Hike, Bike and Ride the Redwood Forests
Crisscrossing the Santa Cruz Mountains are miles of trails offering opportunities for hikers, bikers and horseback riders to experience the coast redwoods up close in some of the best Bay Area parks. Many of these trails were created by Sempervirens Fund to bring you deeper into the redwood world and through diverse terrain. You’ll travel through serene redwood forests, across picturesque grasslands and along rocky ridgelines connecting public parks and other protected lands in the region.
Whether you enjoy leisurely strolls in the forest, riding down steep hillsides or backpacking through remote areas, come explore the Santa Cruz Mountains for some of the best Bay Area hiking trails!
Road and Trail Conditions
Be sure to check road and trail conditions before visiting a California State Park. The Santa Cruz Mountains experienced severe storms this past winter and some parks have sustained damage. You can find information and updates on the California State Park website and CalTrans Travel Alert.
Featured Santa Cruz Mountains Trails
Here are some suggestions
- Big Basin’s Redwood Loop Trail
- Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail
- Butano’s Mill Ox Trail and Butano Fire Road
- El Corte De Madera Creek Open Space Preserve
- Big Basin’s Sempervirens Falls via Sequoia Trail
- Whitehouse Ridge Trail to Upper Vista Point, Año Nuevo State Reserve
- Bike in Henry Cowell Redwoods
- For horses, hikers or bikers: Waddell Beach to Berry Creek Falls
- For climbers: Castle Rock State Park
National Geographic has created a fabulous new map of the Great Park area. It has trails, campgrounds, detailed topography, park access points, roads, hundreds of points of interest and much more. To survive years of adventuring, it’s waterproof, tear-proof and useful.
Sempervirens Fund offers two trail maps to guide your adventures:
- Map 1 includes the entire network of trails connecting Castle Rock, Big Basin Redwoods, and Portola Redwoods State Parks.
- Map 2 includes Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Butano Redwoods State Park, Año Nuevo State Reserve, and all internal and connecting trails.
Call us at (650) 949-1453 to order a map today!
Best Short Hikes in Redwood National and State Parks including Humboldt State Park by Jerry and Gisela Rohde. Mountaineers Books, 2004. Hikes throughout northern California are detailed in this guide book.
The Santa Cruz Mountain Trail Book by Tom Taber. Publisher’s Group West, 2002. This guide, a long-time favorite, includes information about local history, geology, and camping as well as biking and equine trail access.
Peninsula Trails by Jean Rusmore, Betsy Crowder, and Frances Spangle. Wilderness Press, 2000. This trail guide covers walks in parks and trails along the Bay, in the foothills and mountains, the forests of southwest San Mateo County, the parks and beaches along its coast, and routes leading to Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
Southbay Trails by Jean Rusmore, Betsy Crowder, and Frances Spangle. Wilderness Press, 2001. Many Santa Cruz Mountains redwood hikes are included in this trail guide that ranges from the Diablo Range to the Pacific Ocean. Hikes are clearly described with simple maps and black and white photographs.
For a short easy hike that is perfect for the whole family, visit the Big Basin Redwoods State Park to see some of the Santa Cruz Mountains’ most impressive redwoods. Big Basin’s Redwood Loop Trail, which begins from the main parking lot near Park Headquarters showcases the Mother, Father, and Santa Clara Trees. The Mother of the Forest is Big Basin’s tallest tree measuring 329 feet in height. The Father of the Forest and the Santa Clara Tree are the park’s two widest trees. (The Santa Clara Tree measures 17 feet in diameter!) These are some of the trees that over 100 years ago inspired Andrew P. Hill and a small group of conservationists to form the Sempervirens Club (now Sempervirens Fund) to fight for the protection of the coast redwoods.
Located on North Escape Road just a short meander from the Redwood Loop Trail and across from park headquarters is another inspiring tree—the magnificent Statue of Responsibility. This tree is a 255-foot high living “statue” that serves to remind visitors of the link between liberty and responsibility. It was named in 1989 as a result of a passionate campaign led by Billy Prior Bates, a Women’s Army Corps veteran of World War II and long-time Sempervirens Fund supporter.
Spring has arrived and so have the wild red rhododendrons at Butano State Park. Spring is a great time of year to see this stunning wildflower tree that grows along the Butano Fire Road. Drive into Butano State Park. The entrance to the Mill Ox Trail is past the kiosk/office on the entrance road and on your left. Look for a parking turnout and small footbridge across the creek. Hike up Mill Ox Trail through dense redwood forest to the Butano Fire Road. Turn right and hike about two miles up the road to the abandoned airstrip, enjoying the wide open vistas of the coastal mountain range. The rhododendrons are visible along the trail on your left a few hundred yards before the hairpin turn on the Fire Road near the airstrip. To return, hike back along the Butano Fire Road to the Jackson Flats Trail and loop back to the Mill Ox Trail. The hike is approximately 6.5 miles and is moderately strenuous.
The Midpeninsula Open Space District (MROSD) is one of Sempervirens Fund’s local partners. The El Corte De Madera Creek Open Space Preserve, located right on Skyline Boulevard in Woodside, offers many opportunities for hiking, biking, and horseback riding across 2,817-acres of dense redwood forest and chaparral-dotted hillsides.
A moderate four-mile round trip hike along the Tafoni Trail will lead you to a very accessible example of a tafoni, a rare sandstone formation that has eroded over thousands of years in a lacy or honeycomb pattern. To reach this intriguing example of regional geology (called the “sandstone formation” on the MROSD’s maps), park at the Caltrans Skeggs Point parking area on Skyline Boulevard, about 8.5 miles south of Highway 92. (Note: This parking lot can fill up quickly on weekends, so plan to start your hike early!) The Tafoni Trail head is located across Skyline Boulevard and about 400 yards to the north of the parking lot. At the trail head (a junction of three trails) take the Tafoni Trail about 1.1 miles out to the turn off for the tafoni sandstone formation. A short 0.2-mile diversion from the trail and out to the viewing platform allows you to see the tafoni up close. For a nice loop, return to the Tafoni Trail, turn right, and walk until you reach the El Corte de Madera Creek Trail. Turn right again to walk through the dense forest along the El Corte de Madera Creek and back to Skyline.
If you’re ready for a vigorous uphill hike in seek of breathtaking views, the Whitehouse Ridge Trail is for you. Find the signpost for the Whitehouse Ridge Trail 2.4 miles east of Highway 1 along Whitehouse Road within Año Nuevo State Reserve. The trail starts off (and remains) steep, leading directly into dense redwood forests covered with ferns. At 1.2 miles you will reach the Upper Vista Point. You may be tempted to turn off at the lower elevation vista point (about .5 miles from the trailhead). But if you can make it to the upper lookout, it’s well worth the effort. Look westward for beautiful views of the coastal plain at Año Nuevo, the Pacific Ocean and Pigeon Point Lighthouse. Look northwest and you’ll see the upper Whitehouse Creek watershed where Sempervirens Fund is currently working to protect redwood forests and extend the connection between Año Nuevo and Big Basin Redwoods State Parks.