Below is a precise text description of the Santa Cruz Circle Trail. The officially-designated Trail is not yet complete, so this description includes several segments that are not yet “official.” In several places I suggest slight variations on the official route. They are legal places to walk but, for various reasons, they are not the official route. When the Trail is completed, this site will be updated. If you would like a map of the official route, call the Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Department at 831-420-6160.
I start the descriptions of both the Eastern and Western loops at the pedestrian bridge in downtown Santa Cruz. Both descriptions go clockwise, though there is no particular reason to chose which way to do the trail. The western loop is about 12 miles. The eastern loop is about 11.When the trail across the UCSC campus is finally designated, the total length will be about 27 miles.
Start on the River Levee bike path at the western end of the pedestrian bridge, across from Zanotto’s Supermarket. As you face the river, turn right and take this path south three quarters of a mile. Just before the wooden railroad bridge by the river mouth, turn right and walk through the Boardwalk parking lot to Beach Street. (Or continue under the railroad bridge and walk on the beach. Or, if it’s open, walk on the Boardwalk itself.) At the beginning of the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, walk uphill past the Dream Inn and take the West Cliff Drive Pedestrian/Bike Path to Natural Bridges State Park.
Go in Natural Bridges State Park and walk down into the trees, past the Visitor’s Center and Monarch Butterfly Grove. When you leave the park, turn left on Delaware Avenue. (The official route follows Swanton Blvd. on the east side of the park and then turns left onto Delaware.) In about 150 yards, you will see Antonelli Pond on the north side of Delaware. Cross the street and take the trail on the west side of the Pond. (The official route follows Natural Bridges Drive 100 yards east of Antonelli Pond.) A dirt path goes parallel to the pond and ends at the railroad tracks. Turn right and take the walkway along the tracks and over the railroad trestle. In one block you reach Natural Bridges Drive. Turn north (left) and walk 30 yards to the corner. Turn right onto Mission Street. In 30 yards, turn left onto Western Drive. Walk north one block. Cross Highway 1.
Just after the corner of Highway 1 and Western Drive, you will see the blocked-off end of Grandview Street on your right. Take the sidewalk onto Grandview and walk east. In about 300 yards, there is a small park marked Residents Only. On the right side of the park is a path between a short chain link fence and the back of some apartments. THIS IS THE TRAIL! Walk north. In 80 yards, you come to the entrance to Arroyo Seco.
Walk straight up the canyon (don’t take the attractive-looking right turn, it’s a dead end) to University Terrace Park. Turn right on Meder Street. In a block and a half, turn left on Bay Street. In one block you come to High Street. Cross High and Bay and take the sidewalk that heads east on the north side of High Street. In about 300 yards, turn left through the old gateway with a sign marked “Cardiff House.” Walk up this path to the parking lots surrounding the Carriage House. Go straight and right until you come to a paved pathway next to Coolidge Drive or go right just before you come to Carriage House on a narrow dirt path (which avoids a lot of the ugly parking lot). Follow that path for 100 yards to the driveway for the Faculty’ Housing. The pathway takes a jog and become unpaved. (No bikes are allowed on this stretch of trail. Bikes are prohibited in Pogonip except for the new connector trail in the northern end of the park that links Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park with the University trail system.) Continue on this path. In about 400 yards it meets the Spring Trail entrance to Pogonip.
Follow the Spring Trail one mile to the Brayshaw Trail. Turn right. The Brayshaw Trail becomes Golf Club Drive and leaves Pogonip. When Golf Club Drive ends, turn right on Highway 9 (River Street). DO NOT CROSS HIGHWAY 9 UNTIL AFTER YOU CROSS HIGHWAY 1 (in about 1/4 mile). After you cross Highway 1, cross River Street into the new shopping center. Go into the first parking lot entrance and follow the new bike/pedestrian path directly to the River Levee. Walk south three quarters of a mile to your starting point.
Start in San Lorenzo Park on the east end of the pedestrian bridge over the San Lorenzo River. Walk north through San Lorenzo Park. The River Levee Path starts at the northwest corner of the park. Take the path north until it ends and puts you onto Felker Street. In one long block, Felker ends at Ocean Avenue. Cross Ocean and take Grant Street, directly across from Felker. Walk east on Grant until it ends in Market Street. Turn left on Market, cross under the freeway (Highway 1). Continue straight, using the sidewalk on the right of what is now called Branciforte Drive. In three blocks, the sidewalk ends and the Circle Trail veers to the right at the end of an informal, dirt parking area. You will see a sign with the usual list of all the things that are forbidden on City Parks and Recreation Department land. This is the entrance to De Laveaga Park.
Take this dirt road for about 1/2 mile. When you can see the parking area on your left and hear people at the picnic area and ball fields, watch for a junction where three dirt roads and one trail meet. Take the trail, which veers off slightly to the left, next to another warning sign. In a few yards, this trail splits. Take the right fork. You are now on a trail that hugs the hillside and climbs 300 feet in about 3/4 mile to the northern tip of the Park. At the very top of the Park, you come to the Disk Golf Course at a spot called Top of the World. Take the road to your left. It curves downhill, passes a locked gate, turns right and drops you onto Upper Park Road. Cross the road. There are chemical toilets here, courtesy of the Disk Golf Club. On weekends they sell disks and tee shirts (the only equiptment this kind of golf requires.) From the parking lot, an unmarked road passes two Do Not Enter signs and plunges downhill. Take it, this is Brookwood.
When Brookwood leaves the park it continues downhill another 200 yards and then meets Prospect Heights. Turn right on Prospect Heights. In 400 yards, turn left on La Fonda. La Fonda ends at Soquel Drive. Turn right and walk on the sidewalk to the second stoplight. Cross Soquel and take Park Way South. In one block, it ends at Arana.The trailhead for Arana is 50 yards to your right.
Walk through Arana, either by the direct route across the meadow or by the perimeter trail that circles around the right side and comes back to the southern Arana trailhead at the north end of the yacht harbor. Walk down the west side of the yacht harbor to Aldo’s restaurant, at the foot of Atlantic Avenue. Take Atlantic to Third Street. Turn left. In one short bock, Third ends in a cliff. Turn right and take the path along the cliff. (This was East Cliff Drive until part of the roadway fell into the sea.) Follow East Cliff around the bend at the river mouth. At the bottom of a short hill, the River Levee Path turns off to the left. Take it until it ends in the Royal Taj Restaurant parking lot, at the corner of Soquel Avenue and Riverside. Cross Soquel Avenue — there’s a crosswalk but no stoplight. Fifty feet ahead is the entrance to San Lorenzo Park.
There are currently six pedestrian crossings of the San Lorenzo River in the City. They all connect the east bank and west bank River Levee paths except for the walkway on the railroad bridge by the river mouth. At the eastern end of that bridge, you have to take the ramp up to the sidewalk on East Cliff.
A personal note:
On April, 1997 and again in July, 1999 I walked the whole trail, walking one loop per day. The Western Loop took about 4 hours and 45 minutes one time and only four hours the other. The Eastern Loop took about four and a half hours once but only three hours and ten minutes the other time. It was all easy and pleasant with two very minor exceptions. Crossing Ocean Avenue was noisy because of traffic and the first quarter mile of Upper Park Road was very narrow. I have since found the very pleasant alternative I describe above. There is currently no official route through De Laveaga, but I expect this to be designated the Circle Trail route for walkers. Cyclists should avoid the narrow, single-track trail through the west side of DeLaveaga and use Upper Park Road. Or, even better, they can circle around the outside of De Laveaga Park using Branciforte Drive, Mountain View Road, and Rodeo Gulch Road, a strenuous but spectacular alternative (all paved).
On the western loop, you can find toilets at the following locations:
- The parking lot for the Boardwalk
- On the Boardwalk
- At the entrance to the Municipal Wharf
- Lighthouse Field
- Natural Bridges State Beach
- Next to the paddocks, just north of the Clubhouse in Pogonip (these are chemical toilets)
On the eastern loop, you can find toilets at the following locations:
- San Lorenzo River Park
- Grant Street Park (on Grant Street)
- The frisbee golf course at the north end of DeLaveaga Park