Wilder Ranch State Park has a little bit of everything – views, redwoods, rugged coastline, meadows, and even a historical museum. The park’s close proximity to Santa Cruz means you will not be alone, especially on the weekends. In addition, the trails are open to mountain biking so the bikers far outnumber pedestrians and I didn’t see another runner on my run. That said, the park has 34 miles of official trails and several more miles of unofficial single-track to explore. Moreover, most of the visitors were within a couple miles of Wilder Ranch historical area and I found solitude on many of the trails in the inland portion of the park.
Wilder Ranch entails two distinct experiences, together constituting quintessential California coastal scenery. The section of the park south of highway 1 features the Ohlone Bluff trail with unique sea cliff terraces and hidden sandy beaches. This 4 mile stretch of coastline is spectacular and very photogenic. The portion north of highway 1 is characterized by rolling meadowy hills with forested ravines. A great map of Wilder Ranch can be found here.
I parked along Empire Grade and entered the park from the high point at the crossing of the Cowell-Wilder Regional Trail. I hit a majority of the trails in the park including single tracks on the Old Cabin Trail and Enchanted Loop Trail. I eventually dropped down to 4 mile Beach and the Ohlone Bluff Trail via Baldwin Trail. The coastline was gorgeous and I stopped to take many photos. I refilled my water bottle at the facilities located at the Wilder Ranch parking area and continued back up to the Empire Grade via Wilder Ridge, Twin Oaks, Eucalyptus Trail, and Chinquapin Trail. Total net running time was over 3 hours with around 22 miles covered.
More seascape photos!!
Future areas of exploration include taking the Cowell-Wilder Regional Trail the other direction (east) through the UC Santa Cruz lands into Pogonip Park and Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. A good map of Wilder Ranch-Henry Cowell Redwoods Region can be found here.