Loch Lomond Recreation Area,
City of Santa Cruz,
Santa Cruz County
In brief:
4.9 mile loop initially sticks to the shores of the reservoir, then climbs to a ridge with great views before descending back to the trailhead.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 4.9 mile loop hike is moderate, with about 800 feet in elevation change. Trailhead elevation is about 600 feet. The park's highest (trail) elevation is about 1140 feet. Although this hike is short, there are several very steep stretches.

Mostly shaded.

Trail traffic:
Moderate near the lake, light on the trails.

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time:
2 1/2 hours.

Only open from March 1 to September 15.

Getting there:
• From CA 17 in Scotts Valley (Santa Cruz County), exit Mt. Hermon Road. Follow Mt. Hermon Road into Felton (about 3.5 miles), and the junction with Graham Hill Road. Turn left, and drive about 0.3 mile to East Zayante Road. Turn left, and drive about 2.6 miles to Lompico Road. Turn left and drive about 1.6 miles to West Drive. Turn left, and drive carefully uphill on narrow West Drive, following the Loch Lomond signs to the park entrance, about 0.8 mile. Once past the entrance kiosk, continue about 0.6 mile to the parking lot at the end of the road, near the boat launch.
• From CA 9 in Ben Lomond (Santa Cruz County), turn east onto Glen Arbor, then turn onto Quail Hollow Road. At the junction with East Zayante, turn left, and drive to the junction with Lompico Road. Turn left and drive about 1.6 miles to West Drive. Turn left, and drive carefully uphill on narrow West Drive, following the Loch Lomond signs to the park entrance, about 0.8 mile. Once past the entrance kiosk, continue about 0.6 mile to the parking lot at the end of the road, near the boat launch.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 37 6'39.87"N
122 3'53.58"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, stores, and restaurants in Felton, Ben Lomond, and Scotts Valley. No camping.

Trailhead details:
16 spots in a paved lot, with 3 handicapped spaces, and more parking on the road and in other parking lots in the park. $4 entrance fee/$1 for walk-ins/$1 per dog (pay in the park store if entrance kiosk is empty). Maps available at the kiosk or park store. Pay phone, drinking water, and restrooms at trailhead. The park store stocks a few beverages and snacky foods. There is no direct public transportation to the park. Park hours vary slightly, but generally the gate opens at 6 a.m. and closes at dusk. Trails are poorly suited to wheelchairs.

Loch Lomond is only open from March 1 to September 15. Dogs are permitted on leash, but are not allowed in the water. No bikes or horses.

The Official Story:
City of Santa Cruz's Loch Lomond page
Park office 831-335-7424

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
This hike is described and mapped in the 2nd edition of 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator of this website). Order this book from Amazon.com.
Trails of Santa Cruz, by Pease Press (order from Pease Press) shows most of Loch Lomond trails in great detail.
• Tom Taber's Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book has a simple map and trail descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).

Loch Lomond in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View photos from this hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

A few hours at Loch Lomond Recreation TrailheadArea can feel like a Sierra getaway. The journey begins when you head north from Felton to Loch Lomond, a mysterious and exotic name for a reservoir supplying water to the City of Santa Cruz. A steep narrow road winds uphill through redwoods and sturdy cabin-like homes, then drops down to a forested canyon, filled with sparkling water. Paddle boats and kayaks dot the lake, but there are no gasoline-powered engines, in fact no noise at all, save the gentle whir of fishing reels, whispers of wind blowing through redwoods, and an occasional overhead airplane. Hard to believe this oasis exists just about 10 miles from Santa Cruz and a short drive from San Jose.
     The watershed was extensively Loch Traillogged, obliterating old-growth redwoods; what's left is a forest mostly comprised of young redwoods and Douglas fir, some knobcone pine, madrone, live oaks, huckleberry, and tanoak. Permitted human activity is confined to the lake itself, as well as a few trails and fire roads on the eastern shore of the reservoir. Visitors can rent boats, fish, picnic, or hike, but no swimming is permitted. Since Loch Lomond is open to the public only from March to mid-September, it's a logical destination for summer get-togethers or those "gone fishing" days.
     Loch Trail, which clings to a hillside just above the shoreline, is a hotbed of fishing activity, but once you get past Deer Flat, you'll likely find empty trails. When I visited in June a few of the minor paths were totally littered Loch Sloy Trailwith inches of fallen madrone and tanoak leaves, giving the impression that few human feet had passed through any time recently.
     Trail loops vary from 1/2 mile to 5 miles. The longest (described below) is the toughest, also a perfect tour through all the park's environments, from shoreline to ridgetop. Be sure to grab the park map (or bring one of the maps recommended, see left sidebar) before setting out on all but the shortest hikes here -- every trail has a Scottish name and from every picnic area several similarly-named paths depart, criss-crossing through the forest.
     Start at the parking lot near the park store and boat launch, on Loch Trail, which begins near the restrooms and an information signboard. The narrow path (like all park trails, it's only openHighland Service Road  to hikers) edges along the shoreline. Folks out for a day of fishing for trout, bluegill, and bass sometimes block the trail with their gear, so step carefully. Tanoak, redwood, and madrone shade the trail. Look for the delicate purple flowers of California harebell in early summer. At 0.18 mile, signed Cunningham Trail sets out on the right, but continue left on Loch Trail.
     At a nearly level grade, the trail sticks near the water, sometimes sweeping slightly inland to avoid damp spots. You may notice huckleberry along the trail, as well as invasive French broom. Look left across the lake for a view to Clar Innis Picnic Area, accessible only by boat. At 0.44 mile, under a pretty bunch of madrone, signed MacGregorA sunny stretch of Highland Service Road Trail heads uphill to the right, to Glen Corrie Picnic Area. Stay to the left on Loch Trail.
     As the trail skirts Stewart Cove you'll ascend a bit, on some steep stairs, drop back down to the water level, and climb again, all the while through a forest of tanoak, redwood, and madrone. Look for trilliums in spring. At 0.89 mile, you'll reach a signed junction with MacLaren Trail, which veers straight uphill. Continue to the left on Loch Trail.
     With most of its wandering done, the trail sticks to a nearly flat grade as it travels through a slightly more open forest, where you might notice western heart's ease in spring. Hazelnut and huckleberry are common, but alas, so is poison oak, growing here mostly as ground cover. At 1.25 mile Loch Trail ends at a signed junction with Loch SloyView down to the reservoir from a viewpoint on Highland Service Road  Service Road. (If you're ready to turn back now, turn right and follow the service road to Glen Corrie Picnic Area, then take Gilchrist Trail to the trailhead.) Turn left.
     In summer the first stretch of trail resembles two parallel paths, with overgrown knee-high vegetation creating a median strip down the middle of the fire road. A break in the woods permits sunshine to foster a few shrubs of toyon, lizardtail, creambush, sticky monkeyflower, as well as some live oak and California bay. Look for Ithuriel's spear and coyote mint blooming in late spring. Gradually the nearly level trail returns to a woodland of redwood, madrone, and tanoak. At 1.67 miles Loch Sloy Service Road ends near Deer Flat. Turn right onto Highland Service Road.
      The broad fire road begins a moderate but steady climb, through more The start of a steep descent on Highland Service Roadredwood, tanoak, madrone, live oaks, and hazelnut. You might notice white redwood ivy and yerba buena flowering in late June. At 2.10 miles you'll reach an unsigned junction. Stay to the right, doubling back and continuing to climb (if you only remember one thing about the route to the ridgeline, remember that at any junction always take the uphill option). After a straight stretch, the trail curves left and passes through an open area where poison oak and broom flourish. You'll reach another non-junction at 2.30 miles -- once again stay to the right. At 2.63 miles Highland Service Road crests at a gate marking Big Trees Nature Trailthe park boundary. Veer right, remaining on the fire road.
      At a slight incline the fire road begins to traverse the ridge. Tall redwoods, tanoak, and madrone give way to knobcone pine, broom, ceanothus, monkeyflower, and poison oak. In one very sunny, open area chamise, toyon, and manzanita tumble together on the left, while huckleberry shrubs line the right side of the trail. You can peak through a sparse collection of trees on the left, to a forested ridge east of the park. Highland Service Road emerges at a hilltop, and although this isn't the high point of the hike, here you'll find the best views, downhill to the reservoir. If it's not too hot a bare patch just in front of a row of yerba santa is a nice spot for lunch. A fairly steep descent is followed by an equally sharp ascent, and then the fire road continues to climb, with some small drops to give your legs a workout. Vegetation shifts back to redwood forest, Gilchrist Trailand you may be able to pick out the steep skid roads loggers used when removing trees perhaps 100 years ago. Two very steep drops are perilously fraught with lose dirt and stones, but the worst of the descent is over by the time you reach an easy-to-miss junction with Big Trees Nature Trail, at 4.04 miles. (You can add 1/2 mile to this hike by taking Big Trees Nature Trail left, uphill. The trail climbs steeply, loops back downhill, and ends near the Glen Corrie Picnic Area.) Turn right.
     The narrow path descends at a moderately steep pitch, through redwood, tanoak, live oaks, and madrone. If you've brought the park's nature booklet with you (available for free at the park store) you can follow along with numbered posts. Returning, on the road, to the trailheadAt 4.22 miles, the other end of the nature trail feeds in from the left, then the trail descends to a tricky junction near Glen Corrie Picnic Area. Before you reach the restrooms at 4.30 miles, look left for Glen Corrie Trail, which doubles back and heads uphill.
      After a short ascent, the trail crosses the park road and heads back into the woods. Just before a bridge Gilchrist Trail takes over, traveling through a thick tanoak, madrone, and redwood forest, with few understory plants. At a signed junction with Caber Trail continue downhill to the right on Gilchrist Trail. Follow the path downhill through the fringes of another picnic area, then at another signed junction turn left, following the sign for "Lake Picnic Areas." Gilchrist continues downhill, then crosses a footbridge and ends, at 4.68 miles, at the park road. Turn left and walk down the road to the trailhead.

Total distance: 4.89 miles
Last hiked: Wednesday, June 26, 2002