Top 5 Rainy Season Hikes

The best places in Santa Cruz County to go hiking during and after rain.

by Traci Hukill

Feb. 26, 2014—The immediate forecast is calling for rain, and lots of it—two to five inches by this weekend, at which point the actual precipitation should cease, leaving a dripping, misty wonderland of banana slugs and sprouting mushrooms in our midst. It's an incredibly rewarding time to get out and explore. Just wear your rain gear (redwood forests continue "raining" long after the skies dry out) and—Virgo tip, free of charge—bring a change of dry socks and shoes for afterward, because wet socks are just gross. Come to think of it, bring dry pants too, the better to avoid the horror—the horror, I tell you—of muddy pant cuffs.

And now, Hilltromper's top rainy season hikes:

Spring Trail in Pogonip
Best time to go: While it's raining
Why: The terrain is flat and easy, the canopy provides shelter (after the first half mile) and you still get the thrill of seeing running creeks.
How long: 3 miles in and out
Where: Park at the end of Spring Street in Santa Cruz. (Map here.)
Warm up afterward at: The Abbey, where skilled baristas and overstuffed furniture make a long stay seem like a good idea.

Redwood Grove Loop at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Best time to go: While it's raining
Why: The old-growth redwood canopy provides excellent protection from the elements, it's fun to see the river running full and you'll have a piece of ancient forest almost entirely to yourself.
How long: Just under 1 mile, but you can extend it another mile by getting on River Trail at the far end of the oblong-shaped loop and following it to Cable Car Beach. This is a magical portion of the trail because it traces the San Lorenzo River beneath massive redwoods.
Where: Henry Cowell is at 101 Big Trees Rd, Felton. (Map here.)
Warm up afterward at: The Cremer House in Felton, which pulls a mean beer and serves its coffee in a French press.

Old Growth Loop at Forest of Nisene Marks State Park (or Aptos Rancho Trail if you don't fancy scooting across a log over Aptos Creek)
Best time to go: During or after rain
Why: Both these trails are sheltered by riparian redwood forests without too much understory, which gives them a primeval feel. While the Old Growth Loop lies across Aptos Creek (and requires that you scootch across a fallen log during the winter season when the creek is high), Aptos Rancho Trail meanders between the creek and the fire road and gives you almost the same experience—minus the truly immense first growth redwoods.
How long: These are short trails. Old Growth Loop is about a mile roundtrip; Aptos Rancho is about 2 miles roundtrip (assuming you park by the kiosk and bathroom).
Where: Forest of Nisene Marks State Park (Map here.)
Warm up afterward at: The Farm with coffee and fruit tart.

Eucalyptus Loop to Long Meadow at Wilder Ranch State Park
Best time to go: The day after rain
Why: After rain, visibility is excellent. You'll have gorgeous views across Monterey Bay and of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and the variety of terrain—chaparral, grassland, riparian redwood forest—keeps things interesting.
How long: About 5.5 miles roundtrip with 600 feet elevation change.
Where: Gray Whale entrance to Wilder Ranch State Park, approximately 2 miles past Heller Drive on Empire Grade Road. At an open area, look for the "Twin Gates" on either side of the road and park on the side of the road near other vehicles (typically about 1/4 mile south of the gate). Wilder Ranch is on the left.
Warm up afterward at: Companion Bakeshop for good coffee and excellent scones.

Sunset Trail at Quail Hollow Ranch
Best time to go: A couple of days after rain
Why: An insane variety of mushrooms grow in this unique park, which gathers more than a dozen ecological systems within its small area. Count them and be amazed.
How long: 2.5 miles, with a 600-foot elevation gain
Where: Quail Hollow Ranch County Park is in the San Lorenzo Valley. (Map here.)
Warm up afterward at: Coffee Nine in Ben Lomond, a cute Santa Cruz Mountains coffee stop with tasty panini and pretty good coffee drinks.