Quail Hollow Ranch is a freak of nature. A beautiful freak, but a freak nonetheless. Tucked into a sunny, picturesque valley just east of Ben Lomond, this combination park and horse-boarding operation is one of the county’s best-kept secrets.
Within its 300 acres—that’s not even one square mile—reside 15 different plant communities, including two very rare Santa Cruz sandhills habitats, and an oddity known as the dwarf redwood forest. Add to Quail Hollow’s considerable quirk quotient the fact that the charming white ranch house used to be the test kitchen and garden for Sunset magazine, that unassailable arbiter of California domestic style, and you have a genuinely charming outlier of the county park system in Quail Hollow Ranch. It has about 6 miles of hiking trails.
Here’s another thing: Sunset publisher Larry Lane and his wife Ruth, who lived at Quail Hollow back when putting your dining room table in the same space as the living room was a revolutionary act, fortunately saw fit to preserve this gem and, when the County of Santa Cruz bought it in 1986, they endowed it with an educational fund. As a result, Quail Hollow offers loads of classes and tours, from beginning macramé to stargazing. Bonus: For four Sundays every April, the park, which is guardian of a state-protected swath of the rare Santa Cruz sandhills, opens up this section of bizarro flora and fauna to the public for tours. Follow this link for information on classes at Quail Hollow Ranch.
GOOD FOR Hiking, horseback riding, ecological geekery
DEMERITS WILL BE ISSUED FOR bikes, dogs (except in the house and horse corral compound, but they should be leashed).
YOUR MOM WOULD TELL YOU TO bring lots of water if you’re planning on hiking in late spring, summer or fall—this is the hottest part of the county.
CREATURE COMFORTS CONSIST OF a port-a-potty, picnic tables, water fountain.
IF YOU’RE LUCKY YOU’LL see one of these endangered living things, all of them endemic to the sandhills: Mount Hermon June beetle, Zayante band-winged grasshopper, Santa Cruz kangaroo rat. Mountain lions also range here, but good luck with that. It’s been said that though you probably haven’t seen a mountain lion while out and about in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a mountain lion has probably seen you.
From Felton: From Graham Hill Road, follow East Zayante Road north for 2.5 miles. Turn left on Quail Hollow Road. The park is about a half mile up on your right.
From Ben Lomond: From Hwy 9, take northern branch of Glen Arbor Road (Ben Lomond Market is at the intersection). Follow it almost a mile to Quail Hollow Road. Turn left on Quail Hollow Road and proceed another 3/4 of a mile. Park entrance is on your left.
1 mile; 30 min; easy
This flat, easy trail heads south from the parking lot across a seasonal marsh (impassable in the rainy season) and past a pond inhabited by endangered Western pond turtles. It meanders along a willow and oak riparian forest with grassland on one side and hairpins back at the end of the meadow for a brief traipse through a really lovely patch of ponderosa pine forest.
2.5-mile in-and-out; 1 hour 45 min; moderate
This fascinating little trail climbs steadily through wildly varied terrain, offering several picturesque overlooks with thoughtfully placed benches and picnic tables.
800 Quail Hollow Rd, Felton, CA 95018. 831.335.9348. Learn more at the Santa Cruz County Parks Quail Hollow Ranch website.
Click here for a map to Quail Hollow Ranch County Park.