Hiking in Santa Cruz, CA

Joe Prather June 4, 2024

Santa Cruz, CA, is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering an array of scenic hiking trails that cater to all levels of experience. From coastal paths to forested loops, there is no shortage of natural beauty to explore. This article highlights some of the best hiking spots in Santa Cruz, CA, perfect for those looking to immerse themselves in the great outdoors. Whether you are a local or planning a visit, these trails are must-see destinations.

Old Cove Landing Trail

The Old Cove Landing Trail is a coastal gem located within Wilder Ranch State Park. This relatively easy hike spans approximately 2.5 miles and offers stunning ocean views, rugged cliffs, and the chance to spot marine wildlife. The trail is mostly flat, making it accessible for hikers of all skill levels. As you walk, you'll pass through historic ranch sites and get a sense of the area's rich cultural history. This trail is ideal for a leisurely hike with picturesque coastal scenery.

Sunlit, Big Ben, Fall Creek, and Lost Empire Loop

For those seeking a more challenging adventure, the Sunlit, Big Ben, Fall Creek, and Lost Empire Loop offer an extensive trek through diverse landscapes. This loop in the Fall Creek Unit of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park spans roughly 9.4 miles and takes you through dense redwood forests, over creeks, and up steep inclines. The trail is moderately difficult and suitable for experienced hikers looking for a workout and a chance to experience the serenity of ancient redwoods.

Wilder Ranch State Park

Wilder Ranch State Park features numerous trails, each offering unique experiences. The park’s extensive network of trails spans over 34 miles, accommodating both novice and seasoned hikers. Trails meander through coastal terraces, valleys, and rolling hills, providing panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. Besides hiking, the park is also a favorite for mountain biking and horseback riding, making it a versatile outdoor destination. Visitors can explore the historic ranch complex, gaining insight into the region's agricultural history.

West Cliff Drive

West Cliff Drive is a perfect choice for a more relaxed and urban hike. This 3-mile path runs along the Santa Cruz coastline, offering spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, surfers, and local wildlife. The paved trail is ideal for walking, jogging, and cycling and is accessible to strollers and wheelchairs. Along the way, you can enjoy various scenic overlooks, benches, and access points to the beach. West Cliff Drive is also a great spot to watch the sunset or enjoy a picnic with ocean views.

Enchanted Loop

The Enchanted Loop, situated within the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, lives up to its name with a mystical atmosphere created by towering redwoods and lush greenery. This 5.5-mile loop is moderately challenging, taking hikers through serene forests and tranquil streams. The trail offers a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle, with fewer crowds and a sense of seclusion. It's a fantastic choice for those looking to connect with nature and experience the tranquility of the redwoods.

Pacific to Redwoods Loop

Another gem in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, the Pacific to Redwoods Loop offers a scenic journey from coastal landscapes to dense forest interiors. Spanning about 6 miles, this loop combines coastal and forest hiking elements, providing diverse scenery along the way. Hikers can enjoy views of the ocean before delving into the redwood forests, where the temperature drops and the air is filled with the scent of evergreens. This trail is moderately difficult and perfect for those wanting a varied hiking experience.

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is renowned for its magnificent old-growth redwoods and diverse ecosystems. The park offers several hiking trails, but one of the most popular is the Redwood Grove Loop Trail, a 0.8-mile loop that features some of the park's tallest trees. For a longer hike, the park’s various trails can be combined to create loops of varying lengths. The park is family-friendly, with trails suitable for all ages and abilities, and it offers educational opportunities about the redwood ecosystem and local wildlife.

Natural Bridges to Lighthouse Field Trail

Combining coastal views and local landmarks, the Natural Bridges to Lighthouse Field Trail is a delightful hike that showcases some of Santa Cruz’s most iconic sights. This trail is approximately 3 miles one way and takes hikers from the stunning Natural Bridges State Beach, known for its rock formations and tide pools, to Lighthouse Field State Beach, where you can visit the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum. The trail is relatively easy and mostly flat, making it accessible for all fitness levels. It's a great way to enjoy the coastal scenery and learn about local history.

Forest of Nisene Marks State Park

The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park offers an extensive network of trails catering to various hiking preferences. With over 40 miles of trails winding through dense forests, along creeks, and up to scenic viewpoints, this park is a haven for hikers seeking solitude and adventure. The park’s namesake trail, the Forest of Nisene Marks, provides a comprehensive experience of the park’s natural beauty. Hikers can enjoy the tranquility of the redwoods, the sounds of flowing water, and the opportunity to spot wildlife in their natural habitat.

Explore Santa Cruz, CA

Santa Cruz, CA, with its diverse hiking trails, offers endless opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. There is something for everyone, from coastal paths with ocean views to forested loops among towering redwoods. Whether you are a seasoned hiker or just starting, the trails in Santa Cruz provide a perfect way to connect with nature and experience the region's beauty.

Contact Joe Prather today to explore your options and start your journey to finding your dream home in Santa Cruz, CA.

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