Soquel Demonstration State Forest
California Department of Forestry,
Santa Cruz County
In brief:
4.7 mile out and back in a preserve wildly popular with mountain bikers.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 4.7 mile out and back hike is easy, with about 400 feet in elevation change, but other options increase the hiking difficulty considerably. Trailhead elevation is around 1625 feet. The main trail, a wide fire road, heads downhill from there, with elevation near the western border of about 500 feet. If you elect to hike the Sulphur Springs/Corral Trail Loop, you'll climb to over 2000 feet. This is a destination with long trails and plenty of elevation changes.

Mix of sun and shade.

Trail traffic:
Moderate -- mostly mountain bikers.

Trail surfaces:
Dirt fire road.

Hiking time:
2 1/2 hours.

Nice any time.

Getting there:
From CA 17 at the border between Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties, exit Summit Road. Drive south on Summit Road about 4 miles, at which point Soquel-San Jose Road departs to the right, and Summit turns into Highland Way. Continue straight on Highland Way (there's no stop sign heading south or north). At the junction with Mount Bache, about 1 mile further south, turn right and then quickly left at Spanish Ranch Road to remain on Highland. Continue on Highland about another 4.3 miles, then park on the right side of the road near the signed entrance.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 37 4'17.88"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
There is a small grocery store (with pay phones) on Summit, about 5 miles from the forest. No gas or restaurants nearby. No camping.

Trailhead details:
No parking or entrance fees. No toilet facilities or water. Side of road parking (an interior lot is sometimes open, but access is often restricted). Maps available inside the forest, at an information kiosk (not visible from the road). No designated handicapped parking, and trails are not suitable for wheelchairs. There is no direct public transportation to this forest.

Dogs permitted on leash. Open dawn to dusk. Trails are multi-use.

The Official Story:
Park office 831-475-8643
CDF's Soquel page

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's Monterey Bay Region map to get there (the state forest is not shown on the map, but it is just to the east of Forest of Nisene Marks).
Trails of Santa Cruz, by Pease Press (order from Pease Press) shows Soquel Demonstration Forest trails in great detail.
Map from CDF (download the pdf).
• Call the park office (831-475-8643) and ask them to mail you a map.
• Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book has a simple map (order this book from

Soquel Demonstration Forest in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

As I walked through Soquel Demonstration State Forest,a recurring thought nagged me: Side of street parking on Highland Waycould I enjoy myself here if this wasn't a demonstration forest? Would it possible for me to turn a blind eye to the logging trucks, and the obvious ongoing "wood harvesting?" Could I admire a particularly scenic and sturdy redwood year after year, or would the giant be gone next time? After all, Soquel's woods are a lot like other forested hillsides of Santa Cruz Mountains parks and preserves, with thick stands of Douglas fir, redwood, tanoak, and madrone. As nearly all of the bay area was logged extensively, our present publicly-owned forests are comprised predominantly of second-growth trees. But, no bay area publicly-owned recreation areas are actively logged, with the exception of state demonstration forests. Bridge marks the entrance to the forestCalifornia manages 8 of these forests, comprising around 71,000 acres. Soquel, with about 2,681 acres, is the only publicly-accessible demonstration forest in the bay area. Demonstration forests offer recreation as a secondary use; their primary function is to conduct research projects on forest management, and of course, to log.
      Soquel Demonstration Forest is an ideal location for mountain biking, and should you choose to hike here, you will be in the minority. Cyclists zip up and down the forest's fire roads and singletrack trails (some of which aren't on the official map), and many combine a visit to Soquel with rides into Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, which abuts Soquel to the west. Hihn's Mill Road
     Hikers must trek 2.3 miles downhill into the forest to reach an initial junction. From that junction a nearly 4-mile loop is possible, with elevation climbing from around 1350 feet to almost 2400 feet, and then dropping back to the junction. Add that to the hike back up to the trailhead for an over 8 mile trek. Old growth redwoods can be seen from the lower reaches of Hihn's Mill Road, near Badger Springs, about a 9.5 mile out-and-back hike. A few other loops are possible, but they are even longer and require you to hike over 1000 feet back uphill back to the trailhead. It easy to see the allure for cyclists; this forest is made much more friendly with the assistance of two wheels.
     Start at the roadside parking along Highland Way. (There is an interior parking area, but access to it is sometimes obstructed.) Walk over the bridge crossing Soquel Creek, then ascend briefly on a wide fire road, Hihn's Mill Road.Junction with Sulphur Springs Trail Be alert for vehicular traffic, including logging trucks. As the fire road crests, you'll pass through a cleared flat area, which is the interior parking lot. Soon after, there's a gate and an information kiosk, with a detailed topographical map of the forest under glass (unfortunately the free paper map has much less detail). Hihn's Mill Road takes a nearly level course initially, as it passes through a forest of Douglas fir, madrone, tanoak, and redwood, with some California bay and big-leaf maple as well. Huge cut stumps are conspicuous. In the understory, look for currant, thimbleberry, hazelnut, ferns, and a few huckleberry shrubs. Hound's tongue and trillium are common in spring. Some cleared hillsides support small amounts of creambush, ceanothus, and toyon. Although the dirt fire road is scored with tire tracks, you might see evidence of animals as well. Snake trails and skunk paw prints were evident on my visit.Climbing back up Hihn's Mill Road  The trail begins a more serious but still easy descent, downslope of a forested ridge, with a few seasonal creeks plummeting downhill to meet the East Branch of Soquel Creek. Some damp areas foster extravagant displays of giant chain fern and elk clover. You may notice a sulphur smell along some stretches of trail. Stay alert for downhill bicycle traffic. At 2.37 miles, you'll reach a signed junction with Sulphur Springs Trail, on the left. If you'd like to extend a hike, continue to the left or straight. Otherwise, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: 4.74 miles
Last hiked: Friday, July 6, 2001