The Mountains Are Calling!

a path under the redwoods. Photo: I. Bornarth

Your Summer 2020 Hiking Guide for the Santa Cruz Mountains

Are you yearning for the outdoors? Many parks closed due to COVID-19 precautions, but you can now return to nature! And because of you and your fellow Sempervirens Fund supporters, there are many amazing places from the peaks to the sea awaiting you.

While we’ve been at home, the forests you’ve helped protect have continued to thrive and provide a home for wildlife too. These ancient redwoods have lived through many unprecedented times before. Thanks to you, these forests will still be a source of soothing and inspiration for generations to come.

While you’re reuniting with the trails, please continue to keep yourself and others safe with these tips:

Before You Go

  • Check the park’s website before you go for the latest information on trail status—including any one-way use requirements for social distancing—facilities like restrooms, and parking availability.
  • Parks fill up quickly so, consider going during the week or early in the morning.
  • Exercise like hiking, running, and biking can cause heavier breathing, making 6-foot distancing less effective. If you’re sick, please stay home and take care!

Summer 2020 Hiking Tips from California State Parks

  • Stay Clean: Be prepared. Bring soap/sanitizer and pack out all trash.
  • Leave It at Home: No coolers, umbrellas, shade tents, BBQs, or chairs.
  • Stay Local: Parking is very limited or closed at park units across the state. Walk or bike to parks in your local neighborhood.
  • Stay Active: Keep walking, jogging, hiking, and biking. Watch for one-way trails.
  • Stay Safer at 6 Feet: Maintain a physical distance of 6 feet or more. No gatherings, picnics, or parties.
  • Stay Covered: The state now requires you to wear a face covering in the outdoors when you cannot stay at least 6 feet away from others who are not your immediate household members.

Summer Hikes in the Santa Cruz Mountains

Ready to explore? We’ve gathered great summer hikes for every level! If you’d like to take the guide with you, click here and we’ll email you a copy of the guide that you can print or download to your device so, you can focus on connecting with the outdoors–not wi-fi.

Easy Hike

The Redwood Grove Loop Trail, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, 0.8 mile, 1 hour
a banana slug peers at the camera from the forest floor

a banana slug peers up from the forest floor. Photo: Mike Kahn

See the grove that launched a movement! A visit to this ancient redwood grove by photographer Andrew P. Hill, more than a century ago, helped launch the Sempervirens Club (now yours truly) and the redwood preservation movement. Amid the hush of old-growth redwood trees, the sounds of trains can occasionally be heard from the nearby Roaring Camp Railroad. To enjoy this delightful mix of history, head to the Visitor Center, or to the park’s website, to pick up a trail map filled with facts for markers along the trail. The shady, accessible Redwood Grove Loop Trail begins next to the Visitor Center. Keep an eye out for bright yellow banana slugs, which can often be spotted here. At the halfway point of the loop, you can step inside the historic Fremont Tree’s large hollowed-out base and marvel at the resilience of this living redwood. Look for a gate near the south end of the loop trail, to take a short detour to the San Lorenzo River. Follow the gated dirt road a few yards for a lovely view of a railroad bridge over the river. Once you’re back on the Redwood Grove Loop, the trail will lead you back among the towering trees.

Moderate Hike

Tafoni Trail to El Corte de Madera Creek Trail, El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve, 3.5 miles, 2 hours

wild rose in a patch of sunlight

Wild rose in a patch of sunlight. Photo: Rebecca Thomas

It may surprise visitors to this lush preserve that it was clear-cut in the late 1800s. If you look closely, you may see lingering signs of logging—reminders of why your work to restore the forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains is so crucial. In 2013, you added 31 acres to this preserve, including a large old-growth redwood grove. You can hike in the cool shade of many types of trees, from buckeyes to redwoods. To begin your journey, park in the Skeggs Point lot (check availability before you go), carefully cross Skyline Boulevard, and enter the preserve through gate #CM01. A little way down the path, keep right at the split to stay on Tafoni Trail. Noise from Skyline will quickly fade to the sounds of the forest. A mile down the trail, a small path on your right will lead you to the intricate honeycombs of the Tafoni sandstone formation. Once you’ve returned to Tafoni Trail, hike between redwoods, tanoaks, madrones, and huckleberries for 0.8 miles until you reach the trail junction. Head right onto El Corte de Madera Creek Trail. Listen for the creek and look for starflower and wild rose. After 1.4 miles, you’ll meet up with Tafoni Trail again. Turn left onto Tafoni Trail to return.

Virtual Hike

Saratoga Gap Trail, Castle Rock State Park
Views along the Saratoga Gap Trail at Castle Rock State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Photo by David Royal

Views along the Saratoga Gap Trail at Castle Rock State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Photo by David Royal

If you aren’t able to go to the parks, let the parks come to you! A virtual visit with Google Maps is the next best thing to hitting the trail the traditional way. While 360-degree views of many points of interest can be seen on Google Maps, you can enjoy nearly the entire Saratoga Gap Trail in Castle Rock State Park, which was preserved by you and your fellow supporters. To explore the trail’s beautiful views and plant communities from the comfort of your home—or anywhere you have an internet connection—type in sempervirens.org/virtual-hikes. Scroll down to explore the San Lorenzo Valley Vista from the Saratoga Gap Trail. Once you see the view from the trail, click and drag your mouse to see the sights around you. To move along the trail, click the white arrow that appears over the trail. For more places and tips to explore virtually, please visit sempervirens.org/virtual-hikes.