So Many Hikes, So Little Time
Choosing a Mountain Hike
Neil Wiley

Our website describes more than 33 hikes, and we hope to add many more. But sometimes you can have too many choices. Here is a quick guide that may help you select your next walk.

Best hikes for kids

Most children have a short attention span and a relatively mild interest in scenery. They like action, animals, and short walks. Wilder Ranch fills the bill on selected weekends, with a complement of horses, goats, sheep, chickens, and other domestic animals. The July 4 celebration is the best of all, with lots of food, games, music, living history, and a wonderful kidsí parade.

If your children want to see big, wild animals, Ano Nuevoís elephant seals provide a natural experience. Be sure to check availability and schedule. Reservations are required during winter months, and the park is closed to the public some times of the year.

Whatís more fun than a train ride? You can make it a special day with a hike around the short trail of redwoods in Henry Cowell combined with a train ride just next door at Roaring Camp Big Trees.

Wading and swimming in the San Lorenzo River can be fun, except in the winter after a storm. There are many swimming holes and sandy beaches in Henry Cowell and down river to Santa Cruz.

Loch Lomond provides a kid-friendly boating and fishing experience, with paddle boats and rowboats available for rent.

Best picnic spots

Loch Lomond is also a nice place for a picnic. You can find a number of picnic tables above the lake, but even better, you can paddle over to an island for a special treat.

The Black Road trail in Sanborn Park takes you to a little lake, complete with picnic tables.

For a more sophisticated picnic (perhaps one without children), the grounds and art of Villa Montalvo are beautiful. The setting does, however, seem to call for champagne. To make the day complete, you can add a longer hike, attend a performance at one of two theatres, or visit the small art gallery.


Every hike has its own special views. Do you like mountains? El Sereno Open Space at the top of Montevina Road has spectacular views in virtually every direction--views to the south of our own Santa Cruz Mountains, to the east of Los Gatos and East Bay, and north up the peninsula. Long Ridge Open Space has some lovely views over the coastal range.

Prefer ocean views? Hike up to the top of Wilder Ranch, and then loop down to the ocean. Or take an easy walk up through the new Moore Creek Preserve.

Like forest? See the redwoods of Big Basin, Henry Cowell, or Portola Redwoods.

Best waterfalls

Although many of these parks have waterfalls, my own favorite is Berry Creek Falls in Big Basin. Itís a long walk, but worth it. To see many smaller waterfalls in less time, follow the waterfall loop in Uvas County Park. Or walk up the creekside trails of Fall Creek.

Bird watching

You canít beat Elkhorn Slough for bird watching, especially during nesting season. To see hawks, your best bet may be along the ridges of Castle Rock and Long Ridge Open Space.

Best place to take out-of-state visitors

Nothing shows off the environmental beauty of our area more than giant redwoods. Both Henry Cowell and Big Basin feature short self-guided tours along a flat trail of less than a mile. Henry Cowell is less famous but closer.

A sense of history

To explore old building sites with rich histories, visit Pogonip, Mount Madonna Park, or Bear Creek Open Space.

Seeking solitude

Almost any of these parks will give you a quiet escape from urban life, especially if you plan your hike for a weekday. Iíve visited some of these parks and not seen another person. Although the biggest park, Big Basin, is large enough to promise solitude, it is also popular, especially among foreign tourists. Instead, you might want to go to one of the lesser known parks, such as Butano or Portola, then hike away from the entrance. The deeper you go, the quieter it gets.

Unique experience

Although each forest has its own character, they do share some similarities. For a different experience, I recommend hiking the Sierra Azul. Hiking over the open high plateau is like visiting another planet. This area adds new meaning to the phrase "open space."

Then again, each hike is a unique experience. The weather, the season, and the attitude of the hikers makes each walk down a trail different. Who knows what you may find? Perhaps yourself.

For more comprehensive park and trail descriptions, select specific trail articles at our website opening page.



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