12 Best Hiking Trails Near Santa Cruz, CA

Looking for an outdoor adventure but don’t want to travel too far from Santa Cruz County? No problem! There are plenty of great hiking trails near Santa Cruz that will give you the perfect workout and a great view. From easy trails that are perfect for beginners to more challenging paths that will test your endurance, there’s something for everyone. In this post, I will give you a list of the 12 Top-Rated Hiking Trails near Santa Cruz. So grab your hiking boots and get ready to explore some of the best trails California has to offer!

Best Hiking Trails Near Santa Cruz, CA

1. Old Cove Landing Trail, Wilder Ranch State Park

The Cove Landing Trail is an easy hike located in the Wilder Ranch State Park. The park is a 7,000-acre coastal park with miles of hiking and biking trails. It is known for its beautiful coastal area with rolling hills, redwoods, and stunning ocean views. And the Cove Landing Trail is one of the best ways to experience all of these features.

The Old Cove Trail is a short, 2.5-mile loop trail that takes about an hour to complete. This trail is popular with hikers, walkers, runners, and mountain bikers. As you make your way along the trail, you’ll be treated to beautiful views of the coastline and the many groves of cypress trees that line the bluffs. The trail also passes by Wilder Ranch historic buildings, which give you a glimpse into life in the early 1900s.

This is a great hike for those looking for a quick, easy hike with beautiful ocean views. The trail is short, and the descent down to the beach is definitely worth the views. And for a longer hike, Wilder Ranch State Park has plenty of trails to choose from. So if you’re hiking in Santa Cruz, be sure to check out the Old Cove Landing Trail. You won’t be disappointed.

2. Wilder Ridge Trail, Wilder Ranch State Park

Another one of the top hiking trails near Santa Cruz is the Wilder Ridge Trail. This is a moderate to difficult hike that navigates the mountain slopes opposite Highway 1. The trail is just over 6.3 miles long and features some steep sections with rough terrain. However, the hike is doable for most hikers with good hiking shoes. After two miles of uphill hiking, the trail offers some great views of the Santa Cruz Coastline and the Monterey bay.

The Wilder Ridge Trail also offers a few historical attractions that make it worth a visit. The Wilder Dairy Cultural Preserve is located at the trailhead and offers exhibits on the park’s history, including its ranching days and the area’s natural history. There is also a restored 1870s barn, fruit orchards, and a blacksmith shop that are worth exploring. This is one of the hikes in Santa Cruz you don’t want to miss.

3. Old Growth Loop Trail, Forest of Nisene Marks State Park

If you’re looking for a trekking adventure that will take you through some of the most impressive ancient redwood forest in California, then the Old Growth Loop Trail is the hike for you. This trail is located in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, a park known for its vast and varied landscape, which includes a large section of old-growth redwood forest.

At just over 2.2 miles, the Old Growth Loop Trail is a short but sweet hike that will take you through some of the most stunning scenery in the park. The highlight of the old growth trail is definitely the ancient redwood forest, which is some of the last remaining in California. You’ll also get to see a variety of different trees and plants, as well as some beautiful creeks and waterfalls.

This hike in the growth loop trail is perfect for anyone looking for a short but rewarding hike. And if you want to explore more of the park, there are plenty of other trails to check out. So if you’re looking for the best Santa Cruz hikes, make sure to add the Oceanside Old Cove Landing Trail to your list.

4. Saratoga Gap and Ridge Trail Loop, Castle Rock State Park

The Saratoga Gap and Ridge Trail Loop is a great hike for those looking for more moderate hikes in Santa Cruz with beautiful views. The loop is located in Castle Rock State Park, a park known for its dramatic cliffs and rocky ridges. At over 5,000 acres, Castle Rock is one of the best state parks in California and is definitely worth a visit.

The Saratoga Gap Trail Loop is a 4.8-mile loop that takes about 3-4 hours to complete. The hike starts at the main park entrance and follows the Castle Rock Trail. From there, you’ll begin descending the Saratoga Gap Trail, where you’ll enjoy amazing views of the San Lorenzo River and Castle Rock Falls.

Overall, the hike is fairly moderate, with a few steep sections. However, the views and the varying landscapes make up for it. If you’re looking for a great hike with beautiful views, the Saratoga Gap Trail Loop is a great option. It is definitely one of the top hiking trails in Santa Cruz worth visiting.

5. Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail

The Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail is a 30-mile trail that starts at the ridge of the Castle Rock State Park and ends at Waddell Beach, on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. This trail is a popular route for hikers, backpackers, mountain bikers, and runners, offering some of the best views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the ocean.

The skyline trail traverses through a variety of landscapes, including redwood forests, oak woodlands, chaparral, and coastal scrub. It also crosses a number of creeks and rivers, providing hikers with stunning views of the redwoods, the ocean, and the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The trail is well marked and maintained, making it a great option for hikers of all levels. However, as the trail is quite long, it is recommended that hikers break up the trail into smaller sections. And with its many access points, the trail can be tailored to fit any hikers’ needs. So if you don’t want to make the entire trail, you can choose a shorter section.

The Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail is a great option for those looking for a challenging but rewarding hike near Santa Cruz. The trail offers beautiful scenery and a chance to see some of the best that California has to offer. Just be prepared for a few steep climbs and some creek crossings.

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

The Maple Falls Trail is a moderate to difficult hike located in The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. This park was established in 1963 as California’s first state park to protect an old-growth redwood forest. At over 10,000 acres, Nisene Marks is a relatively small park, but it is packed with the natural beauty found in Santa Cruz.

The Maple Falls Trail is a 7.7-mile out-and-back hike that leads to a 50-foot waterfall. The trail is mostly flat, but there are a few steep sections, and it can be a little rough in some places. However, the hike is well worth it, as the falls are beautiful. In addition to the falls, the trail also offers some great views of the park’s dense forest and rushing creeks. The park is also home to a variety of wildlife, including deer, raccoons, and squirrels.

The Maple Falls Trail is one of the top hikes in Santa Cruz for those looking for a moderate to difficult hike with beautiful scenery. Just be prepared for a few steep sections and some rough terrain.

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

The Redwood Grove Loop Trail in Cowell Redwoods State Park is a must-do hike if you’re anywhere near Santa Cruz. This easy hike is great for all experience levels and takes you through a beautiful redwood forest.

The redwoods are some of the tallest and oldest living things on Earth, so it’s definitely a sight to see. The trail is half a mile long and mostly flat, making it a great hike for all experience levels. This makes it the perfect hike for a quick walk in nature.

Along the way, you’ll cross over a few creeks and have plenty of chances to see wildlife. There are a few benches located along the loop if you want to take a break and enjoy the sounds of nature. Be sure to bring your camera. The scenery is stunning, and this makes it one of the best hiking trails for anyone looking for easy hiking near Santa Cruz with towering redwoods. If you only have a short amount of time, this is the perfect hike for you.

8. Sunset Skyline Short Loop

The Sunset Skyline Short Loop is one of the great hikes in Santa Cruz for those looking for quick, easy, and scenic hiking trails near Santa Cruz. This hike can be completed in just a little over two hours and covers just over three miles of trail.

The hike starts by crossing the footbridge at Opal Creek and winding through the forest. After a short while, the trail begins to ascend up Middle Ridge. Once you reach the summit, the trail descends back down to the other side of the ridge and follows it until you reach the Sunset Trail. The trail is well-maintained and relatively flat, making it great for beginners or those looking for an easy hike.

The highlight of this hike is definitely the sunset views. As the name suggests, this hike offers great views of the sun setting over the Santa Cruz Mountains. So if you’re looking for a great sunset when hiking in Santa Cruz, the Sunset Skyline Short Loop is definitely worth checking out. This loop is a great hike for those who want to experience Big Basin Redwoods State Park without spending too much time on the trail. And with great views like this, it’s definitely worth a visit.

9. Sequoia Trail, Big Basin Redwoods State Park

The Sequoia Trail is another of the top hiking trails near Santa Cruz that I highly recommend. This trail is located in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, a park known for its expansive old-growth redwood forests. At over 18,000 acres, Big Basin is California’s oldest state park, established in 1902, and is definitely worth a visit.

The Sequoia Trail is an easy hike that leads you through some of the park’s most beautiful redwood forests. The highlights of this hike are the massive trees, the rushing creeks, and the occasional glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. The trail is just shy of 4 miles long and can be completed in a little over 2 hours, making it perfect for a morning or afternoon hike. However, if you want to spend more time exploring the area, there are plenty of side trails that can lead you further into the forest.

The park is also home to some impressive wildlife and abundant birdlife, including egrets, Steller’s jays, acorn woodpeckers, herons, etc. If you’re lucky, you may also catch a glimpse of some of the park’s friendly residents like deer, raccoons, and squirrels.

In general, Big Basin is a beautiful park with plenty of trails to explore. And if you’re looking for easy Santa Cruz hikes with plenty of redwoods, the Sequoia Trail is a great option. Just be sure to bring your camera. You’ll want to capture the beauty of these giants.

10. Fall Creek Trail, Fall Creek Unit, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

The Fall Creek Trail is an easy hike located in the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. This park is known for its old-growth redwood forests and is a great place to spend a day hiking. The trailhead can be found at the main park entrance and is a great option for those looking for a hike with beautiful forests and creek crossings.

The Fall Creek Trail is a 5.5-mile trail that winds its way through the park. The trail is mostly flat, making it one of the best hikes in Santa Cruz for those looking for an easy hike with a bit of a challenge. The highlight of this hike is the giant redwoods, which are some of the tallest trees in the world.

In general, the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is a great place for a Santa Cruz hike. The park has over 20 miles of trails to explore, making it perfect for hikers of all levels. And if you’re looking for a good place to take your family, the Fall Creek Trail is a great option.

11. Berry Creek Falls Loop, Big Basin Redwoods State Park

The Berry Creek Falls Loop is one of Big Basin Redwoods State Park’s most popular and scenic trails. At just over 12 miles, this loop is a bit more challenging, but well worth it for the amazing views.

The trailhead can be accessed from the big basin park headquarters, where it descends into the canyon, following Berry Creek. The creek is full of rapids and waterfalls, which is a beautiful sight to see. After a few miles, the trail begins to climb out of the canyon, providing amazing views of the park’s forests and Monterey bay. The hike then leads back to Berry Creek Falls, where you can take in the largest waterfall in the park.

This is an excellent hike for anyone looking for a challenging but rewarding trail. The views are some of the best in the park, and it’s a great way to see the different sides of Big Basin. Keep in mind that this hike is strenuous, with a few steep sections and over 2,300 feet of elevation gain. But the rewards are definitely worth it. So if you’re looking for one of the top hiking trails near Santa Cruz, the Berry Creek Falls Loop should definitely be on your list.

12. Monarch Trail, Natural Bridges State beach.

The Monarch Trail is a short, easy hike located in Natural Bridges State Beach. This trail is great for families or those who are looking for a leisurely stroll. The trail is less than a mile long and can be completed in about 30 minutes, making it perfect for a quick stroll or a family outing.

The Monarch Trail winds through a eucalyptus grove and provides beautiful views of the park’s beaches and the Pacific Ocean. However, the highlight of this trail is seeing some of the park’s wildlife, including Monarch butterflies (which the trail is named after). The best time to see them is during the fall and winter months when they migrate to the area. The park is also home to plenty of other wildlife, including lizards, rabbits, and birds.

This trail is a great trail for a quick stroll or a family outing, and it’s also a great place to see the monarch butterflies. So if you’re looking for short and easy Santa Cruz hikes, be sure to check this one out. The views are beautiful, and it’s a great way to get some exercise and enjoy the beauty of Santa Cruz.

In summary

So there you have it, 12 top hiking trails near Santa Cruz that I highly recommend. Whether you’re looking for an easy hike with beautiful views or a more challenging hike through the forest, there is something for you. So be sure to add a few of these trails to your list and experience the beauty of Santa Cruz County up close. Thanks for reading.