This guide is part of KCET's California Coastal Trail series, which looks at the state's massive undertaking to build a trail over 1,000 miles in length along its whole coastline.
From ancient coastlines to abandoned limekilns crouched in redwood forests, Santa Cruz County has a wealth of hiking destinations for any taste or experience level. Keep your eyes peeled, and you may even encounter a luminous banana slug or the Big Ben Tree, one of the largest and oldest redwood trees in Santa Cruz.
Below you'll find the following thrilling hiking options in Santa Cruz County.
Berry Creek Loop
10 Miles, Moderate to Difficult
Stunning 65-ft high Berry Creek Falls is just one of the many outstanding features of this loop in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Spend a few hours under the canopy of old growth redwoods, walk through verdant dangling ferns, and meander over gurgling streams. You may even spot a banana slug enjoying this lush area too! Visit here for more information.
Pacific to Redwoods Loop
12 miles, Difficult
Want to cover as much diverse terrain as possible? Then the Pacific to Redwoods Loop is just the ticket! From the jagged beach to a redwood forest to grasslands to oceanside bluffs, this 12-mile loop at Wilder Ranch State Park offers a taste of this region’s exceptional biodiversity. The park is just a few miles north of Santa Cruz. Visit here for more info.
Loma Prieta Grade Trail
4 miles, Easy
This popular route along an old lumber railroad grade is a must for history buffs. Located in 10,000-acre Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, the region was a site of logging by the Loma Prieta Lumber Company from 1882 to 1923, before the land was deeded to the state in 1963 by Herman, Agnes, and Andrew Marks (Nisene Marks was their mother). Begin this loop near the serene contours of Bridge Creek, visit remains of a logging camp, discover old lumbering artifacts like cables and trestle timbers, and encounter the dashing Maple Falls, one of two waterfalls in the park. Visit here for more information.
Big Ben and Fall Creek Trail
8 miles, Difficult
This section of Henry Cowell State Park is a lush haven of second-growth redwoods. This is a demanding hike but extraordinarily rewarding as you can visit an old limekiln site and encounter one of the largest and oldest redwood trees, the aptly named the Big Ben Tree. The steep climb from the trailhead to Big Ben is followed by a descent through a gorgeous wooded canyon and vivacious creek along the Fall Creek Trail. Visit here for more information.