Use extreme caution when running this trail due to the damage it received during the 2016 Rey Fire. While the trail is not closed, be careful of the hazards that exist along the trail, which often make it impassable. Be aware that beyond the Little Pine Saddle, the Santa Cruz Trail, and other trails in the immediate area, are in especially bad shape.
Restoration work on the trail is underway, but will take some time to complete.
The Santa Cruz Trail begins one mile from the Upper Oso Campground. Follow the Santa Cruz Trail up the canyon from here. Running along the trail for 0.8 miles, you'll remain on fairly flat ground as you move in and out of washes on the eastern side of Oso Creek before reaching a trail junction. A spur trail leading to the right for 0.2 miles heads to the Nineteen Oaks Campground. Stay to the left to avoid taking the spur and continue along the Santa Cruz Trail.
From here, the Santa Cruz Trail meanders to the north as it crosses Oso Creek, switchbacks through grass-filled meadows, dips in and out of canyons, and then crosses an area of grey-green soil. The trail will then take you uphill a ways to a saddle between Little Pine Mountain and the ridge you're on, known as Little Pine Saddle.
If you want to reach the top of Little Pine Mountain, you'll have to leave the Santa Cruz Trail to the right and follow the Little Pine Spur as it climbs steeply to the summit. You'll reach a wood-and-wire fence and bear right again to head to the top.
If you choose not to summit Little Pine Mountain, you can continue to follow the Santa Cruz Trail as it heads north for nearly 15 more miles through the mountains of Los Padres National Forest and into the San Rafael Wilderness. The trail will ultimately come to an end as it reaches a junction with the Mission Pine Trail
Thanks to John McKinney, The Trailmaster, for sharing this trail description. To learn more about trails in California, check out his guides at The Trailmaster Store