The area around Santa Cruz is a treasure trove of natural spaces, parks, and opportunities for outdoor fun. From towering old-growth forests, to the sparkling sea, these areas are kept accessible thanks to the miles of well-kept trails.
And what better time to get out and enjoy all this natural beauty than spring? With the wildflowers blooming, the birds chirping, and the young trees shooting, this is a great time to go hiking.
If you're unsure where to start - don't worry! We've compiled a list of some great hikes to take around Santa Cruz. These trails are guaranteed to be hiding some spring-time delights, so read on to find out more!
Wilder Ranch State Park - Wilder Ridge Loop
Just west of Santa Cruz, this park is home to some fantastic routes that trace the bluffs and ridge lines overlooking Monterey Bay. Trails in Wilder Ranch State Park wind their way through wooded creeks and grassy meadows, offering a tremendous variety for witnessing the seasonal changes.
You can start just off the south side of Highway 1, roughly 3.5 miles from downtown Santa Cruz, and march your way northward towards the start of Wilder Ridge Loop. This route will take you along the edge of a beautiful meadow, with grass on one side and trees on the other, culminating in the Wilder Ridge Vista Point for taking in awesome views of the hills and oceans.
The total loop is around 6 miles with moderate elevation. Many longer loops connect to this one, so if you're looking for a bigger challenge this is the right place. You can hike east to the University of California Santa Cruz campus, or south to Natural Bridges Marine Reserve, or head north and link up with the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park (this'll be quite a walk though).
Pogonip - Spring Trail and Nature Loop
Pogonip sits just on the eastern side of the University of California Santa Cruz campus. This puts it at an easy driving distance from downtown Santa Cruz, and affords the opportunity to check out the UCSC campus from one the trailheads that start there.
The park itself features some wonderful meadows that are sure to be teaming with wildflowers in the spring, as well as some incredible views of the city. Perhaps the most apt route to walk would be the Spring Trail, but make sure to incorporate Prairie Trail and Nature Loop to truly get your fill of spring flowers.
Spring Trail will also reward you with access to Pogonip Vista Point along Coolidge Drive, for extra-fantastic views over the park.
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park - Fall Creek Trail
Drive north out of Santa Cruz to the charming community of Felton and you'll marvel at the beauty of the surrounding valley. One perennial favorite here is the Redwood Grove Loop Trail - an easy walk around towering old-growth redwoods and a must-see if you haven't visited before.
However, for a more seasonal experience, find the Bennett Creek trailhead off Felton Empire Road. Once there, shoulder your pack, tie your shoelaces, and set out north for the Fall Creek Trail. Located in the large Fall Creek Unit of the park, this trail follows the river through dense fern-packed forests.
Once complete, you have the option of either going back the way you came, or hiking up either side of the valley and taking a trail back from there. Either way, this healthy forest is sure to present some spring sights.
Nisene Marks State Park - West Ridge Trail
Nisene Marks State Park is a protected forest with a whopping 40 miles of trails. This park offers intrepid hikers steep climbs through rugged woods, from sea level all the way up to commanding ridge lines.
For a hike with great views and a more gradual incline, take the West Ridge Trail overlooking Bridge Creek. You'll have to take the Aptos Creek Road first, but don't worry, the trail head is well-marked, leaving the road headed westward and upward. You could also start on the Loma Prieta Grade further up the road, and connect with the West Ridge Trail later.
Overall, you'll find a shady mix of trees, occasionally breaking into open views. Make sure to keep skirting the valley on your right, continuing northward, until eventually you reach Sand Point Overlook. Stop, rest, take in the views - you've earned it!