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Wilder Ranch State Historic Park

Old Landing Cove Trail, Ohlone Bluff Trail

From Wilder Ranch to Old Landing Cove is 2 miles round trip;
to Four Mile Beach is 10.5 miles round trip

At Wilder Ranch State Historic Park, located on the coast just north of Santa Cruz, you get the feeling that not one stone has gone unpreserved.

The Brussels sprouts fields are in an agricultural preserve, the former Wilder Ranch is in a cultural preserve, and Wilder Beach is now a natural preserve for the benefit of nesting snowy plovers. All these preserves are found within Wilder Ranch State Historic Park, which in turn preserves some 4,000 acres of beach, bluffs, and inland canyons.

Rancho del Matadero was started here by Mission Santa Cruz in 1791. The Wilder family operated what was by all accounts a very successful and innovative dairy for nearly 100 years. The California Department of Parks and Recreation acquired the land in 1974.

The Wilder’s ranch buildings, barn, gardens and Victorian house still stand, and are open to public tours. The parks department is slowly restoring the area to reflect its historic use as a dairy.

In addition to the guided historic walks, the park boasts Old Landing Cove Trail, a blufftop path that as its name suggests, leads to a historic cove. From the 1850s to the 1890s, schooners dropped anchor in this cove to load lumber. Observant hikers can spot iron rings, which supported landing chutes, still embedded in the cliffs.

Fans of Brussels sprouts will see more of this vegetable than they ever dreamed possible; fully 12 percent of our nation’s production is grown in the state park.

Directions to trailhead: From Santa Cruz, head north on Coast Highway four miles to the signed turnoff for Wilder Ranch State Park on the ocean side of the highway. Follow the park road to its end at the large parking lot, where the signed trail begins.

The hike:
The path, an old ranch road, heads coastward. Signs warn you not to head left to Wilder Beach (where the snowy plovers dwell) and discourage you from heading right, where pesticides are used on the fields of Brussels sprouts.

The trail offers a bird’s-eye view of the surf surging into a sea cave, then turns north and follows the cliff edge.

Old Landing Cove is smaller than you imagine, and you wonder how the coastal schooners of old managed to maneuver into such small confines. If it’s low tide, you might see harbor seals resting atop the flat rocks located offshore.

One more natural attraction at the cove: a fern-filled sea cave. The ferns are watered by an underground spring.

The trail continues another half mile along the bluffs, offering vistas at seals basking on the rocks below to sandy beach. This is a good turnaround point (for a 3.5 mile round trip).

Ambitious hikers will continue north another 3.5 miles along land’s end, following footpaths and ranch roads past Strawberry Beach, and Three Mile Beach, retreating inland now and then to bypass deep gullies, and finally arriving at the park’s north boundary at Four Mile Beach. A splendid coastal hike!

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at