Wilder Ranch State Park is located just north of Santa Cruz, California. The park was formerly a dairy ranch, established in the late 19th century by the Wilder family and operated until 1969. http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=549 Before this area was a dairy ranch, the land was part of a Mexican Land Grant called Rancho Refugio. Prior to the arrival of the Mexicans, the Ohlone tribe of Native Americans lived along this area of the coast. The state of California is in the process of restoring the original Wilder family homes and the farm buildings. The park has 34 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails located both along the coast and up in the hills above the Pacific Coast Highway.
Up to now, I have been hiking in the Santa Cruz mountains above Silicon Valley. So, I decided to change things up a bit and take the Old Cove Landing Trail and the Ohlone Bluff Trail for my first coastal hike.
Wow! As always, the California Coast was breathtaking! The Old Cove Landing Trail starts out at the main parking lot and heads through a protected marsh area that was alive with hundreds of coastal birds and wildflowers. The trail then hugs the coastal cliffs for several miles and overlooks the pacific ocean:
The Pacific Ocean was busy working on revealing the ancient seafloor that makes up the geography of this area of the coast. The trails were well used on this day…but, didn’t ever seem crowded. I did notice that my typical 20-30 minute per mile hiking speed took a big hit on this day. I kept stopping to admire the view and take pictures! I also noticed fellow hikers and bikers who would move down the trail, stop and admire the view, and then move down the trail another 200 yards. We would all then repeat this process all over again! Only the locals seem to be unimpressed with the view. They were content to lay around and sun bathe all day!
The Old Cove Landing Trail is approximately 2.5 miles and leads to a – you guessed it – old cove where sailing ships used to dock and load lumber that had been cut from the Santa Cruz Mountains. Upon reaching the cove, I took the beach trail down to explore the beach and a cave that has ferns growing from the roof! The ferns are fed by fresh water springs located on top of the cliff. As you stand at the entrance of the cave, one can see water dripping from the roof onto the ferns and then, splash, onto the floor of the cave. I took about 20 pictures to try to capture this phenomenon. I will have to keep working on getting better with my camera! The trail out of the Old Cove led through a field of wildflowers and back up on to the cliffs. At this point, the Ohlone Bluffs Trail begins winding past an artichoke farm located right along the coast and then back to the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
I hiked along the Ohlone Bluffs Trail for another mile or so and then turned around and hiked back along an inland trail that leads to the Wilder Ranch Dairy Farm. If you have the time, I would recommend a trip through the Wilder Ranch State Park visitor center. There are some informative displays of the history of the area and of the wildlife to be found at the park. There is also a small gift shop that offers maps, t shirts, books, etc.
I would rate this 4.5 mile hike as easy. It is flat and family friendly. There are no rails along the cliffs…but, the trail is wide enough to feel perfectly safe. Trails: Old Cove > Ohlone Bluffs > Park Trail to Wilder Family Farm. You can extend your out and back up to 10 miles by continuing along the Ohlone Bluffs Trail.
That’s 12 hikes and 73.9 miles! 28 hikes and 126.1 miles to go. I will not forget my day spent at Wilder Ranch State Park. Don’t be surprised if you see this hike repeated! Until next time, if you are looking for me, I’m over the hill.