bonny doon ecological reserve moon rocksBonny Doon Hikes Outdoors Recreation 

A Visit to Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve

By Julie Horner

Taking advantage of the early spring warmth among the protected Santa Cruz Sandhills at Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve, I strode out onto the moderately sloped 2.3-mile Silver Leaf Loop, which follows the Reserve perimeter through chaparral, ponderosa pine, and mixed conifer. The loop takes about an hour to walk, or you can take a shortcut on the Ponderosa Cutoff Trail, which bisects the northern portion of the 552-acre park. Recovery from the Martin and CZU fires is evident, and you can see the Pacific Ocean sparkling to the west. The property was deeded to the State of California by the Nature Conservancy in 1989 and is managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and cared for by local volunteers. 

Trails are sandy because this area was part of an ancient seafloor, which uplifted to eventually form the Santa Cruz Mountains leaving sandstone and marine sediment deposits, called “Zayante soil.” Because of housing development and quarrying, there are only three isolated patches of this unique biosystem left to explore: Quail Hollow Ranch County Park, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, and Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve. The Reserve’s hot, dry climate is host to many endemic and endangered plant and wildlife species including the Santa Cruz kangaroo rat, Mount Hermon June Beetle, and the Zayante Band-Winged Grasshopper; the Ben Lomond spineflower, Ben Lomond buckwheat, Bonny Doon “silverleaf” manzanita, and Santa Cruz wallflower.

Take a deeper dive into the park on the Laguna Creek Trail and explore the cool forest where the endangered Marbled Murrelet makes its home and where Laguna Creek is at peak flow now from winter storms. This part of the Reserve is owned by The Land Trust of Santa Cruz, Save the Redwoods League, Sempervirens Fund, and Peninsula Open Space Trust. 

Access: Martin Road from Pine Flat/Bonny Doon Road, park near the fire station. Heed all signage. More information:

To volunteer on the trails, follow Friends of Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve on Facebook: @bdecologicalreserve


Photos by Julie Horner

Featured photo: View of “The Moon Rocks” sandstone formation from the Silver Leaf Trail. The rocks are protected, and the area is closed to the public.

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