Light of Los Trancos

Hike Los Trancos Open Space Preserve in the Santa Cruz Mountains

Hike Los Trancos Open Space Preserve in the Santa Cruz Mountains

In autumn, Los Trancos Open Space Preserve lights up with orange-red maples, yellow hazelnut, and deciduous oaks. Mingling among the colors are Los Trancos Creek, mountain vistas, earthquake history, and plentiful shade, making this 2.5-mile hike in the Santa Cruz mountains a wonder-fall destination.

Begin your hike at the information kiosk in the parking lot, heading north towards the Franciscan Loop. (Alternatively, take the Nonette Hanko San Andreas Fault Trail from the west side of the lot. This lesser-traveled trail climbs a rocky hillside to a stone bench with sweeping northward views of Mount Tamalpais, San Francisco, the San Francisco Bay, and Mount Diablo. The two trails meet up in a meadow sprinkled with coyote brush.)

Turn left onto the Franciscan Loop, descending north. Yellow hazelnut leaves cast a warm glow onto the madrone and oak forest. Groves of big-leaf maples are an autumn highlight, creating a flutter of orange-red leaves. Mixed among them are enormous oaks, whose branches twist up above moss-covered trunks to jigsaw-puzzle canopies. 


Bear left in 0.6 mile, following signs for the Lost Creek Loop. Descend clockwise to a view of peaceful Los Trancos Creek, surrounded by elk clover and riparian plants. The narrow trail looks down to the trickling creek beneath a shady forest. After this serene vista, the loop begins climbing on a crisp carpet of fallen leaves. 

Hike Los Trancos Open Space Preserve in the Santa Cruz Mountains

Rejoin the Franciscan Loop at the 1.5-mile mark, climbing south. California bay trees grow wild along this stretch, giving off a warm, fragrant scent. Pass the Nonette Hanko San Andreas Fault Trail on your right, an optional 0.6-mile loop addition to this hike. Posts with yellow bands mark the main break along the San Andreas Fault during the 1906 earthquake. Close the Franciscan Loop and retrace your steps to the parking lot. 

From downtown Saratoga, drive west on Hwy. 9. Watch for cyclists. In 7.3 miles, turn right onto Skyline Blvd. Drive 6.4 miles, then turn right onto Page Mill Rd. Drive 1.4 miles to the Los Trancos parking lot on your left. The preserve is open from dawn until dusk. Trails are well signed. This is an inverse hike, so you will descend first and then ascend on your way back. A map and interpretive brochure for the Nonette Hanko San Andreas Fault Trail are available on the park’s website. No dogs.

Trending Stories NorCal

View all Stories
  1. Bike the Monterey Coastal Recreation Trail

    To the Lighthouse

    The Monterey Recreation Trail is one of America's most beautiful coastal experiences, accessible to bikers, strollers, rollers, and walkers. This 8-mile (round-trip) bike ride follows premier parts of the trail before detouring to Pacific Grove's storied Point Pinos Lighthouse.

  2. Sponsored

    The Unexpected Wonders of Monterey

    One of the world’s best teachers? Mother Nature. And one of the best destinations to learn from her? The Monterey Bay Aquarium. Spend a few hours at the Aquarium, then take your pick of self-guided walks...

  3. Tombstones and Tarantulas

    Forget black cats; a randy tarantula crossing your path can really get your heart racing. So can spirits in a cemetery! Visit Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve and learn about these misunderstood spiders, plus pay a visit to the Rose Hill Cemetery, where ghosts are said to exist.  

  4. London Calling

    The writer Jack London was known for his adventure stories, and an autumn hike at his namesake state park in Sonoma Valley illuminates more than his career. Eucalyptus, oaks, sprawling vineyards, and brilliant redwoods are part of the autumn magic amid the rich history of the park.


Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. woman hiking Elkhorn Slough Reserve in Monterey

    Hike Elkhorn Slough Reserve

    Elkhorn Slough Reserve is one of California’s few remaining coastal wetlands. Go on a hike and marvel at one of the state's largest coastal salt marshes, a valued habitat for birds, plant life, sea otters, and marine mammals.

  2. Red Rocks in California

    Colorful badlands, towering buttes, and scenic desert cliffs form a hikers paradise. Red Rock Canyon State Park is a lightly visited desert wonderland where the southernmost tip of the Sierra Nevada converges with the El Paso range.

  3. Woman hiking up to views from Desolation Canyon in Death Valley National Park

    Canyons Calling

    Canyon hikes come in all shapes and sizes in Death Valley, and we’ve got two gems. One requires more rigorous scrambling and navigation, and leads to a dryfall; the other takes you up to a brilliant vista.

  4. Hiking Cobb Estate Haunted Forest

    Welcome to Mr. Cobb's Haunted Forest

    The ruins can be explored on an easy 1.5-mile (round-trip) loop trail. Hike it close to dusk for maximum creepiness (just make sure you're out by dusk, when the park closes).