A Forgotten Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains..
One of my favorite things about living in the Santa Cruz Mountains is the endless trails to explore. However, like many people in the area, I’m so enamored by the convenience and familiarity of Henry Cowell State Park that I forget about all the other hiking options. With parking spots big enough to fit a bus, or my car when I’m too sleep deprived to park properly, ice cream bars for sale in the gift shop, and neighboring Roaring Camp, it is the Disneyland of local state parks. But just ten minutes away is the forgotten Cinderella of local parks, Quail Hollow Ranch, an idyllic county park with a system of short, well maintained trails.
The Perfect Family Hike..
There are several different trail options but if you’re looking for something that’s manageable for kids and satisfying for adults I’d recommend taking the Italian trail to the Sunset trail to the Woodrat trail. This approximately 3.5 mile loop will allow you to experience all the wonders of Quail Hollow Ranch, redwood groves, mossy oak trees, chaparral, and sweeping views of the valley.
Park in the main lot by the farmhouse. Walk across the lawn behind the farmhouse and you will see the trailhead. Take the Italian trail for about a mile.
You will see some other trails branching off to your left, keep going until you see a sign for the Sunset trail. Continue along the Sunset trail for about a mile. Take in the views of the San Lorenzo Valley, and the dump, unfortunately, but this is a great opportunity to have a family chat about waste management.
You will see a brown wooden fence that looks like the end of the trail but in actuality the trail veers right and starts to get steeper as you enter a section of redwoods. Bribe your children or do whatever it takes to get them up the hill because at the top there are a series of lookouts with benches and stunning views of the surrounding area. The second lookout also has picnic tables which makes it a nice spot to recharge.
After the second lookout you’ll see a split in the trail. If you want to make the hike a loop ,take a right and continue on the Woodrat trail for about 1 1/2 miles to return to the parking lot. Be aware that the first section of the Woodrat trail is narrow and has a steep drop off. My husband carried our 3-year-old on his shoulders through this section, our 5-year-old had no problems. The views along the Woodrat trail are incredible and you’ll gradually work your way back towards the farmhouse.
- Spring or Winter is the best time of year to hike here.
- Parking is free
- Enjoy a picnic at the second vista point on the Sunset trail or at the picnic tables by the farmhouse
- Ticks and rattlesnakes can be an issue.. but don’t let that deter you!
- There’s an outhouse in the parking lot
- This is a popular wedding spot on the weekends, don’t be surprised if you happen upon wedding festivities.