Take a Hike! 8 Local State Parks Hosting First Day Hikes on Jan. 1st

Santa Cruz First Day Hikes 2018The New Year is knocking and 2017 is ready to take a hike out the door. But 2017 isn’t the only thing that should take a hike…so should you.

If you want to start the new year off fresh with a sense of renewal, exploring California State Parks on New Year’s Day could give you the perfect opportunity to do just that.

On New Year’s Day, 50 state parks will host 80 different hikes and outings, with a chance to see your parks like never before.

We are lucky here along the Central Coast, as there are many parks that are hosting this event this year. In fact, Santa Cruz County is hosting more state park First Day Hikes than any other county in the California State Parks system, with eight different parks here that are hosting events.

There are some really interesting hikes planned such as New Brighton State Beach offering a sunset hike to Capitola that is a rare opportunity with a very low tide. Other parks are offering redwood hikes, secluded tours and nature and bird walks.

Though the guided hikes and events are free, there is a $10 day use fee for parking in most parks. However, if you pay the day use fee in one park, it’s good at any state park for the remainder of that day until closing time. Maybe this will be a chance to go on more than one hike or do some park exploring of your own.

Here is a list of the California State Parks in Santa Cruz County that are offering First Day Hikes. You can find further details and times on the California State Parks website.

1. Big Basin Redwoods State Park

big basin state park visitor center

As California’s first state park, it holds a diverse natural and cultural history and has more than 80 miles of trails to explore. There are five hiking events for different experiences, from easy to moderate. Hikes include short Redwood Loop guided walks, longer hikes along the Meteor Trail, and Sempervirens Falls back-country hikes that are tailored for your group. There is even a coffee talk with kids’ craft activities.

2. Castle Rock State Park

This park is a hidden treasure buried deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains and worth the journey. This park has a rich cultural history and unique views of our coastal range mountains, providing an opportunity you may not have experienced before. The park is offering two hikes, an easy 1.5 mile hike to get a glimpse of the back-country or a moderate 2.5 mile hike with a deeper look into the park as well as its cultural and natural history. You will even explore a secret trail.

3. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

henry cowellThe park is offering seven guided hikes at different locations including the redwood loop, breathtaking Sand Hills hike, a nature and bird walk along the Meadow Trail, a four-mile Observation Deck loop that covers a wide range, and a Fall Creek Limekiln hike. These hikes cover a lot of ground and give you a nice overview of the many different regions of this park.

4. Natural Bridges State Beach

natural bridges

The park is offering an easy half-mile bird walk through the marshes and beach area in the morning as well as an afternoon park talk and walk to learn more about this unique park. Natural Bridges has many different nature areas such as marshes, eucalyptus groves that attract migrating monarch butterflies as well as rock formations and tidepools.

5. New Brighton

new brighton

A guided hike and sunset stroll with a rare opportunity. You will walk along the sand from New Brighton to Capitola Beach, which is not something you can do on any given day. There will be a negative tide on that day, which means an exceptionally low tide will open up this chance to explore the cove that is normally covered by rocks and surf.

6. Portola Redwoods State Park

Here’s another secluded gem in our state park system. This hike is a moderate 6 mile hike into the quiet back-country of the Santa Cruz Mountains to get a glimpse of nature at it’s best. If you want to get away from civilization for an afternoon, this is a great opportunity.

7. Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park

The Gardens of Time hike is an easy quarter-mile hike through the gardens and patio areas of the courtyard. Learn about the people who lived there by knowing the plants they grew and used in their daily lives.

8. Wilder Ranch State Park

wilder ranch

This historic park is offering two guided hikes. The first hike explores the upper hills of Wilder Ranch and the history of that area. This is a 3.6 mile hike that will take about 2 hours. The second hike will tour the coastal bluff areas and will explore the plants, animals and geology of the area. This hike is approximately 2.5 miles and is a flat walk.

For information on times, meeting places and all details about all of the First Day Hikes, check out the California State Parks website and the full list of local hikes (scroll down to the “Santa Cruz County” section).

Maybe a New Year’s resolution is in order to spend 2018 exploring California’s state parks. You don’t even have to venture far from home to begin as Santa Cruz County has 14 state parks right here!

Happy New Year and happy hiking!

About Valerie Lemke

Valerie Lemke is a transplant from the Bay Area to Santa Cruz County over 25 years ago, and hasn't looked back since. She is a local freelance writer and photographer who loves writing about and photographing one of the most beautiful regions in the world, the Central Coast.