New Naturalist-Led Backpacking Trips in Santa Cruz Mountains Offered by California State Parks

Have you wanted to explore the Northern California wilderness but just don’t know where to start? Or maybe your brave to enter the wilderness, but you’d like to do so with a professional expert naturalist. Well we have the perfect program for you.

California State Parks and the Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks announced the 2020 California State Park Backpacking Adventures program, which includes single and multi-night trips led by a professional naturalist, and including a brand-new route from the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains to the vast Pacific Ocean. The registration for these high-demand backpacking opportunities opens February 1, 2020, and you can sign up here.

There are three programs in 2020 for you to consider. Here is the rundown of each adventure:

Portola to the Sea: Portola State Park to Waddell State Beach (June 11 – 14, 2020)

Participants will have the opportunity to challenge themselves with a guided hike to the top of the beloved Skyline to the Sea route on this 3-night, 4-day excursion.

The route travels through some of the most remote trails in the Santa Cruz Mountains and includes two nights at the iconic Sunset Trail Camp. Beginning in Portola Redwoods State Park at peak elevation, backpackers travel through multiple ecosystems, ending their journey at the spectacular Waddell Beach for a dip in the sea to wash off the trail dust. Trip fee is $300. Sign up here.

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Skyline to the Sea: Castle Rock State Park to Waddell State Beach (July 16 – 19, 2020)

This 3-night, 4-day outing from Castle Rock to Waddell State Beach takes you on the legendary journey that is the quintessential Santa Cruz Mountains backpacking experience.

This trek spans 30+ miles of stunning ridgeline panoramas, mixed oak, madrone and redwood forests, riparian habitats, grassy meadows, spring-fed waterfalls, ending on the soft sandy beach. Adventurers will hike up to 10 miles a day, up steep hills and over sunny ridges on this challenging trip. Trip fee is $325. Sign up here.

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In Pursuit of Perseids: Castle Rock State Park (August 11 – 12, 2020)

Scheduled around the annual Perseids meteor shower, this journey through Castle Rock enables participants to watch shooting stars in the quiet and darkness of the backcountry.

Perseids are only clearly seen every other year due to a full moon, and this trip includes camping far away from any city lights. While the highlight of this exploration is the meteor shower, daylight brings panoramic ocean and mountain views. Telescopes and treats are provided as everyone stays up past midnight for this unique event. Trip fee is $175. Sign up here.

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Hike with a Professional Expert Naturalist

California State Park naturalists will guide participants through the majestic Santa Cruz Mountains, sharing the natural wonders of the area and the unique history of the parks.

The guides are Wilderness First Responder-certified, California Naturalist-certified and have many years of experience leading backcountry overnight and day hikes interpreting the natural and cultural history of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Their training in interpretive communication makes them great storytellers, creatively conveying information in a fun and engaging manner. Additionally, the naturalists provide expertise and guidance in backpacking set up, equipment and logistics.


Online registration for a limited number of backpacking spots opens February 1, 2020, at 9:00 a.m. Participation is open to adults 18 or over and children ages 13 to 17 accompanied by a parent or guardian. For more information, visit, email, or call (831) 278-0195.

More information

  • What do I bring? CASPBA participants are responsible for bringing their own backpack with waist straps, tent, sleeping bag and pad, and all of their food. (We recommend dehydrated “just add hot water meals” and other nonperishable food.) Backpacking participants should also bring warm layered clothing, rain gear (weather dependent), sun protection (sunscreen, hat, sunglasses), water bottles or hydration reservoirs (to carry at least 3 liters), eating utensils (cup, bowl, spork), headlamp or flashlight, personal medications, basic first aid kit, personal hygiene items (soap, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, etc.).
    A more comprehensive packing list can be found on CASPBA Packing List website.
    Participants also must arrange their own transportation to the starting point of the hike.
  • What will be provided? Backpacking leaders will provide plenty of drinking water (filtered and/or treated), boiling hot water to prepare “just add hot water meals” (morning and evening) and coffee/tea, camp stoves and fuel (for boiling water), basic first aid items, and traditional teas.
  • What are the physical requirements for the hike? Participants must be able to hike 2-3 miles per hour with a 20-pound pack, and be prepared to hike up to 10 miles per day.
  • Are there age restrictions? Participation is open to adults 18 and older, and children ages 13-17 when accompanied by a parent or guardian.
  • What kind of shoes should I wear? Hiking boots or hiking shoes are recommended.
  • What facilities are available? Picnic tables, a grill, trash, recycling, bathrooms or showers?  Stumps, logs, rocks and the ground are the primary facilities provided by the forest. Trail camps have pit toilets and some have picnic tables. Hikers must pack their trash.
  • What is the food situation? Participants must bring all their own food. We recommend dehydrated “just add hot water meals” and other nonperishable food. Here is a Sample 3 Day Menu.
  • How do we get water? California State Park staff leading the hike will provide plenty of drinking water (filtered and/or treated) throughout the entire trip. Please bring the capacity to carry 3 liters and full water bottles when meeting on the first day.
  • Can I bring alcohol or marijuana? Alcohol is not permitted on CASPBA trips. Smoking is not allowed on any trail or in any trail camp.
  • Do we have to carry everything ourselves? Yes, you must carry all of your own gear.
  • How much should my backpack weigh?  Backpacks should weigh 20-25 pounds for trips of this distance in this region.
  • Can I bring my dog? Dogs are not allowed on any backcountry trail or in any trail camp unless they are trained service animals.
  • What if it rains? Weather-related cancellations or changes to these trips are not anticipated. In the case of park closures due to extreme and/or dangerous weather conditions we will issue refunds.
  • What if there’s an emergency or someone gets hurt? CASPBA leaders are trained in wilderness medicine and we have established Emergency Response Plans to initiate in the case of an emergency or injury out on trail.
  • Can I charge my devices? Trail camps are primitive and without electricity. Participants may consider bringing a fully charged cell phone and perhaps small battery pack.
  • What kind of animals can we expect to see along the way? Santa Cruz State Parks are teeming with an abundance of wildlife including vibrant birds, colorful reptiles, active mammals, and snazzy insects. Remember, do not feed wildlife. Trail camps are equipped with food lockers to keep food safe from animals during the night.

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