miles

Difficulty level: Moderate 

Approx. time:  3 hour

Elevation Gain: 600 ft 

45 miles south of Half Moon Bay, 73 miles from San Francisco lies Wilder Ranch, the best hike around Santa Cruz. Wilder Ridge Trail offers a spectacular view, sunny and pleasant weather alongside the oceanside Old Cove Landing and Ohlone Bluff Trails. This 7000-acre park is accessible year-round starting from the park headquarters.

Along the hike, you can witness stunning Monterey Bay views, coastal bluffs, and beautiful forest views. Years back this field was a dairy ranch and a Gothic Revival farmhouse. This trail is popular among mountain bikers.  

Tip: Along the way, you may find poisonous oak, be careful.

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Wilder Ridge Trail
Wilder Ridge Trail

10. Aptos Creek Fire Road, Forest of Nisene Marks State Park

Distance: 25.8 miles

Difficulty level: Moderate

Elevation Gain: 500 ft 

If you’re searching for an unexplored hike in Santa Cruz then Aptos Creek Fire Road at Forest of Nisene Marks State Park is your place to visit. 

The refreshing environment at the summit of Santa Rosalia Mountain near Sand Point Overlook provides this bittersweet beauty. The redwood forest from sea level to coastal mountains is so eye-soothing that you’ll love to click amazing photos. 

This place is famous among joggers, hikers, and bikers because explorers not only find this beautiful place but also witness Five-Finger Falls, many historic sites like the Loma Prieta earthquake epicenter. If you’re interested in good views I would suggest coming to these Santa Cruz hiking trails

Aptos Creek Fire Road
Aptos Creek Fire Road

What to Pack for Hiking in Santa Cruz

For the phenomenal experience of hiking in Santa Cruz, it’s important to pack properly so that after arriving at the spot you enjoy peace of mind. 

  • Water– Although you will find a lot of water sources while hiking these trails in Santa Cruz, you can’t just fill your bottle and drink it. Therefore, carry a Grayl Geo press Water Purifier which will help you to drink filtered water. Check out our list of the best hiking water filters with a buying guide.
  • Food – Hiking is a tiring physical activity and to boost yourself carry dry fruits, nuts, protein bars, snacks like chocolate, cookies, fruit, and also your teabag. 
  • Backpack – hiking in Santa Cruzcannot be done with a trolley bag, hence buy an inexpensive but high-quality backpack like Osprey Hikelite 24 hiking backpack for a better experience. 
  • Hiking Shoes – Without proper shoes, you can’t hike in Santa Cruz; Buy cheap boots for hiking like Merrell Moab hiking shoes which are comfortable and have high grips making it the appropriate footwear. 
  • Travel Gear – It’s so important to carry your travel gear like trekking poles, sleeping mat, compass, first aid box, headlamp, and sunscreen. I carry Leki trekking poles, a Petzl headlamp, and RayBan polarized sunglasses.

Read Popular Buying Guides for Hiking:

Where to Stay in Santa Cruz? 

I won’t lie that stays in Santa Cruz are quite expensive and if you’re traveling on a budget then nothing is better than these accommodations which are available on booking.com at a very reasonable price. After hiking at the best places in Santa Cruz you need a hotel that feels like home and these hotels are perfect for your comfort. You can also prefer to stay at the campground as per your requirements. 

  • Bay Front Inn: 450 m away from the center, a family-friendly stay that offers free WIFI, air conditioning, television, a pool, and free breakfast. >>Book Now<<
  • Ramada Limited Santa Cruz: 1.8 km away from Santa Cruz beach sits this excellent budget-friendly hotel which offers a heated pool, free WIFI, and free breakfast. >>Book Your Stay<<

Conclusion: 

Hiking season in Santa Cruz begins in May and finishes in October. I hope this blog on the best places to hike in Santa Cruz will help you to plan a great adventurous journey smoothly. Let’s hike, let’s explore.

Read Next:

FAQ on The Best Santa Cruz Hikes

1. Is Santa Cruz Good for Hiking? 

A: Santa Cruz has the best hiking trails which will help you to fall in love with its spectacular scenery and sunset. After a series of walks, hikes, and treks to medium and easy trails, you can witness the beautiful sea from the top. 

2. Can I bring my dog to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk?

A: You can bring your on-leash dog to Santa Cruz Boardwalk only if a guide is coming along the way or buy a dog kennel. Other pets are not allowed. 

3. Is Skyline to the Sea Trail open?

A: The Skyline to the Sea Trail is not open due to damage caused by the CZU Lightning Complex Fires until further notice. Check their official website before planning out. 

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