California is filled with outstanding natural beauty, and Gilroy is ideally situated near many diverse and beautiful parks, including Uvas Canyon County Park. This hidden gem is so exceptional that advance reservations are required. Tucked into the hills and trees on the eastern side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, this park has a special trail—the Waterfall Loop Nature Trail—that is a must-see. This scenic loop with a creek, waterfalls, and identified trees and plants offers the perfect place to immerse yourself in nature.
Waterfall Loop Nature Trail
The Waterfall Loop Nature Trail
On the Waterfall Loop, you’ll hike through dense woods of deciduous and evergreen trees while listening to running water and cascading falls. Swanson Creek and the waterfalls in the park are filled with water from rainfall and the natural springs in Uvas Canyon. The creek and multiple waterfalls are what make this park and this trail memorable.
Late winter and early spring are the optimal times to enjoy the waterfalls and Swanson Creek at their fullest. Although the creek usually has water year-round, it’s typically less full by summer and fall, and some of the waterfalls can dry up or slow significantly. Upper Falls, at the halfway point of the Waterfall Loop, typically runs most of the year, with less flow in the warmer, drier months.
The Waterfall Loop is a one-mile loop that is a beginner-moderate level hike, with its highest elevation at 500 feet. It’s a popular choice for families and those with dogs. It can easily be completed in an hour. But expect to spend more time if you want to take a slower approach, stopping for photos, breaks, and enjoying the scenery along the way—which we highly recommend!
Be sure to print a Waterfall Loop Nature Trail Guide also before you go, so you can read a little more about the trail and a short description with corresponding numbers to plants and flowers along the trail.
Hitting the Trail
From the day use parking lot, you must walk a short distance to reach the start of the Waterfall Loop Trail. Pick up a map here before you begin.
Then, head uphill and follow the signs to the trail.
The road travels over Swanson Creek, with good views of the water flow.
There are some stairs here that lead to Lower Falls, but that’s a part of another trail—the Swanson Creek/Uvas Creek Trail. Continue over the creek to the beginning of the Waterfall Loop Nature Trail, which is just ahead on your left.
The Waterfall Loop Nature Trail trailhead
You’re ready to hike! The Waterfall Loop has markers to help guide you, along with your map. As you walk through the woods surrounded by nature, you’ll have great views and photo opportunities as most of the trail travels along Swanson Creek.
As you proceed along the trail, you’ll climb some stone steps and cross a bridge overlooking Swanson Creek and Granuja Falls. Here you can take some great photos and view the blue-green waters of Granuja Falls, which has short cascading falls.
Bridge over Swanson Creek & Granuja Falls
As you continue the Waterfall Loop, take a moment to spot the numbered plants and trees along the way and find the corresponding descriptions on the Trail Guide to learn more about them. There are several smaller, unnamed falls along Swanson Creek during the wetter months. You’ll also cross several bridges over Swanson Creek along the path.
Post No. 4 marking a white alder tree along the trail
Black Rock Falls
The next waterfall you’ll be headed for is Black Rock Falls. Just follow the signs on the Waterfall Loop Nature Trail.
Trail marker for Black Rock Falls
Take a break on the way to Black Rock Falls
Before you reach the halfway point of Waterfall Loop, you’ll reach Black Rock Falls on the right side of the trail.
Black Rock Falls
You can climb a narrow space along the left side to get a closer view—just be careful, as it can be wet, muddy, and slippery. This waterfall has a decent flow after rainy weather.
Black Rock Falls
In the winter, you might see ladybug clusters on the bridge by Black Rock Falls and on plants along the trail.
After you’ve had time to get some pictures and take in Black Rock Falls, continue up the trail towards Myrtle Flats. Along the way, enjoy the close coverage of the surrounding woods and the sound of the creek rushing by. Take in the unique tree formations and beautiful plants, trees, and maybe even a flower or two.
You’ll arrive soon at Myrtle Flats, which is about halfway around the Waterfall Loop path. This is a good place to enjoy a break, some water, and a snack if you need it, and there is even a picnic table here.
Path from Myrtle Flats towards Upper Falls & Basin Falls
From Myrtle Flats, you’ll take a short path that proceeds over a bridge and past the creek.
Next, you’ll reach a fork in the path. Head up to the middle path to view Basin Falls, a pretty fall with two larger cascades and a little pool between the first and second drop. (The path to the far right is Knobcone Trail and is not part of the Waterfall Loop.)
Follow the middle path up to Basin Falls
The walk along the path to Basin Falls is very scenic, as the stream from the falls flows along the trail and through the trees.
The left path up from Myrtle Flats leads to Upper Falls, usually the largest waterfall.
The short path to Upper Falls
This fall usually flows in the summer and fall, too, but with a much slower flow. From Upper Falls, you can also access the Contour Trail, a much longer loop that will take you back to the main entrance. (This trail can be closed in wetter seasons due to flooding.)
Once you’ve taken in the beautiful Upper Falls and the creek below it, head back down to the trail and back across the bridge to Myrtle Flats. From just below Myrtle Flats, you can cross Swanson Creek on another bridge to continue on the Waterfall Loop as it heads back down towards the start of the trail. (Note that after heavy rainfall, the bridge to the other side of the Waterfall Loop Nature Trail can be closed; if that’s the case, you can simply walk back from Myrtle Flats on the trail you came in on. Both halves of the loop follow the Swanson Creek.)
There are two other waterfalls that you can view that are not located on the Waterfall Loop Nature Trail:
- Lower Falls: The trail to this waterfall is accessed just before you reach the Waterfall Loop Nature Trail. It’s just up the road from the day-use parking area and to the right just before the road crosses over Swanson Creek. Look for the sign for Lower Falls and head down some stairs and along the Swanson Creek Trail, connecting to the Uvas Creek Trail. (The Uvas Creek Trail can be closed during winter due to Uvas Creek water levels being too high.)
Stairs leading to Swanson Creek Trail connecting to Uvas Creek Trail and to Lower Falls
Downstream from Lower Falls
- Triple Falls: Accessible from the Alec Canyon Trail connecting to Triple Falls Trail. This path leads a different direction than the other trails and is about a 2.5-mile trail roundtrip, taking about an hour and half to complete. It’s a more intensive hike, with more inclines and switchbacks. Triple Falls tends to dry up in the warmer months.
Uvas Canyon County Park is open daily, from 8 am until sunset. Because of the limited parking and space, they do require reservations for day use, so book your arrival time slot ahead of time. Please visit gooutsideandplay.org to make your reservation.
Allow about 35-40 minutes to drive to the park from Gilroy, particularly as the road grows curvy and you’ll need to drive slowly. From Gilroy, you’ll take Highway 152 W (Hecker Pass Highway), turn right on Watsonville Road, left onto Uvas Road, and then left on Croy Road. You’ll follow Croy Road all the way into the park, parking in the day-use parking area. (Don’t continue up the road—there’s no day-use parking allowed in the campground area.) Be sure to place your printed copy of your reservation in a visible spot on your dashboard; the rangers do come around to check.
You can also camp at Uvas Canyon County Park. For more information, visit our Guide to Camping in and around Gilroy blog.
Know Before You Go:
- Advance reservations are required before you enter this park, even just for the day. Reserve a Day Pass ($6)
- As you drive on Croy Road to get to the park, you will pass through Sveadal, a private resort belonging to the Swedish American Patriotic League. Please respect their privacy and follow posted speed limits.
- Be prepared for a longer, slower drive with many curvy turns on the road to this park.
- Dogs are allowed but must be controlled on a 6-foot leash at all times. Handlers must be 16 years old, with 2 dogs per handler maximum, and an adult must be present with anyone under 16.
- There are no biking or equestrian trails.
- There are bathrooms in the day use parking lot area and in the campground area.
- Before you leave home, print out the Waterfall Loop Nature Trail Guide.
- Wear layers—the Waterfall Loop is very shaded and cool in winter and spring, and in the warmer months, the morning can be chilly and the afternoons can get hot.
- For updates on trail closures, check out the County Park Trail Closures or call the Santa Clara County Parks & Administration Office before you go at: 408.355.2200. Press 3 for trail updates and press 1 for the park.
Uvas Canyon County Park
8515 Croy Road
Morgan Hill, CA 95037
Gilroy is near many other beautiful parks, including Coyote Lake Harvey Bear Ranch County Park, Mt. Madonna County Park, Henry E. Coe State Park, and Pinnacles National Park. To have time to visit as many of our parks as possible, book an affordable hotel stay as your home base.
After working up an appetite from hiking and exploring, visit our fantastic local restaurants or quench your thirst at one of our breweries, bars, or taprooms. While you’re in town, enjoy more outdoor time sipping some wine at one of 30 wineries along the Santa Clara Valley Wine Trail, many of which are dog-friendly and kid-friendly.
You can find plenty more fun things to do in Gilroy, and while you’re in town, stop by our California Welcome Center Gilroy for souvenirs or some help from our friendly staff with finding more to do while you’re here in our community with a spice for life!