Prime Santa Cruz Mountain Hiking
This lasso loop takes one through every vegetation type found in the Santa Cruz Mountains on an athletic yet accessible hike. Plan on encountering many fellow hikers in this gorgeous park, but the scenery makes up for it.
Begin at the trailhead for the Skyline to the Sea Trail near the park headquarters. There are probably a lot of people here enjoying the visitors center, gift shop and large campground. There is a short spur trail that goes across a bridge over Opal Creek just opposite the gift shop. Go right on Skyline to the Sea about 20' past the bridge and enjoy this flat segment as it travels through a grove of old growth redwoods along the creek. It is dark here as it typically is underneath large redwoods, and very little grows save the giant trees.
The first 2 miles pass Maddocks and Rogers Creeks before meeting an informational kiosk with a picnic bench. There is a dirt road heading off to the right/east (which you shouldn't take like we did by mistake after giving some people directions.....), but continue north on Skyline to the Sea. You'll reach another junction about 1/2 mile further, and veer right to remain on Skyline to the Sea instead of going left onto the Hollow Tree Trail. The next segment goes up about 750' over 1.5 miles, and seems rougher than it is because the gentle path through giant redwoods is quickly replaced by a rocky path with many small ups and downs that goes through a mix of oak woodland and chaparral. It can get a little warm here, but there are more than enough shady spots. Turn left onto the Basin Trail.
The next section of the Basin Trail is about 3 miles of relatively flat trail that becomes monotonous as it follows the contour to Lane Trail Camp. Lane Trail Camp is only for backpackers, and must be reserved in advance. It may be repetitive, but it also provides a great example of the varied vegetation types of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The trail goes along the south side of a ridge with many smaller ridges plunging down to the south to the headwaters of Opal Creek. A fairly recognizable pattern of small Douglas fir groves changing to second-growth redwoods, then oak woodlands and chaparral emerges. Lane Trail Camp lies is off the trail to the right near China Grade Road which is a dirt road used by local property owners.
The Hollow Tree Trail starts at Lane Trail Camp, and it plunges steeply downhill after meandering some more along the top of the ridge. There are the ruins of the old Johansen Mill which consist of a couple of boilers and not much more. Hollow Tree gets a lot steeper after the ruins before finally mellowing out near its junction back with the Skyline to the Sea Trail 3 miles past Lane Trail Camp. The rest of the hike follows Skyline to the Sea 2 miles back to the park HQ area.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.