7 Of The Best Hiking Trails Near Santa Cruz

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Santa Cruz has it all when it comes to its excellent hiking trails. Look no further if you are out for sea views, plunging waterfalls, 2000 foot elevation climbs, and spectacular redwood groves. There are hiking trails to suit family outings, hikers looking for a bit of a challenge, and those out for more experienced hiking escapades. Before you head out into the outdoors, you should first find out where the best hiking trails near Santa Cruz are.

Santa Cruz has numerous hiking trails suitable for different skill levels. Some of the best hiking trails are:

  • Redwood Grove Loop
  • Wilder Ridge Trail
  • Old Cove Landing Trail
  • Aptos Creek Fire Road
  • Enchanted Trail
  • Old Growth Trail Loop
  • Aptos Rancho Trail, Loma Prieta Grade, and Bridge Creek Loop

With so many lovely trails to choose from, it is essential to know as much information as possible about the routes to make an informative decision about which one is best for you at that time. Knowing what kind of sights you will see along the path, how easy or difficult the hike will be, and how long it might take you to traverse the route can help you to choose correctly.

Seven Of The Best Hiking Trails Near Santa Cruz

There are numerous hiking trails close to Santa Cruz, and each one has its unique characteristics, which make it beloved by those who frequent its trails. Deciding which hike you will go on can be challenging, so we have made a list of seven of some of the best hikes in the area.

Redwood Grove Loop

Situated in the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park near Felton, this trail is considered an easy, family-friendly hike and is only 0.9 miles long. The average hiker will take approximately 25 minutes to complete this trail. So if you are looking for a minimal excursion and quick trail loop that enables you to experience the outdoors while viewing some fantastic sights, this is the trail for you.

The highlights of this wheelchair-friendly loop are the unobstructed views of the Mother and Father Tree and the Santa Clara Tree, which measures 17 feet in diameter. The loop takes you through the densely packed stand of redwood trees that make up the Henry Cowell Redwood Grove, highlighting the old growth of the grove.

Wilder Ridge Trail

Situated in the Wilder Ranch State Park near Santa Cruz, this moderately challenging trail is roughly 7.7 miles long and takes approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete. With an elevation gain of 882.5 feet, you can expect to exert energy on this hike. It is one of the more frequented hikes in the area and is open year-round, offering beautiful sights no matter the season.

You can expect to see beautiful coastal views, oak trees, grasslands, Douglas firs, and redwoods, and you could even see some wildlife if you are lucky. In the springtime, you will see wildflowers growing along the path. One thing to keep in mind on this path is that parts of the trail are pretty narrow with poison oak along the edges, so it is best to wear long pants when hiking this trail.

Old Cove Landing Trail

Situated in the Wilder Ranch State Park near Santa Cruz, this 2.4-mile long loop is considered one of the less strenuous trails in the area. It takes an average hiker 1 hour to complete and is family-friendly. This route has an elevation gain of only 102 feet and is very popular, so you can expect to see other people while you are out. Open year-round, you can be sure of beautiful sights no matter which season you visit.

The trail is wheelchair and stroller friendly, but unfortunately, there is a no dog policy. A large portion of this loop leads you past the Pacific Ocean, offering spectacular ocean views, and you can expect to see gulls, pelicans, geese, and other waterfowl on your journey. In the right season, you should see some of the whales visiting the area, and in the spring, wildflowers are visible along the path.

Aptos Creek Fire Road

Situated in the Forest of Nisene State Park near Aptos, this out and back trail is approximately 25.8-miles and is considered a moderately challenging trail. Open year-round with an elevation gain of 3523 feet. You can expect the sights along this trail to wow you every season. It takes around 12 hours and 45 minutes for the average hiker to complete this popular trail.

The Aptos Creek Fire Road is the longest trail in this State Park and is a favorite amongst the locals. It will take you deep within the forest and almost reach Santa Rosalia Mountain’s summit. With forest views and options to join various other trails in the areas. Some of the more notable offshoots include the Five-Finger Falls Trail and Old Growth Loop Trail. So if you are keen on a full day of relatively strenuous excursion, then this is the trail for you.

Enchanted Trail

Situated within the Wilder Ranch State Park, this 5-mile trail takes approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes to complete. With an elevation gain of about 918 feet, this trail is considered moderately challenging, but many reviews suggest it is a good trail for beginners. This popular trail is open year-round, with spectacular views throughout the year.

You can expect fantastic ocean views along this route with stretches of open and then covered pathways. The mix of ocean and forest sights along this path is perfect for those who like to mix it up while hiking. You can expect to see redwoods, meadows, and wild mushrooms as you traverse this loop.

Old Growth Trail Loop

Situated in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, this 1.3-mile long loop trail takes an average hiker 45 minutes to complete. With an elevation gain of 269 feet, this trail is considered easy and perfect for the whole family. However, one section of this trail crosses Aptos Creek, which might be challenging to traverse depending on the season. Open year-round with amazing sights throughout the year, and this route has a no-dog rule.

With its beautiful forest vibe and easy to traverse pathway, this hike is great for the young and the old. You can expect to see old-growth redwood trees, Aptos Creek, and banana slugs along this hike. Another significant aspect of this route is that there are quite a few offshoot pathways along the trail if you wish to make your walk longer. One of the better choices heads off to see the Twisted Grove, a stand of funky-looking redwood trees.

Aptos Rancho Trail, Loma Prieta Grade, and Bridge Creek Loop

Situated in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park near Aptos, this loop trail is approximately 10.7 miles long, and the route should take an average hiker 5 hours to complete. This hike can be considered moderately challenging, with an elevation gain of 1207 feet. Open year-round dogs are unfortunately not allowed on this path.

You can expect to see birds and wildlife while you hike this loop through the beautiful redwood forest and alongside a sparkling creek. The trail offers a range of sights, including the Aptos Creek, railway bed, Bridge Creek Historic Site, and Maple Falls. The Falls are spectacular but best viewed during the drier months as the increased rainfall of the wetter months can cause these Falls to become slightly dangerous.


There are numerous spectacular hikes that you can go on in Santa Cruz and its surrounds. Whether you seek a short walk, a family outing outdoors, or a day hike, there is something for you. The only tricky part is when you have to decide which one of these fantastic hikes you will go on.