A mountain-biking haven
HIGHLIGHTS: Originally part of a Mexican Land grant, this 2,681-acre property in the Santa Cruz Mountains is now managed by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), and has been logged several times over the past century. Active timber harvesting remains part of the management plan. But this mixed hardwood and redwood forest also supports functional wild land ecosystems and great recreational opportunities. As the only state demonstration forest near a densely populated urban area, it’s well worth the visit.
ACTIVITIES: The Soquel Forest has more than 25 miles of trails and fire roads. Hikers will find plenty to occupy themselves here, but the real draw is mountain biking. Soquel is considered one of the best mountain biking venues in the Santa Cruz area –perhaps in the entire state. Horseback riding is also popular, and dogs are welcomed on leash.
VISITOR CENTER: None.
CAMPGROUNDS: None. RVs are allowed only in the parking lot at the entrance; no overnight parking.
TRAILS: Soquel has 15 miles of single-track trails and 10.5 miles of unpaved roads. Hikers and equestrians tend to be in the minority here. This is first and foremost a mountain biking recreation area. Trails are steep, so both hikers and bikers should be in decent shape. Also, always be alert for vehicular traffic on the roads, particularly logging trucks.
MUST-SEE UNIQUE FEATURE OR SEASONAL HIGHLIGHT: If – and only if – you’re an experienced mushroom hunter or in the company of one, Soquel is a good destination during the winter and spring. Mushrooms can only be collected for personal (not commercial) use, and a permit from CAL FIRE is required. The first 0.75 mile from the entrance on Highland Way is private property, and mushroom hunting is not allowed.
HIDDEN GEM: Both the San Andreas and Zayante Faults pass through Soquel, making the forest geologically active. This results in the appearance of springs and small marshes in circumscribed depressions known as sag ponds. The sag ponds in Soquel are small and serve as oases for wildlife, but such fault-associated basins can be very large indeed: San Francisco Bay is one example.
FEATURES ACCESSIBLE TO PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: None.
DOGS: Dogs are allowed on leash throughout the forest.
ENTRANCE FEE: None.
SPECIAL EVENTS: Few events or programs are held in the forest, though some guided tours are conducted by local groups. Any party interested in conducting a special event in the forest must complete an application that is due by the end of February for events scheduled for any given year.
MORE INFORMATION: Visit the forest’s website or call Soquel Demonstration State Forest Headquarters at (831) 475-8643.
Trip Ideas from Our Staff and Friends
EAT: The Summit Store on Summit Road has a full-service deli, and is a great choice for lunch for anyone coming to the forest from Highway 17. Gayle’s and D’Anna’s,’ are good eatery choices for people coming from Highway 1.
STAY: The Best Western Seacliff Inn in Aptos is a sound option for overnight accommodations.
STOP: If you have time, hit the beach! Manresa State Beach offers a gorgeous day in the sun without the crowds.
SantaCruz.org is a good source of trip-planning information.
Tell us your favorite stops, hikes, places to eat, and more when visiting this park!
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