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Pogonip/UC Santa Cruz/Henry Cowell State Park

The Pogonip/UC Santa Cruz/Henry Cowell State Park area if a great place for a ride through the forest.  You can make it short or long, ride roads, fire roads or singletrack and extend it to other places nearby.  We always have a good time when we go there.

We usually start in the "parking area" which is just an unimproved wide spot on the river side of Highway 9 between Felton and Santa Cruz.  Technically, it is at the top of the Rincon Fire Road, but this is not too helpful.  Look for the only large patch of bare dirt covered by cars with bike racks and you are probably there.  The trailhead is down the road (towards Santa Cruz) about 200 yards on the hill side of the road. This is the start of Rincon, a nice singletrack through the redwoods running parallel to the highway but up the hill a ways. This will empty out on a fireroad, where you should head up the hill. Take the singletrack on the right just before the gate across the fireroad to enter the UCSC campus and get on the U-Con (University Connector) trail.

Park: Pogonip/UC Santa Cruz/Cowell St. Park/Pogonip
Date: Multiple
Distance: About 20 miles
Ride Time: Various...about 2 hours
Total Ascent: 2,492 feet
Map: Detailed trail map for Pognip/UCSC/Wilder
Overall Rating: 8

U-Con heads up the hill at a very manageable grade, taking you through more forest. At the signboard, take the single track on the right through the forest.  This is a nice ride that continues up the hill but at a slower rate. This will bring you back to Chinquapin, one of the main fire roads. From here, you are on your own. You can continue up Chinquapin or explore some of the other fireroads.

A very nice alternative to U-Con is the Emma McCrary trail that starts at the Rincon-U-Con junction. This is a newer trail built in 2013 with lot of volunteer help from Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz (MBOSC). It is fast and flowy and very pretty. The other end comes out near River Street, so this trail can be done as an out-and-back or you can detour into the city for eats or some sight seeing.

You can only find these by looking carefully or hooking up with a local. Many sport colorful names like "Birth Canal", so you can imagine that long hours have been spent thinking up clever names. These trails are lots of fun. They are very narrow, twisty trails that seem to go forward, then sideways, then backwards. The distance "as the crow files" is relatively short, but these trails are very different from most of the cross country trails we ride, making them a fun change.  Going too far down the hill (back toward Highway 9) takes you into Henry Cowell State Park where riding is not permitted.  This area is steep and challenging and is probably too much for beginners and some intermediates.  Riders who try it should be very careful at the bottom since it drops out steeply directly on the highway where it would be easy to be hit by a car that doesn't see you coming.

Part of the fun of this ride is the local lore.  Like Fight Club, the first rule is don't talk about it.  Just have fun and mind your manners.  Don't do anything stupid that would jeopardize the trails for your future rides or other riders.

Several "roads" meet at the water tank junction and it is a good place to meet people and exchange information. To the east is a road that leads down to campus. Continuing straight ahead at this junction is the way to go here.

The far end of Chinquapin crosses Empire Grade and enters Wilder.  It is a pretty fun ride to combine both Pogonip/UCSC and the upper parts of Wilder in a single ride.  Wilder has more grasslands and sustained climbs than Pogonip/UCSC, bringing a little something different to the ride.  When you have had enough, head back the way you came.

Heading down the hill from parking area at the start begins a fireroad descent to the San Lorenzo River. The trail then winds along the banks of the river. According to the maps, there are at least two place where one should be able to cross the river. We were there shortly after some very heavy rains, so the river was running very high was was clearly unpassable without a bridge, but we did not see a bridge anywhere.

By the way, a good spot to stop after a Pogonip ride is at Taqueria Los Pericos on Water Street in Santa Cruz. They have very tasty tacos and other good Mexican food that really hits the spot after a ride. Parking in their very small lot is tight but usually available.  We have tried a taqueria in Felton, but it was not as good.

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