If you're planning a hiking or backpacking trip while visiting Santa Cruz, then Trails.com is a great place to start your research. They suggest a few different hikes in the area, but one of the most popular among hikers everywhere is Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Located in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the park offers 30 miles of trails and a variety of hikes among beautiful redwoods, ranging from quite easy to quite difficult. On the easy side is Redwood Grove Loop Trail, which is 0.8 miles long and the park's most popular attraction. It's wheelchair-accessible, with restrooms available at the half-way point. Dogs and bicycles and dogs riding bicycles are NOT allowed.
If you want to stay closer to Santa Cruz and the beach, an easy, family and dog-friendly hike is to Lighthouse Field State Beach (aka Point Santa Cruz, aka Lighthouse Point) along West Cliff Drive. The Santa Cruz Sentinel ranked Walking Along West Cliff Drive No. 5 among its Top 10 Things To Do in Santa Cruz Before You Die. Start at the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf and walk or bike along West Cliff Drive's 3 mile long, paved dog-friendly sidewalk all the way to the lighthouse and beyond to Natural Bridges. There are a number of points of interest along the way, including the famous surfer statue, the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, lots of amazing ocean views and the popular Steamer Lane surfing hotspot.
You should also check out Natural Bridges State Beach, a 54-acre park along the ocean with its beautiful natural stone bridge rock formation – the last remaining of three original water-carved arches after the devastating 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The park features a half-moon beach backed by a large lagoon, rock terraces filled with tide pools, and a eucalyptus grove which attracts one of the largest populations of migrating monarch butterflies in the United States from September through February. This hike loops around the state park on a family-friendly trail through the various habitats. No dogs are allowed on the beach.
Another relatively easy, family-friendly and dog-friendly hike in Santa Cruz is the Old Cove Landing Trail at Wilder Ranch State Park. Enjoy the fresh sea air and amazing views of Monterey Bay, barking sea lions in the distance, and local gulls, geese and pelicans as you walk or run along this well maintained, and mostly flat, coastal trail. You might even see a whale or two in December through April if you're here hiking during their annual migration. Visit Santa Cruz Life for directions and more information about this trail and others.
If you are new to the whole hiking thing then you should check out Hobby Help’s Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Hiking to find out everything you need to know before hitting the trails. Jenny’s lovingly crafted blog is chock full of useful information; like what gear, shoes and clothes you’ll need, how to navigate your hike, what to do if/when you encounter bears, moose and snakes (oh my), how to handle injuries and why even go hiking in the first place for that matter. (Helpful Tip: Make sure you know how to use bear spray before using bear spray.)
Let us know if you have any other favorite kid-friendly hikes or dog-friendly trails to add to this list!
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