The Ultimate Sunday Hike: Wilder Ranch Santa Cruz
Today's scenic jaunt, at Wilder Ranch State Historic Park located just north of Santa Cruz on the Pacific Coast, is a wonderful hike that will appeal to people and families of all ages.
Surrounded by fields of brussels sprouts, the former Wilder Ranch (now a multi-faceted agricultural, historic, and natural preserve) is one of the gems of the State Park System, with some 4,000 acres of beach, bluffs, and inland canyons, much of which is open to public access.
Getting to Wilder Ranch is easy from Santa Cruz; just head north on Highway One for four miles until the turnoff for Wilder Ranch State Park (on the ocean side of the highway). The short park road ends at the large parking lot, where the signed trail begins. There is an admission fee.
The hike begins at the southwest corner of the parking lot and the path, an old ranch road, crosses some railroad tracks, then heads coastward past the fields of brussels sprouts (rumor has it that one out of eight a produced in the USA are grown right here). Soon you’ll catch site of fetching Wilder Beach, a natural preserve area not open to the public, where endangered snowy plovers dwell.
The trail offers a number of amazing views, both of the surging surf exploding into sea caves, plumes of spray on the headlands on the far side, and finally across bay to the Monterey peninsula and the Santa Lucia Moutains beyond.
The trail then turns north and follows the bluffs as it arrives at Old Landing Cove, which is smaller than one might imagine as a landing place for the coastal schooners of 19th Century. Watch for sea otters, and during low tide, you might see offshore harbor seals napping and sunning themselves atop the exposed rocks.
The trail continues about another half-mile along the cliff edge, offering more fabulous vistas. This is a good turnaround point that makes the hike a 3.5 mile roundtrip.
For hikers who want more, continue north following footpaths and ranch roads past Strawberry Beach, the. onto Three Mile Beach. Here, you’ll turn inland to skirt some deep gullies, and end up at the north park boundary at Four Mile Beach. Either way, it’s a great way to spend a Sunday.