Where to See Redwoods in Santa Cruz
While the West Coast is known for its spectacular, sunny beaches and beautiful mountains, Santa Cruz, California is also conveniently located amongst one of the most majestic ecosystems on the planet: the redwood forests.
These ancient, towering trees are a must-see, and visiting them while staying at your beachside vacation rental is a great way to connect with the outdoors. Luckily, seeing the Santa Cruz coastal redwoods (Sequoia Sempervirens) is an easy task because there are several excellent state parks full of hiking trails that will bring you into the thick of them.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through some of the best places to experience these thousand-year-old gentle giants and help you discover the magic within the redwood forests of Santa Cruz.
1. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Driving distance from Santa Cruz: 6 miles
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is at the top of the list for anyone in Santa Cruz looking to see the redwoods. Located just six miles from Santa Cruz, just off Highway 9, this park offers visitors a glimpse into an ancient forest that has been standing for over a thousand years.
Henry Cowell State Park is home to some of the tallest and oldest redwood trees in the world, including a tree that towers over 285 feet and is 16 feet wide!
One of the best ways to experience the Santa Cruz redwoods in the park is to walk through the old-growth redwood forest along the easy scenic trails.
- Redwood Grove Loop Trail: The 0.8-mile Redwood Grove Loop Trail is accessible from a parking lot trailhead next to the visitor center. The trail meanders through a cathedral-like canopy of redwoods, with shafts of light filtering through the treetops and the sweet scent of pine and damp earth in the air.
- Eagle Creek Trail: The 3.7-mile Eagle Creek Trail is considered moderately challenging and will take you through a 1.5 hour out and back journey to an observation deck with stunning views.
If you aren’t a hiker, this park is one of the best options for mountain biking through the redwoods, with a few trails set aside for this purpose. Also, bring your pet! This is one of many pet-friendly places around Santa Cruz (leashed in the case of state parks)!
With its convenient location, accessible trails, and giant redwoods, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is the perfect destination for anyone who wants to see the Santa Cruz redwoods without having to venture too far from the beach.
2. Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Driving distance from Santa Cruz: 23 miles
Big Basin Redwoods State Park is a true gem and makes a great day trip from Santa Cruz. Located just 23 miles from Santa Cruz, Big Basin Redwoods is the oldest state park in California and home to some of the biggest and oldest redwood trees in the world, with some estimated to be 1000 to 2,500 years old.
Before the 2020 Lightning Complex Fires, Big Basin Redwoods State Park had over 100 miles of hiking and backcountry trails through these big trees. While the LCU fire ravaged much of the forest, Big Basin State Park has recently reopened so that visitors can come and once again explore its majestic redwoods.
Some of the ancient California redwoods in Big Basin have been around for almost 2000 years, making them even older than the Roman Empire. Some of these giant old-growth redwoods stand over 300 feet tall and measure over 18 feet across. The best place to see redwoods in Big Basin Redwoods State Park is along the park’s hiking trails.
- Redwoods Loop Trail: The Redwoods Loop Trail is a 1-mile loop that will take you past some of the tallest trees in the park. Right along the Redwoods Loop Trail, you’ll encounter the park’s largest redwood tree: The Mother of the Forest.
- Skyline to the Sea Meteor and Loop Trail: The Skyline to the Sea Meteor and Loop Trail is 4.7 miles and will take you past some of the biggest redwoods in the park without the crowds of the Redwoods Loop Trail.
In addition to the massive redwoods, the park also features a variety of wildlife and beautiful natural landscapes, including waterfalls, creeks, and lush greenery. Keep your eyes peeled for western gray squirrels, bobcats, and some picture-worthy banana slugs!
3. Wilder Ranch State Park
Driving distance from Santa Cruz: 4 miles
Wilder Ranch State Park is another great place to see the giant redwood trees without having to venture too far from the coast. While Wilder Ranch State Park is better known for its historic ranch buildings and coastal trails, it also offers visitors a unique opportunity to experience the majesty of the redwoods.
The park’s 5.1-mile Enchanted Loop Trail takes hikers through a shaded redwood forest that starkly contrasts the bright, sunny beaches nearby in a beautiful way.
While the redwoods at Wilder Ranch State Park may not be as grand as those found in other nearby parks, they are nevertheless impressive, and the hikes in Wilder Ranch really showcase the diversity of the Santa Cruz landscapes.
4. Nisene Marks State Park
Driving distance from Santa Cruz: 9 miles
Nestled in the Aptos Hills, just 18 miles roundtrip from Santa Cruz, the forest of Nisene Marks State Park is one of the best places to experience the magic of the redwoods in the area.
The entire park spans an impressive 10,000 acres, and over half of the forest consists of redwood trees. However, due to the logging craze in the 1800s, most of the old-growth forest has been chopped down.
Today, the Forest of Nisene Marks consists primarily of lush second and third-growth redwood forests. However, the old-growth redwoods aren’t all gone from this forest! Next to the Pourroy Picnic Area, a sliver of old-growth redwoods remain, including the Advocate Tree, which is over 250 feet tall and measures 45 feet in circumference.
Some of the best redwood hikes in the Forest of Nisene Marks are:
- Old-Growth Loop: The Old-Growth Loop is an easy, beautiful, 1.3-mile trail that will take you past some of the last remaining old-growth redwoods in the forest. While the trail is open all year, the creeks may become impassable after heavy rains.
- Aptos Rancho Trail: The Aptos Rancho Trail is a moderate, 3.7 mile out & back trail that takes you through the newer redwood forests.
5. Butano State Park
Driving distance from Santa Cruz: 27 miles
Tucked away in the Santa Cruz Mountains, you’ll find one of the least visited parks in the area: Butano State Park. With so few visitors, Butano State Park offers visitors a tranquil and secluded experience among the towering redwood trees.
The park’s main attraction is its stunning redwood forest, with mostly second-growth redwoods and a few remaining beautiful old-growth redwoods. A few notable hikes will give you a great up close and personal experience with these majestic wonders.
- Mill Ox Trail: The best hike in Butano State Park to see the redwoods is the Mill Ox Trail. This easy, .9-mile trail takes hikers on a scenic journey through the heart of the redwoods and meanders past several babbling creeks.
- Jackson Flats Trail to Butano Fire Road Loop: For those looking for a longer hike, the offers a challenging yet rewarding 6.14-mile trek through the redwoods, with stunning views of the surrounding mountains along the way.
With fewer crowds than other nearby parks, Butano State Park offers a unique opportunity for visitors to connect with the ancient redwood forest in a quiet and peaceful setting.
6. Portola Redwoods State Park
Driving distance from Santa Cruz: 53 miles
If you want to see the Santa Cruz redwoods, don’t miss out on one of the region’s best-kept secrets: Portola Redwoods State Park. Although this California state park is a bit farther away from Santa Cruz, the 53-mile drive is well worth exploring the redwoods with practically nobody else around.
Portola Redwoods State Park is home to an extensive network of hiking trails that wind through the redwood forest. There are also some impressively large trees in Portola Redwoods, the park’s oldest redwoods are estimated to be over 1,200 years old and reach up to 300 feet in height. Like the other options on this list, there are a few hikes worth getting your steps in for the day while you take in the surrounding nature!
The Old Tree Trail is one of the best hikes in Portola Redwoods State Park for seeing the Santa Cruz redwoods. This is an easy 1.2-mile hike with 245 feet of elevation gain, and it takes you right past one of the impressive trees in the park: Old Tree, which towers over 300 feet tall.
If you’re looking to see the Santa Cruz redwoods without the crowds, Portola Redwoods State Park is right up there, with Butano State Park as one of the best places to see the Santa Cruz redwoods in solitude.
The Redwoods Await You in Santa Cruz
From the ancient towering redwoods of Big Basin to the dense grottoes of new-growth redwoods in the Forest of Nisene Marks, there are so many amazing places to see redwood trees without having to venture more than a short drive away from your Santa Cruz beach house rental.
No matter which redwood forest you decide to visit, you’re sure to have an amazing time and be left contemplating your next visit to the redwood forest.