Hikes in Santa Cruz.
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9 TOP Hikes in Santa Cruz

Whether you want to walk through towering groves of giant redwoods, follow coastal trails high on the bluffs with stunning ocean views, or take a trip out to see some of the local wildlife, there are hikes in Santa Cruz to cater to all.

Many of the hikes hug the coast, taking you through state parks and across wide sandy beaches, while some can also be found inland, with trails winding up and around hills and mountains or snaking deep into majestic forests.

Here are our favorite trails in Santa Cruz!


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1. Old Landing Cove Trail

Distance: 2.4 miles
Type of Trail: Loop
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 101 feet

Head to Wilder Ranch State Park to stretch your legs and feel the sea breeze in your hair. The Old Landing Cove Trail takes you around a farm and right along the edge of the Pacific.

Cyclist pushing a bike along a path towards a restored building in Wilder Ranch State Park.
Check out the old restored village!

You will catch glimpses of passing whales and pelicans overhead and pass old farming machinery and antique cars, great for the history buffs among you.

From the state park visitor center car park, follow the flat trail through the farmland until you reach the ocean. Follow the track, taking in the expansive views of the Pacific before looping back inland and back to the parking lot.

A sea lion colony sleeping on a rocky outcrop in the oceans of Wilder Ranch State Park.
Spot the sea lion colony!

At the viewpoints, we not only caught glimpses of the stunning shoreline but tons of seals, too! If you have the time, there are opportunities to walk right down onto some of the beaches.

2. Natural Bridges Tidepools

Distance: 1.2 miles
Type of Trail: Out & Back
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 104 feet

Natural bridges and tidepools, what more could you want from a hike in Santa Cruz that is just over a mile long?

That is precisely what you will get if you take this trail in Natural Brides State Beach. The hike takes you from the parking lot, through the park, and towards the beach, leading you up to the natural bridge for incredible views.

Man standing in front of rock arch formation which is covered in seagulls at Natural Bridges State Beach.
Start with a view of the natural arch.

Head through a lovely little residential development before turning back to the beach and reaching some incredible tide pools.

The pools here team with life; we didn’t have to look very hard to find sea stars, crabs, and a rainbow hue of sea anemones!

A group of blue cockles in a tide pool.
Are they huddling together for warmth?

Make sure to come at low tide and be careful, as the rocks will definitely be slippery.

3. West Cliff Drive

Distance: 4.5 miles
Type of Trail: Out & Back
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 75 feet

See the ocean in all its glory as you hike along West Cliff Drive, a shared walking and biking path that runs parallel to the Pacific Ocean.

Starting at Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, it takes you all the way to Natural Bridges State Park. Along the route, you will pass surfers taking to the waves and views of the wharf and boardwalk.

Aerial view over a coastal suburban Santa Cruz along the West Cliff Scenic Drive.
View over the scenic West Cliff Drive.

The views seem to change the further along the trail you head as you pass Cypress Trees, Lighthouse Point, and Steamer Lane, a world-renowned surfing hot spot.

Head down to one of the beaches along the trail, look out for whales and dolphins in the surf, and check out the tide pools at the end of the hike.

Once you reach Natural Bridges State Park, it is time to turn around and see it all again. It is no wonder this is considered one of the best hikes in Santa Cruz!

A girl walking along the promenade next to a red brick lighthouse along Lighthouse Point Trail in Santa Cruz.
The trail will take you past Lighthouse Point.

However, if you’re low on time, there’s a reason it’s called West Cliff DRIVE. You can drive it, although you won’t get to see half as much. We chose to walk it so we could take in all the beautiful views and watch the surfers.

This spot is one of our favorite things to do in Santa Cruz!

4. La Corona Trail

Distance: 3.6 miles
Type of Trail: Out & Back
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 511 feet

The La Corona Trail has a unique grand finale, first a “Top of the World” lookout, and then a 27-hole disc golf course! The route takes you through the hills and wooded parts of Delaveaga Park, offering a mix of sun, shade, and varying terrain.

Stairs leading down to a tree-covered DeLaveaga Park on a sunny day.
Views from the trail.

You will gradually ascend as you walk until you finally reach the hill’s peak, where there is the disc golf course to enjoy and beautiful views of the surrounding landscape.

Metal disc golf goal post in DeLaveaga Park.
Ever played disc golf before?

Once you reach the peak and have had your fill of the views, you can join the Enchanted Trail to loop around the top of the hill and then join the Corona Trail again to descend back to the trailhead.

RELATED: 24 AWESOME Things to Do in Santa Cruz

5. Redwood Grove Loop Trail and Cowell Highlights Loop

Distance: 3.6 miles
Type of Trail: Out & Back
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 511 feet

The incredible Henry Cowell State Park is known for its majestic redwood trees and the scenic train ride that takes you through the forests and mountains to town.

This is our favorite state park in the area! We couldn’t stop walking and taking tons of detours to see the entire park, but this trail was our favorite.

Trailhead and information sign for the Redwood Grove Loop Trail.
A shorter version of the hike.

Giant redwoods, some over 300 feet, will be your companions on the Redwood Grove Loop Trail. Some of the trees in the park are said to be over 1500 years old.

This hike showcases the best of what this ancient park has to offer, starting with the Redwood grove, where it is hard to get over the size of these natural giants, before joining multiple other trails in the park to make one epic hike.

Sunlight lighting a giant redwood tree in the forest.
The scale of these trees are mindblowing.

It might seem like one of the busier hikes in Santa Cruz, but stick it out. As soon as you pass the grove and start climbing, the crowds begin to thin out, leaving you with the sounds of nature.

READ MORE: Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

6. Roaring Camp Loop Trail

Distance: 1.9 miles
Type of Trail: Loop
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 265 feet

Again located in Henry Cowell State Park, nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains, this scenic trail takes you past both the railroad of Roaring Camp, with sightings of the old narrow railway and the sound of the whistling train of the current railway.

A steam train locomotive driving through the Roaring Camp Train Depot.
Choose to ride the steam train.

The park is rich in both natural beauty and history, and you could spend the whole day exploring with ease.

You’ll be walking through redwoods and live oaks in a beautiful woodland setting, with a few inclines as you walk around Bear Mountain, winding your way through lush forests.

Old western looking general store in Roaring Camp Station town on a sunny day.
The town area of Roaring Camp.

While in the park, why not take a ride on the Roaring Camp Railroads? It’s a unique way to see the forest, summit Bear Mountain, and listen as conductors tell you about the history of the railroad.

We don’t care how old you are, this spot is super cute!

Giant red locomotive trail parked in the middle of the forest.
One of the many locomotives at Roaring Camp.

We are both kids at heart and loved walking around this old-timey train station, but if you have kids, they will love this hike in Santa Cruz. When they (and you!) are pooped, just hop on the train.

7. Bonny Doon Beach and Shark Fin Cove Loop

Distance: 2.4 miles
Type of Trail: Loop
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 183 feet

Check out some of the best beaches in the area on this epic beach-filled hike.

Start by heading down to Bonny Doon Beach and traversing the sand before heading back up to the bluffs and walking towards Shark Fin Cove, taking in incredible coastal views.

Rough cliffs and blue ocean water at Bonny Doon Beach on a sunny day.
Begin at Bonny Doon Beach.

The trail will take you as far as the creek before Davenport Beach, and you’ll start to head inland and come back on yourself, making your way through the Coastal Diaries State Park, walking parallel to the train tracks.

A view from a cliff down to the old Davenport Pier swing.
Davenport Beach from the trail

There are many places to hike down towards the cliffs if you care for a little bit of beach time between hikes, and on the bluffs, you can see out as far as the other side of Monterey Bay on a clear day.

Keep an eye out for sea caves, pelicans, groundhogs, and lizards, and if you time it right, you’ll be treated to an epic sunset.

A pedestrian trail running parallel to old train tracks surrounded by bushes and foliage.
The trail takes you through diverse landscapes.

There are more trails in Santa Cruz to the north and south of this trail if you want to see more, and we recommend you do!

We simply *got lost* all day hiking all around this area and exploring the hidden coves. It was also super surprising that nothing was busy either. We had most of the beaches, trails, and coves to ourselves!

Three tourists and a fisherman on Shark Fin Cove Beach.
How unique looking is Shark Fin Cove?

The only complaint about this area is that the parking is atrocious. It’s mostly broken-up graveled lots on the side of the road or, if you’re “lucky,” a grassy side strip of land.

These are some of the best beaches in Santa Cruz, so you should tackle this hike, but make some time to chill on the beaches, too!

RELATED: 12 BEST Beaches in Santa Cruz

8. Loma Prieta Grade to Bridge Creek and West Ridge Loop

Distance: 8.7 miles
Type of Trail: Loop
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 1,433 feet

Escape the crowds of Santa Cruz with a visit to The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park and spend the afternoon hiking this epic trail along paths that wind around tall redwoods and Douglas Fir.

There are a few bridges to help you cross the creeks along the way, which keeps things interesting.

Bright green foliage within Aptos Creek surrounded by the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park.
The lush greens of the Forest of Nisene.

The whole hike is beautiful, but wait until you reach the West Ridge Trail, where wonderful views await you. Trek through narrow canyons, jump over rocks and admire the second-growth redwoods that seem to have stood there from the beginning of time.

Maple Falls in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park.
Check out Maple Falls along the route.

You are already doing a good few miles, so why not tack on more and take the short detour to Maple Falls by continuing on the Bridge Creek Trail?

The extra mileage is well worth it, as you’ll witness a 30-foot cascade of water into a circular pool surrounded by beautiful maple trees.

9. Año Nuevo Hike

Distance: 4.1 miles
Type of Trail: Out & Back
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 203 feet

If you have always dreamed of seeing a fat, somewhat grumpy elephant seal in the wild, then Año Nuevo State Park is where it is at.

If you are to take one trail within the park, make it the Ana Nuevo Point Hike, which takes you along a gravel path along the bluffs.

Nina walking along a boardwalk on Franklin Point Trail in Año Nuevo State Park.
Nina enjoying a casual stroll along Franklin Point Trail.

Before long, the path makes way for sand dunes and turns into a boardwalk, and at this point, you know you are getting close to the seals. The trail ends at an overlook, where you can see hundreds of elephant seals.

During peak season, the trail’s end is only accessible with a guided tour, and trust us, this is for the benefit of both seals and humans, as you don’t want to find yourself face-to-face with one of these blubbering beasts!

Pairs of elephant seals fighting in the ocean.
Watch the elephant seals fight for territory!

This is one of our favorite hikes in Santa Cruz. It’s well worth the detour from the city to see these silly and loud seals flail around the beach.

READ MORE: Your Guide to Año Nuevo State Park

We hope this helped you plan which hikes in Santa Cruz to tackle!

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