The crisp coolness in the air smells fresh, the leaves are changing color and starting to fall, and squirrels are gathering nuts for the winter ahead. Our seasons may be subtle here in the Bay Area but there is no denying it – fall is here. The wonderful thing about the Santa Cruz Mountains is that even throughout the fall and winter there are abundant opportunities to get out and enjoy our local forests.
Whether you want to get out to explore the changing colors of oaks and maples, watch banana slugs and salamanders move across the damp earth, listen to the low roar of a gushing waterfall, or even camp overnight, here are some ideas for fall and winter outdoor opportunities.
The trails in Castle Rock State Park near Skyline Boulevard have many opportunities to see oaks and maples changing colors. Visit this Castle Rock Park Hikes page and scroll down to the Skyline, Saratoga Gap Loop hike.
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is another great place to experience leaves changing colors, as well as beautiful redwoods. Visit this Henry Cowell Hiking page and scroll down the Meadow-River Loop for a hike that includes many deciduous trees including sycamores and box elders.
You can also experience the fall colors of red alders, bigleaf maples, and more along the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail when hiking from Waddell Beach to Berry Creek Falls.
Be prepared to check out these waterfalls once the winter rains get going:
- Sempervirens Falls at Big Basin Redwoods State Park
- Berry Creek Falls at Big Basin Redwoods State Park
- Castle Rock Falls at Castle Rock State Park is along the Saratoga Gap Trail
- Maple Falls at Forest of Nisene Marks
Camping & Backpacking
Some of the campgrounds in Big Basin Redwoods State Park are open all year. Portola Redwoods State Park’s campground is open through October, and Butano State Park’s campground is open through the end of November. Some of the backpacking camps are also available with reduced service in Castle Rock, Big Basin, Portola, and Butano.
Fall and winter is an exciting time to visit the coast at Ano Nuevo State Park to see the elephant seals. From September through November you can see the fall juvenile haul out, and from mid-December through March you can view breading season.