A nice family hike with great variety
Neil Wiley

The City of Santa Cruz is known for its diversity. So is its great jewel box park—Pogonip.

In a relatively small 640 acres, this open space preserve packs a wide variety of interesting sights and environments. Enjoy views of the ocean, hills and city, visit historical sites (lime kilns and a landmark clubhouse), and hike trails under the shade of mixed evergreen forest (oaks, madrone, bay, eucalyptus) and upland redwood/fir, or walk in the sun through giant meadows. You should see some wildlife, including rabbits, ground squirrels, gophers, voles and blacktailed deer. Predators are less visible, but at dawn or dusk, you may surprise a coyote, fox, bobcat or mountain lion.

Pogonip is only a short drive away but it’s a bit difficult to access. It is bordered on the west by the University of California at Santa Cruz, to the south by Harvey West Park, the north by Henry Cowell State Park, and on the east by Highway 9. Although entrances are available on all sides, lack of on-site parking means walking into the preserve on streets, roads or trails. (Horses and bicycles are prohibited on most park trails.)

My hiking mentor Tom Taber, author of The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book, suggested parking at the scenic pullout on Glenn Coolidge Drive, the entrance to UCSC. Yes, you can park there, but the catch is that you can’t leave your car. So, rather than drag my old Corvette along the trail, I needed another option. I returned to the UCSC entrance kiosk where I purchased a $5 university-parking pass. I drove uphill past the scenic pullout, and parked in the Stevenson College parking lot. It’s only about a hundred-yard walk back down the road to the well-hidden entrance gate. While walking roadside is not ideal, this entry is better than the other walk-in alternatives.

Once inside the gate, the trails are well marked. Most offer easy to moderate grades. (The one exception is the rather steep Lookout Trail.) The first one-fifth of the mile to the limekilns is rocky but an easy downhill walk.

Past the limekilns, you reach Fern Trail. Although you won’t see many ferns until near the end of this trail, it is a pleasant walk through mixed forest. The many old oaks are especially interesting, offering giant, twisted branches and a sense of dignity and age.

You could turn right when you reach Brayshaw Trail to continue the loop, but I recommend turning left. This takes you to the Ranger Station, complete with picnic tables, garbage cans, privy and an assortment of little buildings.

If you continue on, you’ll soon reach the abandoned clubhouse of the Casa del Rey Club and Golf Links, established in 1912. Although protected by a chain link fence, the old clubhouse still reflects the grandeur of a rustic resort. You can still see the tennis courts, filled-in swimming pool and great view of Santa Cruz and the ocean. Shaded picnic tables provide a good place to snack and rest.

When the golf club closed in the 1930’s, Dorothy Deming Wheeler reopened the facility as a polo field. The Pogonip Social and Polo Club became internationally famous, perhaps because it was one of the few polo fields open to coed and women’s teams.

Although the clubhouse is in disrepair, the Santa Cruz Master Plan calls for restoring this grand old building. It would be a wonderful facility for meetings and special events. Let’s hope that it is restored before further deterioration.

To complete the return loop, you can hike across the giant meadow on Prairie Trail, left on Brayshaw Trail, left on the somewhat steep Spring Box Trail, and left again to return to the Glen Coolidge Drive entrance.

To finish your day, you can tour the impressive UCSC grounds, refresh at the coffee shop or stop by the view pullout for a last look at the ocean and the City of Santa Cruz.

Alternative entrances include hiking into the park from Wilder Ranch or Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. You can also drive up Highway 9 just past the corporation yard, and turn left on Golf Club Drive. (Parking is on the street and limited.) Another entrance is planned from Harvey West Park, which may be a bad thing. Pogonip’s best protection is its lack of easy access.

By the way, “pogonip” is a Native American word believed to mean icy fog. Although we’ve all driven through soupy “pogonip” along the coast, no one appears to know of its special reason for use in Santa Cruz.

For a comprehensive map and brochure, call the Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Department, 831-420-5270.

(c) 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 mountain network news All rights reserved.