Guide: Riding The Santa Cruz Flow Trail

Corey Philip // 21 May 2024

The Santa Cruz flow trails is about 3.5 miles of mountain bike awesome-sauce. It’s hand carved perfection that makes great use of the terrain to keep you flowing on down. Surrounded by redwood trees, it’s the place where magazine shots are taken.

It’s awesome. While not technical by any measure, the faster you go, the more fun it gets. And with the way it is built you can get going fast!

I’ve been fortunate enough to ride it many times.

Here’s one of my favorite videos including the Flow Trail. This video shows a run on Flow Trail and the Braile DH Trail, in the same forest.

Quick Notes:

  • It takes longer than expected to drive up there.
  • It is relatively dark in the forest from tree cover and position of the sun/mountain… so give yourself plenty of time before Sunset.
  • The bike shop I’ve used a few times in Santa Cruz is ‘Another Bike Shop‘.

Getting There

The Flow trail is located in the Soquel Demonstration Forest; about 15 miles North of Santa Cruz. Although it looks close on map, the road into the trailhead is tight, windy, and laden with potholes. I’ve called it the shittiest road in America.

So ultimately it takes about 50-60 minutes to get there from Santa Cruz — much longer than you would expect.

Links: Directions via Google Maps

Parking

I’ve never had a problem getting a parking spot here. There’s plenty of parking & it is free.

There is a roadside area, and then a pretty good size parking lot. The parking lot is a bit hidden for first timers, as to access it, you have to cross this one lane, jank looking bridge.

Photo by: http://lightofmorn.com

Just cross that bridge and you’ll find more parking. The first time I was here I didn’t realize you could cross the bridge.

Climbing To The Top

No chair lift here.

You could shuttle a little bit of it, but really not much to make it worth loading the bikes up.

Good thing I love pedaling.

One important thing to note is that you will have about 1,000′ of climbing from the bottom of the trailhead back up to the trailhead.

There’s two ways to get to the top of the flow.

Option 1

5 miles
The main road (Highland Way) > Buzzard Lagoon Road > Aptos Creek Road > Ridge Trail

The first and my favorite way is to take the longer and less steep way. This will have you continuing up Highlands Road (the shitty road you take to the trail head). It’s not steep at all.

This route below shows the way up.

Option 2

2 Miles

Hihns Mill Rd > Sulphur Spring Rd > Ridge Trail

The second way is to go right into the Soquel Forest from the trailhead and descend a bit on Hihns Mill Rd until you come to the junction of Sulphur Spring Road and then begin a moderately steep climb up.

Option 3

10+ Miles

Climb From Town Through Nisene Marks.

This is a great route for the hardcore XC crowd. You can start from town or the Nisene Marks forest (paid parking) and climb up the Aptos Creek Rd, and then descend the Flow Trail…

This video shows the full ride and descent back to down on unsanctioned trails of Nisene Marks.

Here is the Strava Route: https://www.strava.com/activities/5180566252/

Note

Options 1 & 2 assume a start from the trailhead parking area. Once you are at the bottom and Flow Trail and want to climb up again, the preferred method is just going right up Sulphur Springs Rd.

Other Trails In The Area

Besides the Flow Trail there’s 2 other trails in the area you could hit.

Braile DH trail and is a classic down hill trail. It’s a black diamond, so it is much steeper than Flow trail. It also doesn’t have nearly as much flow. It’s not chunky, but it is choppy with roots from the Redwood Trees and many small optional drops and kickers built into the trail.

(Braile is in my video at the top of the page)

Saw Pit trail is on the outskirts of the riding area so you’ll tack on quite a few miles tolling this trail up. The upper part of Sawpit starts of kind of pedal and rugged and turns in flow trail-esque towards the bottom. Personally I wasn’t thrilled with the trail when I rode it.

Linking These Trails Up

Once you are at the bottom and Flow Trail and want to climb up again, the preferred method is just going right up Sulphur Springs Rd.

Ride on!

About the Author

Corey Philip

Mountain biker and trail runner. I work remotely and travel around riding awesome trails 66% of the year. Bike: 2020 Specialized Stumpjumper. Youtube | Strava | Instagram