Where to find ADA-compliant, paved and unpaved wheelchair-accessible trails in and around Santa Cruz.
by Hilltromper staff
Who says you can't tromp in a chair? You just need to know where to go. There are plenty of places in Santa Cruz County where you can get a front-row view of Nature's magic act while keeping all four wheels on the ground.
Smooth Rides: Paved Trails and Boardwalks in Santa Cruz Area Parks
Arana Gulch A half-mile ribbon of pervious concrete that opened to the public in January 2015, the ADA-compliant Arana Gulch Multi-Use Trail wends through 68 acres of coastal terrace prairie creased with stands of live oak. It offers excellent birding and spring wildflower viewing. The main path leads from Frederick Street to Brommer Street by the Santa Cruz Harbor; a long spur, not to be overlooked, leads to an entrance on Agnes Street. Map to Arana Gulch
Natural Bridges State Beach In 2011 a brand new ADA-compliant boardwalk to the beloved Monarch Grove was unveiled. Gently graded and graced with interpretive signs positioned at eye-level, the boardwalk leads from the Visitor Center down to a large viewing platform surrounded by towering, fragrant eucalyptus and their burden of slumbering butterflies. Map to Natural Bridges State Beach
Bike Path at Branciforte Creek The short segment of bike path north of the Market Street Senior Center starts as just another built trail along a concrete arroyo. But soon the arroyo gives way to natural creekbed flanked by tall bluffs, and the path feels remarkably secluded and wild. Extend it by jogging to the right at Market Street and picking the bike path back up again about 100 yards north; follow it a short ways to the confluence of Branciforte and Carbonera creeks. Map to the start of the Branciforte Creek Bike Path
Neary Lagoon It's hard to believe this serene wetlands, a wildlife sanctuary and prime birding spot, lies a half-mile from downtown Santa Cruz. A mile's worth of floating boardwalk and wheelchair-accessible path circumscribes the lagoon. An excellent midtown getaway! The best entrance is at the end of Chestnut Street. Map to Neary Lagoon
Rancho del Oso The paved road, seldom used, that leads from Highway 1 to the old Nature Center passes by wetlands, an unusual stand of Monterey pines and an incredible variety of wildflowers in spring. It's just a road, but it always delights. Don't take Canyon Road, which leads to the new Visitor Center; instead take the road directly across the street from Waddell Beach. Map to Waddell Beach
This guide is brought to you by Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks, a nonprofit organization that supports state parks in Santa Cruz County and along the San Mateo Coast. Learn more at the Friends website or read an article about them here.
San Lorenzo Riverwalk A paved path runs on the west side of the San Lorenzo River adjacent to downtown Santa Cruz for about 2.5 miles, from the Tannery Arts Complex to the Beach Boardwalk. The stretch between the Felker Pedestrian Bridge and the San Lorenzo Park Pedestrian Bridge offers glimpses of waterbirds and spring flowers. Park at San Lorenzo Park or the County building.
Watsonville Wetlands A beautiful birders' paradise. Most of 3-mile Ohlone Loop Trail is wheelchair-accessible (park on Loma Vista Drive, in adjacent neighborhoods or at one of the businesses at Main Street and Ohlone Parkway), and a 1-mile ADA-compliant path encircles part of Watsonville Slough (park where Ford Street turns into Kearney). Park at the Watsonville Nature Center to explore upper Watsonville Slough. Park at the Nob Hill shopping center near Body Zone to access Upper Struve Slough. Additionally, one can explore the lower part of Ohlone Loop by parking behind West Marine.
West Cliff Drive Three miles of incredibly scenic paved walking path hugs the coastline with views of pelicans, sea lions, frolicking otters and, frequently in summer, whales and dolphins. Numerous parking spots and access points. Map to West Cliff Drive
Wilder Ranch State Park You can drive down to the Cultural Complex, a charming collection of historic farm buildings linked by paved roads and paths, and explore the relics of a bygone era. Goats, sheep, horses, chickens and cat or two add to the charm. Several pastures, yards and gardens make for nice lounging areas. Map to Wilder Ranch State Park
Au Naturel: Unpaved ADA Trails in Santa Cruz Parks
In wet weather there will be mud. But for the most part these are the trails that take you to the magnificent places.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park The half-mile Redwood Trail, built to ADA standards, visits many of the park's oldest and most magnificent redwood trees, like the 280-foot-tall Mother of The Forest. We always like to fill our water bottle at the Andrew P. Hill memorial water fountain in honor of the photographer whose crusade led to this park's creation. Map to Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Forest of Nisene Marks State Park In 2013 the park unveiled the .12-mile Waggoner Overlook Trail, a hardened surface ADA path leading from the parking area by the kiosk to a wooden platform overlooking burbling Aptos Creek. Most of these stately redwoods are second-growth, but the quiet beauty of this forest, and the fact that one can often find solitude here, is a balm to the soul. Map to Forest of Nisene Marks State Park
Heading to the beach? Check out our accessible beach guide to Santa Cruz County.
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park The wide and gracious Redwood Grove Loop Trail leads past spectacular old-growth redwood trees and Douglas firs, and even past a rare albino redwood. Under 1 mile in length, the trail is fully ADA-compliant. The Nature Center and the Park Store each have a wheelchair available for guests to borrow. Map to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Seymour Marine Discovery Center On the ruggedly beautiful yarrow- and sage-scented bluffs of the coastline north of Santa Cruz lies a scientific complex that includes UCSC's Seymour Center, an interactive museum chockablock with marine-themed exhibits. A quite short but lovely hardened-surface ADA path leads in a crescent around the parking area (access is behind and to the left of the bronze elephant seal), and includes some picnic tables. A short distance away on a dirt path that is basically flat (though not built to ADA standards) are several perfect sunset-watching spots overlooking the surfers below. It feels kind of wild out there. It's often breezy, so bring a jacket. Map to the Seymour Marine Discovery Center
Wilder Ranch State Park The Old Cove Landing Trail skirts the bluffs, offering huge views of the wetlands, rocky cliffs pounded by surf and an off-limits beach where birds congregate by the thousands. The trail, which leads from the parking lot, is regularly packed down and is intended for wheelchair use, though it's often rutted and uneven from bicycle tires. Map to Wilder Ranch State Park
Four-Wheel Drive: Flat Trails ... More or Less
Requires perseverance (and maybe a good friend), but the payoff is worth it.
Antonelli Pond On the west side of the pond is a driveway break in the sidewalk leading to an uneven dirt path that rises a bit. The first 20 yards are the worst; after that the trail gets flatter and a little smoother, then it merges with an unmaintained dirt road. After several hundred yards you'll see a couple of picnic tables on the right overlooking the pond: a nice quiet getaway on the edge of town. Map to Antonelli Pond
Not Far To Go: Uncommonly Beautiful Wheelchair-Accessible Picnicking Spots
Highly accessible lunch spots that refresh the spirit.
Quail Hollow Ranch Twenty minutes from downtown Santa Cruz, this gorgeous little park in the San Lorenzo Valley is in a class by itself; for one thing, its old ranch house, open to the public on weekends, served as the test kitchen for Sunset Magazine for many years. The park is not very developed, but one can follow the entrance road past the cattle guard and park next to the horse stables and the yard. The generous lawn, where weddings are often held, has a picnic table or two just right for a bucolic repast. Map to Quail Hollow Ranch County Park
Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park One of Santa Cruz's best-kept secrets, this historic park overlooks downtown from a bluff near the rebuilt Mission Santa Cruz. Under the shade of a massive redwood and an ancient avocado tree nearly as large, a gracious courtyard invites a person to play hooky and just spend the afternoon poking around the old historic adobe, the sunny patio and the gift shop operated by Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks. The park is open every day except Tuesday and Wednesday; call 831.425.5849 for details. Map to Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park
Wilder Ranch State Park The picnic tables in the cultural complex, behind the garage and across from the chicken coop, sit among the ranch's half-dozen apple trees. Totally accessible, extremely charming. Map to Wilder Ranch State Park
An extremely useful Parks and Recreation section resides in the Access Santa Cruz County guide.
Shared Adventures leads wheelchair-accessible activities year-round. Things like gardening, archery, table tennis parties and outdoor nature walks to Nisene Marks, Ano Nuevo and other destinations fill the Shared Adventures activities calendar.
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Accessible Santa Cruz Beach Guide