Notes for Potential Hikers
The following adjacent parks form a nearly continuous trail corridor between Palo Alto and Santa Cruz:
- City of Palo Alto Arastradero Preserve
- City of Palo Alto Foothills Park
- Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District Preserves: Los Trancos; Monte Bello; Skyline Ridge; Long Ridge
- Castle Rock State Park including portions of the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail
- Big Basin State Park
- The Fall Creek and Redwoods Units of Henry Cowell State Park
- City of Santa Cruz Greenbelt Pogonip Preserve
- City of Santa Cruz Harvey West Municipal Park
Over fifty miles are on trails in public parks. About eleven miles of the route are on town streets and quiet rural roads:
- We took a local bus from home to the corner of Arastradero and Deer Creek Roads in Palo Alto, the closest we could get to the trailhead by public transit. From there it was a 1.75 mile walk on rural town streets to Arastradero.
- Six miles are on county roads, mostly on the Empire Grade Road and then a short piece of Felton Empire Road. Empire Grade Road has very little traffic and we have mapped an alternate that takes you off the last piece and onto even lesser used Alba Road. Sometime in the future, the yet to be opened San Vicente Redwoods property may provide a trail link eliminating almost all of the walking on Empire Grade Road. A consortium of environmental groups purchased the 8,500-acre property for habitat preservation and eventual public recreation.
- Upon reaching Santa Cruz we walked to the pier instead of going straight to the bus station, and therefore walked 3 miles on Santa Cruz town streets. After stopping at the Pacific Ocean, we walked back to the transit station and grabbed a bus to the San Jose CalTrain station and then took the train home.
There are a number of alternate routes between the Los Trancos OSP parking lot and Saratoga Gap, where Highway 9 crosses Skyline Boulevard. We dropped down and walked through Steven’s Creek Canyon, but you could also stay on the ridge and walk south on trails parallel to Skyline Boulevard.
We recommend taking the Sawyer’s Toll Road Trail instead of the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail south of Castle Rock. Skyline-to-the-Sea closely parallels noisy Highway 9. The Toll Road Trail is further from the highway and below it, so most of the traffic is inaudible. Also, very few people use the Toll Road Trail.
Big Basin also has a network of trails and our route is only one of many that could be pieced together in the park.
In 2019, we made a few improvements to our original route. These are included in a separate folder in the Caltopo map. These improvements move some of the road-walking to less busy streets in the Palo Alto foothills, along Empire Grade Road, and in the Felton area. We have also changed the route in Santa Cruz to follow the fine riverfront bike path down to the sea.
Water is usually available at the Cal Fire Summit Station just prior to crossing Highway 9. The trail passes directly below this station, but there is no trail connection and access requires a short steep scramble.
We had to wade one stream at the southern end of Henry Cowell State Park Redwoods Unit. When we were there the water was about knee deep and flowing quite slowly.
It is probably possible to hike this route staying in legal designated campsites, but we like to hike all day and stop when the sun sets, and designated campsites were not in locations that worked for our itinerary; therefore we stealth camped.
Palo Alto Foothills Park is closed to non-residents with vehicles, however anybody is permitted to walk into and through the park on foot from Arastradero Preserve or Los Trancos OSP.