Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond is a freshwater lake surrounded by steep redwood hills—a rare event since the redwood ecosystem of the Coast Range is not characterized by standing bodies of water. This 175-acre lake is, of course, a reservoir, one that will make even a wilderness buff love a dam.

The lake is closed to swimming, which is kinda sad for us but probably good for the citizens of Santa Cruz, who rely on it for drinking water. Aluminum rowboats, some with little battery-powered kicker motors ($10/hr), as well as cute two-seater pedal-paddleboats ($5/hr.; $35/day), are available for rent. And there is a storage lot for watersport enthusiasts who want to store a kayak or canoe on site ($200/season). To protect against invasive species including the nasty Eurasian dreissenid mussel, launching a private boat is forbidden unless you store it onsite. The lake, which is almost never crowded, is big enough to provide a genuinely satisfying boating experience. On a still day, lake-paddling is exhilarating, and when the wind is up, cruising along the shoreline offers close-up encounters with a variety of ducks, kingfishers and other water-loving birds, while slowly negotiating the bigger coves is an extraordinarily peace-inducing exercise. Look for lovely mountain azaleas in the brush near the lake’s north shore.

Loch Lomond is also stocked with rainbow trout, while bluegill, green sunfish, catfish, and carp gather in a dozen shady coves. The small park store has a modest selection of worms, bait and lures, as well as beverages, snacks and tchotchkes.

Three large picnic areas, perfect for big parties, lie just off the road leading down to the reservoir. The wee island of Clar Innis, a crescent of cuteness in the middle of the lake, has a picnic table that's calling your name.

PERFECT FOR fishing, boating, paddling, group picnics.

NOT SO MUCH FOR swimming. Heartbreaking but true. The citizens of Santa Cruz thank you for obeying the rules.

LUXURIES INCLUDE Restrooms with flush toilets, a small store with a few drinks and snacks, paddleboat rentals and lots of picnicking areas.

Loch Trail
2.3 miles in-and-out; 1 hour; flat; easy to moderate
Most of the hills around Loch Lomond are closed to protect the watershed, but the southern shores and slopes are laced with 12 miles of trails. The Loch Trail wanders along the lake shore through stands of redwood, madrone and tanoak. Along the way are shady points jutting out into the water and sunny little meadows alongside deep coves. Many are outfitted with picnic tables. Waterfowl including coots, mergansers and grebes loiter in the shallows along the trail, while egrets soar over the water and the occasional osprey will be glimpsed hunting from above. Across from the Deer Flat Fishing Area, three-plus miles from the parking lot, great blue herons roost in redwood branches 40-plus feet above the lake.

Highland Trail
5 miles; 2.5 hours; 500 ft; moderate to strenuous
At Deer Flat, the trail climbs, drops, climbs and drops for 2.7 miles, forming (with the Loch Trail) a five-mile loop. This trail (an old service road) is wide and quite steep in places, offering a nice workout as it winds up from the redwoods and through tanoaks up to a sunny ridge. At the apex of the climb stands a sunny knoll with a weather station and a lovely panorama of hills and lake. The trail then drops again and climbs again, following the ridge for a bit before again descending steeply to the main-entrance road, about a half-mile above the parking lot.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The Loch Lomond Recreation Area is currently closed for the 2014 season due to the drought.

The hours of operation vary throughout the summer.

March: 7am - 7pm
April: 7am - 7:30pm
May: 7am - 8pm
June: 7am - 8:30pm
July: 7am - 8:30pm
August: 7am - 8pm
September 1 through Labor Day: 7am-8pm
Saturdays and Sundays after Labor Day through October 13: 7am - 6pm

Loch Lomond Way Felton, CA, 95018 . 831.335.7424. Learn more at the City of Santa Cruz's recreation department website.

Cool little video here: