Best trails in Natural Bridges State Beach, California

173 Reviews
Explore the most popular trails in Natural Bridges State Beach with hand-curated trail maps and driving directions as well as detailed reviews and photos from hikers, campers and nature lovers like you.

Natural Bridges State Park is a magnificent oasis of natural beauty located between the edge of the ocean and the outer limits of Santa Cruz. The beach, with its famous natural bridge, is an excellent vantage point for viewing shore birds, migrating whales, and seals and otters playing offshore. Further along the beach, tide pools offer a glimpse of life beneath the sea. Low tides reveal sea stars, crabs, sea anemones, and other colorful ocean life. The park also includes a large area of coastal scrub meadows, with bright native wildflowers in the spring. Moore Creek flows down to the ocean through these meadows, forming wetlands in the sand. During fall and winter, Natural Bridges is home to one of the largest monarch butterfly over-wintering sites in the Western United States. Each year, from the boardwalk in the Monarch Preserve, you can see thousands of monarch butterflies clustered in the eucalyptus trees. A demonstration milkweed patch next to the visitor center provides food for monarch caterpillars. If you look closely, you can often find the bright green chrysalids (cocoons) hanging under the fence railing. Public monarch tours are offered on the weekends. Spring brings warmer weather and low tides for viewing anemones, crabs, urchins, sea stars and other sea life. Moore Creek flows down to the ocean through a large area of coastal scrub meadows and along riparian, freshwater marsh and dune habitats on its way to the sea, forming a wildflower-covered wetland in the sand. Summer offers opportunities to sunbathe, swim, surf, sailboard and enjoy the beauty of this special park. The beach is an excellent vantage point for viewing the remaining natural bridge, as well as shore birds, migrating whales, seals and sea otters. Hours: 8am to Sunset

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Map of trails in Natural Bridges State Beach, California
Park information
Park hours
8:00 am - 5:55 pm
8:00 am - 5:55 pm
8:00 am - 5:55 pm
8:00 am - 5:55 pm
8:00 am - 5:55 pm
8:00 am - 5:55 pm
8:00 am - 5:55 pm
Helpful links
Top trails (3)
#1 - Natural Bridges to Lighthouse Field Loop
Natural Bridges State Beach
easyYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray Star(119)
Length: 4.8 mi • Est. 2 h 1 m
Information about any current COVID-19 closures in this park can be found on the park page here: Explore tide pools and beach habitat at Natural Bridges State Park, a beautiful and popular place to walk. In this oasis between the ocean and the edge of Santa Cruz lies one of the largest monarch butterfly overwintering sites in the western United States. The park also includes large coastal scrub meadows that in spring are filled with native wildflowers. In 1983, California State Parks made the monarch grove a natural preserve and sanctuary for these fragile world travelers. Monarchs journey as far as 2,000 miles on their paper-thin wings, seeking protected places like this one where they can find food, warmth and shelter. This grove provides the ideal conditions for the butterflies—and for you to see them. Look through the spotting scope to catch a glimpse of the breathtaking sight of hundreds of monarchs clustered together in the canopy. The park also includes large coastal scrub meadows that in spring are filled with native wildflowers. Moore Creek flows through the meadows and forms wetlands in the sand. Walk even further along the bluffs when it is low tide. Accessibility: The beginning of this route from the Natural Bridges parking lot to the coastline may be too steep and have too many switchbacks to be wheelchair or stroller friendly but the three miles along the coastline on the West Cliff Multi-Purpose Cycleway that goes to Lighthouse Field State Beach is paved and mostly gentle (5% or less), except for a very steep -13% downhill section at 0.7 miles. There is a waypoint marking the beginning of the bike path on the map, and there is a parking lot right next to that point on the coast for closer parking (just west).Show more
#2 - Monarch Butterfly Natural Preserve Loop
Natural Bridges State Beach
easyYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray Star(43)
Length: 0.6 mi • Est. 15 m
Please see the park's page here for information about any COVID-19 closures: This is an easy hike, nice and shaded on a partly wooden walkway, partly dirt trail. You may see a variety of wildlife including wild turkeys, deer, California Striped Racer snakes, and black squirrels. Show more
#3 - Moore Creek Trail to Overlook
Natural Bridges State Beach
moderateYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray Star(12)
Length: 1.1 mi • Est. 27 m
According to Access Northern California ( In fall and winter, up to 150,000 monarch butterflies come to Natural Bridges State Park from the northern United States and southern Canada to roost and mate. During these months you can see thousands of butterflies fluttering through the park’s eucalyptus groves or hanging from the trees in clusters. In warmer sunny days the butterflies take flight, and against the background of green branches they look like airborne stained-glass ornaments. Even when the butterflies aren't visiting, there is plenty to do here. You can hike through coastal scrub to a vista point or visit the beach, where you will see the last of the three “bridges”—natural formations carved by waves from the sandstone bluffs the park was named for (the others have fallen). Two prominent observation areas, one at the end of West Cliff Drive, the other a few hundred feet from the entrance, are good places to watch the sunset and waves crash ashore, and possibly catch a glimpse of a whale during migration season, mid-October to March. Interactive displays at the Visitor Center provide information about monarch butterflies and about marine life and tidepools. Outside is a milkweed display that demonstrates the monarch's lifecycle. The center is open most weekends and some weekdays; call (831) 423-4609 for hours and event information. A wheelchair is available for use on the Monarch Trail. The difficulty rating for this trail is based on what the experience may be like for a wheelchair or stroller user. ACCESSIBILITY: If you drive, enter at West Cliff Drive and park at the visitor center, then travel past the center several hundred feet on Natural Bridges Drive (closed to cars) to the trailhead on your left. The lot serving the beach boardwalk and the one before the park's entrance have no designated handicapped-accessible parking spaces. If you take transit, use the pedestrian-only entrance at Natural Bridges Drive and Delaware Avenue, and proceed 0.25 miles to the trailhead. There are wheelchair-accessible restrooms at the Visitor Center/museum and picnic area. The Visitor Center restroom offers the best access. The restroom by the picnic area has grab bars and a wide stall but no maneuvering space. You can call (831) 423-4609 to reserve a beach wheelchair. At the accessible picnic area there is water, barbecue grills, and shade. You can pick up a brochure for self-guided tours at the visitor center. The Moore Creek Trail travels through low bushes across somewhat rough terrain to a lovely vista point with benches. The ocean and natural bridge can be seen in the distance. From here the trail becomes inaccessible as it travels steeply downhill to the beach. This part of the park is great for bird-watching and nighttime star-gazing. Across from the visitor center is the Monarch Trail, a wheelchair-accessible interpretive boardwalk that travels down through the Monarch Butterfly Nature Preserve for about an eighth of a mile to an observation deck. It's mostly shaded by eucalyptus trees and has numerous rest areas with benches. The Delaware Street entrance gate has a clearance of about 25 inches, and a 90-degree turn may make it challenging to maneuver some wheelchairs. Mostly firm with some bumps, rocks, roots, and small gopher-size holes. May be impassable in the rainy season.Show more