Santa Cruz Hikes: Fern Trail at Pogonip

pogonip hike santa cruzk

Pogonip is a Native American word for river fog, a fittingly mystical name for such a magical place. This 640-acre green space in the middle of town has over nine miles of hiking trails with quirky features including a koi pond, stone labyrinth, and the crumbling, mossy stones of lime kilns from the 1800s.

Bring Your Dog and the Guitar

Everyone with a dog or anyone who just wants to take a quick, nearby hike on the weekend comes to Pogonip. College students spend hours strumming guitars, playing hacky sack, filling journals with bad poetry, and napping in the Haunted Meadow. Dogs and their people explore the oak woodlands and riparian habitat, and the curious poke around the old Pogonip Clubhouse, looking for clues of its past days of decadence.

There are enough trails in Pogonip to keep you happily exploring for many weekends (and each trail is different every season) but a good place to start is the mellow and shady Fern Trail.

The best place to hop onto Fern Trail is at the park entrance on Golf Club Drive. Begin hiking up the wide paved path lined with acacia trees, bursting with wispy, yellow blooms in early spring. A large meadow spreads out to the left and sweeping views of Santa Cruz and the Pacific Ocean make up the view to the right.

pogonip path

Past the Pogonip Clubhouse

Follow this trail up to the Pogonip Clubhouse — an old barn house-like structure that once was headquarters to the first United States Women’s Polo Association and boasted one of the nation’s top scenic golf courses on its grounds. Blackberry brambles now burst through cracks in the old tennis courts, the windows are all boarded up, and a high chain-link fence surrounds the building’s perimeter.

Continue on the trail past the clubhouse and through a tunnel of oak trees until you reach the single track Fern Trail on your right. Follow this trail over a bridge that crosses a burbling creek and up the one real hill on this hike into giant Douglas Firs. The sound of screeching brakes can be heard in the distance but no need to jump off the path, no cyclists are allowed on this tranquil trail.

pogonip clubhouse

Through The Haunted Meadow

Eventually the single track trail widens into a flat path carpeted with fallen oak leaves. During the rainy season, banana slugs ooze along the trail and a field guide’s worth of mushrooms line the edges. A few minutes later the Haunted Meadow comes into view.

pogonip mushrooms

Legend has it that Sarah Agnes Cowell, daughter of Henry Cowell who owned a large portion of the Santa Cruz lime kiln operations in the late 1800s, was killed here when thrown off her buggy. This was also a site used heavily by men working in the dangerous lime kiln industry. According to EVP recordings made by the Ghost Girls, this site is definitely haunted but whether by Sarah or other unhappy ghosts remains a mystery.

banana slugsWalk with reverence past the meadow and hang a left when you reach Spring Trail. This trail is more heavily used than Fern Trail as it connects several of the smaller trails together. After about a half a mile, turn left down the steep hill onto Brayshaw Trail. Watch your step here as loose gravel and the hard fallen fruits of Eucalyptus trees make this the perfect ankle-twister if you’re not careful.

Bring Your Camera for the Views

At the bottom of the hill is the first large meadow you passed at the start of your hike. If it’s hot, stay to the left, in the shade of the oak trees to connect back to the paved trail. If there’s a lovely sea breeze, by all means hike right through the meadow and enjoy the wide open sky and one of the best views of Santa Cruz. This is such an awe-inspiring view that local print maker Tom Killion created a beautiful print of this very spot.

The meadow trail leads you right back to the paved trail from whence you came. Follow that back down to Golf Club Drive and then go get yourself a well-deserved beer and a sandwich from Santa Cruz Ale Works just down the street.

Directions

From Highway 1 going North, take a right onto River Street towards Highway 9, then take a left onto Golf Club Drive. Continue under the bridge to the end of the road. Parking is free but limited.

pogonip hiking trail

HoursSunrise - Sunset
ParkingFree
RestroomsNo
DogsYes, on leash
Water FeaturesYes
ViewsYes
Crowded on WeekendsYes, but there are plenty of trails for all to enjoy!

Photos by: Molly Lautamo

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About Molly Lautamo

Molly Lautamo is a freelance writer and content strategist. She came to Santa Cruz almost ten years ago to attend UCSC and never left. To check out more of Molly's writing, visit mollylautamo.com

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