Hiking with kids is a great way to get them off their screens and connected to nature, and lucky for us, we have dozens of gorgeous coastal and wooded Santa Cruz hiking trails easy enough for all ages.
Before we dive into the list of easy hikes in Santa Cruz County, let’s get you prepped with two essential survival tips:
Pick a well-trod path with interesting things to see along the way and ideally a big payoff at the end. Your destination could be an overlook, a waterfall, an ancient grove of redwoods, a creek to splash in, a beach picnic anything to keep everyone’s eyes on the prize.
Snacks. Lots of ‘em. Snacks reduce whining 10-fold. (This goes for the adults, too!) Oh, and don’t forget water.
7 Beautiful and Easy Santa Cruz Hiking Trails
The primarily flat Bluff Trail loops from one end of the Wilder Ranch State Park parking lot to the other, with views over the cliffs to the ocean. Look for the hidden beach, sunning seals, and summer blackberries along the walk. For more challenging hikes and mountain biking, explore the section on the other side of Highway 1. Getting there: 1401 Coast Rd., Santa Cruz.
Forest of Nisene Marks State Park boasts 31 trails with varying levels of difficulty. For an easy walk with kids, try the Terrace Trail. The 2.5-mile path follows Aptos Creek, a perfect place to splash around on a hot day. Getting there: Aptos Creek Rd., Aptos.
The walk is slightly uphill, but it’s worth it! The magical Pogonip trail begins near the UCSC campus and holds several charming surprises as you wander through the redwoods. There’s a spring that trickles clear water from a deep aquifer, historic lime kilns, and a koi pond. For an extra adventure, head up the hill just a little further to the rock grotto and leave a wish. Look for the rock garden where Spring Box and Lime Kiln trails intersect. Getting there: The official trailhead address is 700 Spring Trail, Santa Cruz. It’s located at the end of Spring Street. Another trailhead is located off Coolidge Drive near Stevenson College at UCSC, but parking might be challenging.
Located in the northern area of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Fall Creek Unit
boasts 20 miles of hiking trails along old wagon and logging roads. Trail distances range from .2 miles to 4.8 miles and meander through the redwoods and past lime kiln ruins, which can serve as a fun history and geology lesson. Several trails were hit by the 2020 wildfire but were recently restored and reopened. Getting there: 1561 Felton Empire Rd., Felton.
We discovered this peaceful place in Soquel’s foothills when our daughter was a student at Tara Redwood
, which shares the property with Land of the Medicine Buddha meditation and retreat center. Our daughter loves the creek trails on the lower side of the property, and the hikes above the retreat center include a labyrinth and a prayer wheel. According to the latest information on their website
, the land is open to the public 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Getting there: 5800 Prescott Rd., Soquel.
If you are in south county, make sure to explore the three trails that make up the Watsonville City Trails
, which provide access to 800 acres of scenic freshwater wetlands. Getting there: For the Watsonville Slough Trail, park at 30 Harkins Slough Rd. For Ohlone Trail, park in the back of the West Marine parking lot, 500 Westridge Dr. The Upper Struve Slough trailhead can be reached from the parking lot behind Body Zone, 1810 Main St.
Looking for something more suburban? Take a short leisurely stroll along Bethany Curve, a greenbelt path on Santa Cruz
’s west side. The path stretches from Delaware Street to West Cliff Drive (just north of the lighthouse). In Scotts Valley
, Skypark at 361 Kings Village Rd. has a 0.9-mile path and also a playground, skatepark, tennis courts, and more. Bethany Curve and Skypark paths are paved or hard-packed dirt – easy on strollers, scoot bikes, even wheelchairs.