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Wilder Ranch is one of our favorite places to ride. We get there about once a month for a very enjoyable ride. Ther are lots of different types of terrain, lots of animals, and other nearby rides.  Located just north of Santa Cruz, Wilder has something for everyone. The park contains 4,505 acres with 34 miles of trails, all of which are bike accessible. The terrain varies from an absolutely flat ride along the cliff above the ocean (great for the kids), through grassy fields, creeks, and redwood forests.

Park: Wilder Ranch State Park
Date: Lots of times
Distance: 9.25 to 30.55 miles
Ride Time: 1:28 to 3:33 hours
Total Ascent: 200 to 3,780 feet
Map: Detailed trail map
Overall Rating: 9

Rides start at the park headquarters. You can park on the highway, but there have been multiple reports of break-ins so paying the park entrance fee is both the right and safe thing to do (we have never had a problem in the Wilder parking lot). As of mid-2009, the parking fee has increased to $10.

Almost all of our rides are on the east side of the highway. You get there by riding down the hill from the parking lot and going between the houses on the left (walk your bike area), past the barn and through a tunnel under Highway 1 to the first gate. Make sure to pick up a map here or at the entrance kiosk. Your choices are now to ride up Englesman Loop Trail (both ends of the trail are just across the bridge) or the Wilder Ridge Loop Trail (sharp left turn and then up the hill). We usually take the Wilder Ridge Loop because it is singletrack and more interesting.

I will try to describe some of the main trails below (it is probably easiest to follow along on the detail map):

  • The easiest ride (or stroll) is the Old Cove Landing Trail. Head out of the parking lot to the south (toward the beach) and go across the railroad tracks. This trail is runs along the top of the bluff overlooking the ocean. It has great views and lot of birds. This is a great ride for the smallest kids because it is wide, flat, and easy. There are lots of hikers and baby carriages, so watch your speed. Past the Fern Grotto, the trail offically becomes the Ohlone Bluff Trail (named after the local Indian tribe), but the ride does not become any tougher. However, this area can stay muddy for a while after rains. My kids discovered this and were pretty frustrated the first time they tried to ride it (there were also some muddy shoes and pants to clean). The trails are about 4 miles long. Turn around when you get back to the highway and ride back unless your group is ready to climb some hills.
  • Wilder Ridge Loop Trail seems like two different trails. The lower section is a nice singletrack with some small ups and downs. It winds across the hillside following the contours and running above a creek. I like this section of trail because it is fun. You don't have to grind up a hill, but there are little twists, waterbars, sand, gravel, gullies, and other small obstacles to make an interesting ride that can be done at a fair speed. If you keep your eyes open, there is quite a bit of wildlife along this trail. In the spring, there are wildflowers everywhere. If you skip the Zane Gray Cutoff, the trail drops down to cross a creek and then heads up a grass (and springtime flower) covered hill to the stables. Upon reaching the stables, it is time to start climbing. The trail narrows down to about 10 inches and is basically a narrow path that has no turns or switchbacks, running parallel to a park boundry, a road, and toward the top, a dump. It seems to get steeper the higher you go, but there are almost flat sections between the climbs. It is still a nice ride. This path gets easier each time we do it (the first one seemed like a near death experience). In the spring there are sections that almost close up with grass and shrubs growing over the trail. There is one small hill that we haven't mastered yet. It requires a short steep climb, but about two thirds of the way up just as you are ready to apply some power, the solid ground is replace by broken stone onto top of solid stone. The resulting simultaneous loss of momentum and traction can bring you to a stop. It flattens out a bit at the top before the junction with the Enchanted Loop, Eucalyptus Loop, Twin Oaks, and upper part of the Wilder Ridge Loop trails. The upper portion of the Wilder Ridge Loop trail is a fireroad that is the fast, easy way to the bottom ('nuff said).
  • The Zane Gray Cutoff bridges between the lower and upper parts of the Wilder Ridge Loop Trail. This can be ridden either uphill or downhill, but we seem to ride up more often than down (for no particular reason). Since it is fairly steep, one could reasonably question our intelligence in this choice.
  • The Eucalyptus Loop Trail is one of the main loops in the upper part of the park. This has lots of variety, from open meadows, through forests, and down and up ravines. The southern end of the trail is a nice singletrack through the redwood forest that drops down to cross a creek and then climbs back out. This is a very nice section of trail that you should explore. There are some picnic tables at the top of the loop at the junction with Chinquapin Trail that are a natural point to take a break and enjoy the view out to the ocean. The western part of this trail is basically a fire road that goes from the Chinquapin junction to the junction with the Enchanted and Wilder Ridge loops.
  • Old Cabin Trail is another great trail. This is mostly wooded and drops down to a creek crossing and then climbs out. I really enjoy this section because there are several sections that just take your breadth away. I have taken a few pictures, but even the good ones just don't capture the effect. Even in the summer this section remain moist and cool. Old Cabin connects between the Eucalyptus Loop, the bottom of Long Meadow, and the top of Englesman Loop trails, so this is a handy trail.
  • Long Meadow Trail is the main eastern route to the top. This is a gentle but steady climb to the top. Most of this trail is grasslands, so there is little protection from the elements. This section can be hot in the summer. We were once caught in a rain storm on this section that not only soaked us but also cut our speed in half as we sank into the mud. This is a very fast downhill if you come down this way.
  • Chinquapin Trail connects the northern edge of the park (and UCSC) with the other trails. This is an especially fast trail when coming downhill as it is fireroad with a pretty good surface. Near the bottom (junction with Eucalyptus Loop) there is a section of washboard formed from the underlying rock. This gets pretty exciting if you hit it at a high enough speed.
  • Woodcutter's Trail heads west from near the junction of Chinquapin and Long Meadow. This is a nice trail through a forest and down the hill. This is usually a pretty good ride, but it can get sponge-like in the winter and is subject to becoming impassable in sections that don't drain well. The far end doesn't connect to anything else in the park.
  • Englesman Loop Trail is an eastern loop that is mostly used for transit to or from the other trails. This is basically a fire road with a steady, gentle climb/descent. The eastern-most leg of the trail runs along the eastern boundary of the park. There is a nice unlabelled singletrack that runs parallel to eastern-most leg of the trail that is especially nice for descending as it is a gentle slope and fairly straight. If you dare, you can ride as fast on this singletrack as on the fireroad. The western leg has been detoured from the junction with Wild Boar above to a point below. This means that the fire road has been replaced by singletrack, so this is a net improvement.
  • Cowboy Loop is the easternmost loop in the park. The trail starts and ends just over the bridge at bottom of Engelsmans Loop. The northern leg follows a creek through a pretty wooded section before it hits a climb. This climb is steep and pretty loose (at least in the summer) but it quickly gets you to the top and out into the grassland. It runs into some gates to a private ranch, so the only alternative is to head down toward the highway. This eventually takes you back into the forest and then back to the starting point.
  • The Enchanted Loop Trail is one of the premier trails in the park. The southern section is fireroad that mostly serves to connect the two ends of the northern section ('nuf said). The southern section is the singletrack highlight. The trail can be ridden from either end, but the generally recommended direction starts from the southwest end of the trail. Follow the signs off of the fireroad onto a singletrack and then take the first singletrack on the right. This quickly takes you to the top of a fairly steep descent that includes many roots that form steps in the trail. Some people can real go fast down this section but I prefer a more moderate and controlled speed. The bottom of the downhill makes a sharp left turn onto a very nice narrow singletrack through ferns and redwoods. This is followed by another, less steep single track that is a lot of fun. After a short roughly flat section, it is time to pay for all of the descending but climbing up a pretty steep trail back to the junction with the bottom of Eucalyptus Loop. This climb is doable, but it takes some determination. Of course, the route can be attempted in the opposite direction. If you do this, watch your speed on the initial downhill has you can pick it up in a hurry and there are several ruts looking to grab your tires. Save some energy for the climb out on the other end as you will need a lot to climb the hill and go over the steps.
  • The western side Baldwin Loop Trail trail is a great way to get back to the bottom. It is all downhill, with the upper part being fast, rocky descent and the bottom part going down a more open hillside to a former farm. One time during the spring, the bottom portion was covered with very long grass (well over our heads), making the trail completely invisible. The trail was identified as being the least dense path through the grass. Fortunately, we did not find any surprise obstacles during this "green out". Other times, this section of trail can have lots of nettles. Tough it out! At the bottom, there is another tunnel connecting to the end of the Ohlone Bluff Trail. The eastern side of the loop is more of a fireroad. My recommendation is to use the eastern side for climbing and the western side for descending.

We like to refresh after the ride at Taqueria La Cabana. It is close by on Mission Street in an orange building, on the way back to the freeway for most people. It is a small, hole-in-the-wall place but the food is good. I have come to look forward to this important part of the ride and others find it a convenient excuse to suggest cutting the ride short!

All in all, Wilder is a great place to ride, so we do it often. We have seen lots of different animals there, lots of wildflowers, great redwood forests and open views. We have taken several good pictures and the weather is usually cooperative. This is what rides are supposed to be like. The UCSC and Pogonip trails are just across the street from the top of Wilder (the Chinquapin trail cross the road), so this is an excellent extension to a Wilder ride. There are also some other trails in Wilder that have not been mentioned.

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