Santa Cruz is known as a beach town, but there are woodland escapes in and around the city that offer a different kind of natural beauty. These day hikes are the perfect way to recharge for an hour or an afternoon. Always remember to bring plenty of water and wear sunscreen and layered clothing.
Englesmann Loop at Wilder Ranch State Park
3.7 miles; 1.5 hours; moderate
This trail is a favorite of hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders. Most of the trail is wide open, so while you admire grassland, oaks and graceful, peeling madrone trees, you also earn sweeping views of the coastline. To get there from the parking lot, meander through the historic farm complex and underpass. Pass the corral (and the friendly draft horses) and cross the bridge. Take either fork of Englesmann Loop, but turning right saves a particularly gorgeous vista for later in the hike.
1 mile; 30 minutes; easy
It’s hard to believe that you’re in the middle of Santa Cruz while walking through this peaceful coastal prairie ringed with eucalyptus and oaks. Located behind the Santa Cruz Harbor on Arana Creek, this 63-acre greenbelt reopened in 2015 to the delight of locals, who dip in to jog, walk the dog, and stroll with their families. The primary trail route provides a paved connection from Agnes Street to the upper harbor, and a picturesque footpath circles the prairie and skirts the park’s western boundary. Don’t miss the unmarked side trail that will lead you to the banks of the marshy creek and all the birds and tranquil treasures it has to offer.
Ridge Trail in Henry Cowell - Fall Creek Unit
3 miles; 90 min; moderate
The steep canyon of Fall Creek Trail in Henry Cowell State Park seems permanently lush and verdant. Even in the middle of summer, one can escape to this quiet, fern-lined gully and enjoy the serene murmur of the babbling creek, lined with second-growth redwoods. This quick lollipop loop is a great, quick recharge. If you have all day, enjoy the full 8.5 mile Fall Creek loop, which is dotted with historic sites from the area's mining and logging past.
Varies; 1-2 hours; moderate
This 402-acre working forest is a hidden gem tucked away behind rural Corralitos. Its steep ascents up logging trails are well rewarded with stunning panoramic views of the Pajaro Valley and Monterey Bay. Meandering paths cross through thick groves of redwoods and along a small creek. Locals take great pride in stewarding this beloved forest, and small shrines to unidentified woodland spirits peek out from the sides of trails. Keep an eye out for the sun-bleached 1,000 year old, 250-foot tall “Great White” redwood. This is one of the few hiking spots where four-legged explorers are allowed off leashes.
Berry Creek Falls Loop in Big Basin State Park
11 miles; 5-6 hours; strenuous
Feel the strain of the modern world pass away as you meander through the land of the giants. This popular loop trail is lined with pristine old-growth redwoods and features an impressive series of waterfalls that run year round: Silver Falls, Golden Falls and the impressive Berry Creek Falls, which cascades in a shimmering 65-foot curtain. Be sure to watch for banana slugs and California newts as you navigate along Waddell Creek. Experienced hikers recommend doing the loop counter-clockwise to even out the elevation gain and save the best sites for last. Tip: Shorten your trip to just over 7 miles by taking the Timms Creek Trail to the other side of the loop. Unfortunately, you’ll miss the waterfalls.