Redwood Hikes Santa Cruz Mountain


Seeing Reds

The stunning redwoods in Big Basin are always crowd pleasers, but to get a little alone time with these tall beauties, sneak away to some secret stashes in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Here are three loop hikes that will have you seeing reds!

Butano State Park hike redwoods

No Buts About It

If you like hiking through forests thick with redwood trees, leveling out to panoramic ocean views, descending through bright green fern groves, and encountering practically no one along the way, then get to Butano State Park on the San Mateo Coast. First-time visitors should try the 5-mile Mill Ox Loop—watching out for slow-moving newts! This moderate hike packs a diverse geographical beauty that shows why the Native Americans were attracted to this land hundreds of years ago. After crossing Little Butano Creek, the shaded trail makes a short zigzag up to Butano Fire Road. Make a right and continue along the fire road, soaking in views of the long Coastal Range. Loop back to the starting point on Jackson Flats Trail, which drops back into the canyon and follows the gently flowing creek through dense lush ferns. Ahh, solitude. Butanoful.

TIP: Fill your tanks at the only gas station in Pescadero. Don't let the understated surroundings fool you—inside the gas station, Taqueria Los Amigos serves some tasty combo plates of tacos, beans and rice.

Butano State Park is about 22 miles south of Half Moon Bay. Go south on Hwy. 1 and turn left on Pescadero Rd. Go 2.5 miles (through town and past Taqueria Los Amigos) to Cloverdale Rd. then turn right. Go 4.2 miles to the entrance of Butano State Park. Ask for a map. After the entrance, look to the left for the Mill Ox Trail sign—it's easy to miss and the parking lot holds only a few cars. Follow the Mill Ox Trail up to Butano Fire Road and turn right. Follow this to Jackson Flats Trail and turn right, which takes you back to the Mill Ox Trail. No dogs.

Land of the Medicine Buddha hike

Good Medicine

Buddha meets big red on a 5.8-mile round-trip hike that brings a little bit of Tibet to the Santa Cruz Mountains. Tucked among 108 acres of coastal redwoods in Soquel, the Land of Medicine Buddha (LMB) loop is a spoonful of tranquility. Start on an unmarked but well-trodden trail that follows a gentle creek for about a mile before winding through forest and crossing the water to begin a short and undulating climb canopied by a cathedral of redwoods. Merge into an oak grove where sunlight slips through, (watch for poison oak!) before reaching the final, colorful stretch: the mile-long 8 Verses Pilgrimage Trail is lined with benches and signs offering contemplative Buddhist sayings. Prayer flags adorn a section of the trail that leads to a Buddhist retreat center where a gong, the largest prayer wheel on the West Coast, gilded bodhisattvas and a glowing Buddha greet you at loop’s end. Dalai delightful.

To reach Land of Medicine Buddha, take Hwy. 1 just south of Santa Cruz; exit Porter St./Bay Ave. and turn left under the freeway. Turn right onto Main St., which merges into Glenhaven Rd. Follow for half a mile and turn right onto Prescott Rd., which leads to the parking area just before a wood bridge. Walk up the paved incline toward the parking lot and you’ll see an unmarked trail to the left before the wooden sign for Land of Medicine Buddha, which points to the Land of Medicine Buddha retreat center and school (visit the retreat center first to pick up a map). The trail to the left of this wooden sign is the start of the 5.8-mile loop. Make a big clockwise loop. Follow the trail beside the creek for just over 1 mile. After crossing the creek, keep right at major forks. After 5 miles you'll reach the signed 8 Versus Pilgrimage Trail, where you turn left and return back to the retreat center. Dog-friendly!

Tarwater Loop Trail Pescadero Creek

Hidden Resource

Here’s a natural resource that’s hard to find and remains untapped in more ways than one: Tarwater Loop Trail, tucked in Pescadero Creek County Park, sits atop a deposit of natural gas, but nature provides the real riches here. Magnificent redwood trees, lush green carpets of ferns and pure solitude are the reward for a bit of navigational work. Start the 5-mile roundtrip hike gently ambling downhill through a mixed forest of impressive second-growth redwoods, plus one very conspicuous old-growth specimen easily identified by its massive girth. Step carefully as the area is packed with banana slugs and the occasional ooze of the namesake petroleum bubbling up through the trail. Listen for the odd call—somewhere between a tweet and a screech—of the marbled murrelet, an endangered sea bird that maintains pied-à-terre nests in the forest. The trail empties onto Pomponio Trail, which you’ll follow a few hundred yards to pick up the final uphill portion of the Tarwater Trail (If you reach the visitor center for the county jail/work camp, you’ve gone too far—and you may have to do some explaining about the pinot noir in your backpack.) Follow burbling Tarwater Creek and enjoy another mile of grand redwoods before finishing with a series of grassy meadows that offer splendid vistas of the coastal hills. The 700-foot moderate elevation gain provides just enough of a workout that à la mode won’t even be a question when ordering a post-hike slice of legendary olallieberry pie at Duarte’s Tavern in downtown Pescadero. That’s having your pie and eating it, too!

The trailhead is off Pomponio Rd., on the way to nothing else. From I-280 or Hwy. 101, take Hwy. 84 halfway through La Honda, turn onto Pescadero Rd. and look for Alpine Rd. after about a mile, just after Heritage Grove. Follow Alpine Rd. for 4 twisty miles until you reach poorly marked Pomponio Rd. (follow the sign for the jail and county park.) Pomponio Rd. dead-ends at the parking lot for the trail. From Hwy. 1, take the other end of Pescadero Rd. to Alpine Rd. Here's a map of the park. Make a 5-mile counterclockwise loop almost exclusively on the Tarwater Trail Loop. Briefly make a left on the Pomponio Trail at the halfway point to pick up the Tarwater Trail Loop again, which takes you back to the trailhead. No dogs.

Yosemite, Live!

Everybody has a favorite outdoor music venue: the Greek, Red Rocks—how about Yosemite? Yep, California’s iconic national park is also home to the best music festival in the Sierra: The 4-day Strawberry Music Festival at Camp Mather is an unforgettable weekend of eclectic live music, outdoor activities and pure mountain magic. Sitting at 4,500 feet and spanning more than 350 acres of pine forest and meadows, the festival lets you divide your time between 21 acts on the main stage, going hiking, taking outdoor yoga classes, or splashing around the camp’s very own Birch Lake. This Memorial Day weekend marks Strawberry Music Festival’s 30th anniversary, and plans are in the works for one of the best lineups ever: Aaron Neville, Court Yard Hounds (featuring Martie Maguire and Emily Robison of The Dixie Chicks), The Sam Bush Band, The Tim O’Brien Band and plenty more. Head to the mountains for a holiday weekend packed with two of your passions: great music and the great outdoors. It’s Yosemite, live!

BONUS: The Memorial Day weekend Strawberry Music Festival will sell out! Get your tickets now!

Strawberry Music Festivals happen May 26-30 and September 1-5. It’s kid-friendly! Get your tickets to the Memorial Day weekend festival, the Labor Day weekend festival, or both by visiting

Other Activities You Might Enjoy