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Chaminade . . . a Santa Cruz Shangri-la

by Whitney Wilde & GiGi, the Belgian Malanois


Want to take a quick trip to paradise? A quiet place away from the insanity of summer vacationers? A canopy of trees as your umbrella on a rainy day?

Chaminade is a private, upscale resort and spa sitting atop 300 forested acres, with lush green hiking trails many locals know nothing about.

Hiking in Chaminade is a treat for you and your pooch’s senses. With almost every step, the environment changes: the air temp, the scents, the sounds, and the sights.

GiGi and I are hiking the Red Trail today—the shorter (1.25 miles) and slightly easier of Chaminade’s two trails. We begin on a wide oaky brown dirt trail edged with beautiful scarlet poison oak. We hear birds chirping and the faint sounds of city life. The start of the Red Trail is NOT well marked, so we have to lookout for a smaller trail that cuts off to the left (see downloadable map on their website).

The trail narrows quickly and the cool covers us as we descend into moss-covered redwoods, winding downward on switchbacks. The trail sometimes drops two feet at a time. Redwoods here are tall, but not old-growth. In late autumn there are mushrooms, rich in color: browns, yellows, and bright reds. Careful where you step; the "leaves” on the ground might be the golden mascots of UCSC—banana slugs. There is a perfume of bay and redwood, but the pooches are sniffing the tales and tails of deer and woodland critters. The sounds of civilization are falling away.

The lower we go, the greener it gets, until we reach the forest floor. We are then submerged in a viridian sea of lacy ferns, along with feathery horsetails, giant three-leaf clovers called redwood sorrels, and miner’s lettuce that’s right along the creek.

We see little spots of color in purple periwinkles, red thimbleberries, and white star flowers. And some flowers hint at love and magic: blue forget-me-nots, bleeding hearts, and delicate fairy lanterns.

It is so quiet here, and we take a moment to catch our breath, inhale the rich loamy aroma, and let our minds come to rest . . . hitting the mental “reset” button.

Following the trail, we come to where it intersects with the Blue Trail at the Villa. Now coming down the Blue Trail, we meet Foxy the Fox Terrier and her two dads from San Francisco. “Is that place haunted?” they ask as they point at the Villa. Built in 1914 by then-owner Judge Curtis Lindley, the Villa has fallen in disrepair the last couple of years.

Keep to the trail on the left and it will slowly climb, passing the ropes course designed for team building, and then emerge at the tennis courts. Go left to return to where you parked.

“My Secret Hike” is a third trail adjacent to Chaminade, and it is mostly gentle slopes and oaks. Enter the Chaminade property through a gateway at Santa Cruz Gardens Park. Keep right and it will go through another gateway. This trail goes up a hill to where there are houses and a view of Monterey Bay. On the left (past the A-frame) is a trail that quickly becomes a winding single-file meander among the oaks. I’ve never hiked to the end, so you’ll have to let me know where it goes!

Be sure to download a trail map from the Chaminade website (see below). It is best to start on the upper trail and return via the lower trail. On the map, you would start off heading toward the “gates,” then go down the “Steep Hill,” and then loop around to the tennis courts and back to where you parked.

Map: www.chaminade.com/i/downloads/Nature_Trail_Map.pdf

There are two places to park:

    1. Chaminade employee parking lot.

Exit Highway 1 at Soquel Drive. Go left on Paul Sweet Road and up the hill to enter Chaminade. Turn left at the top, then right (pool will be on your right). Keep going straight until you are in a dirt parking lot with pines and eucalyptus. The trail starts at the top end.

    2. Santa Cruz Gardens Park.

Off Soquel Drive, go left on Thurber Lane. Go to the very top, turn left on Cabrillo Avenue, then right on Katherine Way. Park here and go through the open gate in the fence and you are on the Chaminade Trail; go right and the beginning of the Red Trail is not too far.


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