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7 Best Fall Mountain Bike Rides in Santa Cruz
Health & Fitness

7 Best Fall Mountain Bike Rides in Santa Cruz

Explore the most refreshing Santa Cruz Mountain bike trails for the fall, suitable for hikers, campers, and nature lovers alike.

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5 min read

November 15, 2022

Genie Lawless is a Santa Cruz born and bred real estate agent who will make your move in and out of the county seem like a breeze through her mastery of the art of negotiation. She also is a member of the California.com Recommended Business Program.  

Santa Cruz, the county where the mountains meet the sea with Redwood forests in between, is the dream destination for many nature-lovers, but especially for avid mountain bikers. From wide and easy trails, to tough climbs and rocky rides, Santa Cruz mountain bike trails offer something for cyclists of all levels and interests. In fact, this is the county where you’ll find some of the best mountain biking trails in California in general. If you’ve already taken your bike out to prepare it for the ride of its life, all that’s left to do is grab your water bottle and bike repair kit and meet us as we discover the best Santa Cruz mountain bike trails to blow you away.

Mountain biking takes on a whole new meaning with the ocean breeze in your face. Wilder Ranch State Park is the best place to enjoy that experience.

1. Wilder Ranch State Park 

Wilder Ranch State Park is 7,000 acres of scenic landscapes beginning at the crest of Ben Lomond Mountain and going all the way down to the Pacific, making it one of the top places to go biking in Santa Cruz. As you ride your bike down the mountain, you’ll have the best views of the coastline, and you’ll get to enjoy the epic scenery and fine ocean mist. Along the way you’ll even get to view life as it was in the 19th century, with a Victorian home sitting humbly in the park. With mountain bike (MTB) trails ranging from 1 mile to 14 miles, you’ll have your pick of the litter for what kind of adventure you want to embark on. It’s good to remember that Wilder Ranch offers single track and fire road trails, and e-bikes are permitted all across the park. 

2. Soquel Demonstration State Forest

Soquel Demonstration State Forest is a Santa Cruz attraction you can’t miss. The forest's close proximity to town and the availability of parking spots makes it everyone’s go-to when it comes to deciding where to get their daily dose of exercise. As far as Santa Cruz MTB trails go, Soquel Demonstration State Forest has the best of them, with over 10 miles of single track trails and access points throughout the Santa Cruz mountains. Intermediate and advanced riders love climbing up Sulphur Springs Road or Aptos Creek Fire Road and then descending through the Corral, Braille, Sawpit, or Flow trails – with the latter being among the most popular. After all, those trails offer you a great challenge and allow you to test your skills. No e-bikes are permitted at Soquel Demonstration State Forest, so if that’s your thing, you’ll find dozens of other options across the state.

Starting at Aptos Village, The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park is a dream come true for every mountain biker who enjoys dense forest rides.

3. The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park

As the sun begins to rise and before life starts to get busy, Santa Cruz County offers you easy access to a quiet morning ride to give you the energy boost you need. That serene AM escape is better known as The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. With over 30 miles of biking trails this park has long been a mountain biker's best friend. Folks from the Bay Area and the surrounding regions saddle up early in the morning to reach this desirable destination, preparing to get onto the trails starting in Aptos village. If you’re someone who's constantly on the lookout for challenging rides, the 13-mile trail that leads into the Soquel Demonstration Forest would be what you’re looking for — we’ll tell you, it's quite the climb. E-bikes are permitted on certain trails here, so you better check your options beforehand. 

4. Pogonip Open Space

Are you looking for a fun activity to enjoy near UC Santa Cruz? We’ve got a bunch of MTB trails you should check out near campus, which all happen to be suitable for beginners. The trails at Pogonip Open Space are all awesome, with awe-inspiring views from the hillsides, and a beautiful variety of trees including redwoods, madrones, and oaks scattered all around. There’s one trail that stands out, the Emma McCrary Trail, which is one of the nicest mountain bike trails in Santa Cruz. Linking Downtown Santa Cruz to UC Santa Cruz, the Emma McCrary Trail is a haven for beginner bikers, and a scenic one at that. E-bikes are permitted on all trails at Pogonip Open Space, so feel free to join with your favorite bike. 

Whoever said that mountain biking is exhausting hasn’t tried riding at Henry Cowell Redwood State Park, where relaxation is a given.

5. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

Famous for its 40-acre grove of gigantic old-growth redwood trees, Henry Cowell Redwood State Park is considered one of the most popular mountain bike parks in Santa Cruz County. While biking is forbidden in the Fall Creek Unit and the Santa Cruz Sandhills habitat, anywhere else within the 4,623-acre park is bike-friendly (e-bikes included). For those seeking easy routes to ride their bikes, the lower Pipeline and Powder Mill trails are fairly flat and easy. For the more advanced rider, the Rincon Fire Road Trail is as difficult and exciting as a ride can be; plus, this trail ends up linking to the Pogonip Open Space. It can easily be said that of all the can’t-miss California state parks, Henry Cowell stands unique when it comes to scenic MTB trails.

6. DeLaveaga Park

Residents of Santa Cruz who are in need of a close-by space to ride their mountain bikes in the morning can get their quick-ride fix at DeLaveaga Park. A cluster of trails, ranging from easy to moderate in difficulty, provide the perfect spot for mountain bike enthusiasts who appreciate breathtaking views. If you’re a beginner, the Redwood Lower Loop is the place to start, but if you’ve got some experience with mountain bikes, the La Corona Trail is the one for you. The steep climb takes you all the way up to what seems like the top of the world, with views that are sure to leave you in awe. E-bikes are permitted in DeLaveaga Park as well, so you’ll be facing no problems. 

At UCSC you can enjoy some of the university's most scenic MTB trails. Photo Courtesy of Casey Marshall from Santa Cruz, United States, CC BY 2.0.

7. University of California at Santa Cruz

University of California at Santa Cruz is considered to be one of the most beautiful college campuses in California. The university’s Upper Campus, nestled within a glorious Redwood forest, is a gorgeous and peaceful spot to enjoy nature and go on a Santa Cruz mountain bike ride. Even though not all trails on the campus are bike friendly, and not all bike-friendly trails are e-bike-friendly, you’re sure to find an awesome trail to ride nonetheless. The Great Meadow Bike Path is one you shouldn’t miss while on campus. As you ride your bike downhill, views of Monterey Bay will stop you in your tracks. 

If you’re as crazy about mountain biking as you are about Santa Cruz, consider checking out and becoming a member of Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Stewardship. This amazing non-profit works towards building sustainable trail systems for everyone. Happy mountain biking!




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