Things to Do
Explore California ecology on trails that are almost all open to bicyclists, hikers, and equestrians. Maps are available in the visitors center, or you can click here.
At this cultural preserve you can experience early California ranch buildings, restored workshops run by water power, and a rodeo arena. The visitors center displays early farm implements and tools. A mission-era adobe and traces of the earlier Ohlone Indian presence are quieter echoes of Santa Cruz history. Volunteers at Wilder Ranch often dress in period clothing for interpretive tours and living history demonstrations. Take a self-guided walking tour—or call 831-426-0505 to schedule a guided tour.
There’s also a visitor center and store at the cultural preserve. Most months it’s open Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Hours are more restricted December–February and less restricted April–mid-June. Call 831-426-0505 for more information.
Wilder Ranch holds four special events each year. Old Fashioned Independence Day is the biggest, with a parade, games, crafts, and history demonstrations, including hand-cranked ice cream and Big Band music. There’s also Garden Planting and Wool Day, often in April; Heritage Harvest Festival in October; and Holidays on the Ranch in December. Tours of Gray Whale Ranch (and Wilder’s redwoods) are offered the second Saturday of each month at 9 a.m. Check the park’s activities page for details.
If you have an hour, picnic at the cultural preserve, explore the historic buildings, and say hello to the horses, chickens, and goats.
If you have half a day, hike down the Old Cove Landing Trail to the Ohlone Bluff Trail and have a picnic at Fern Grotto Beach. It’s a world of spectacular views and wildlife, including pelicans, harbor seals, sea otters, dolphins, and migrating whales.
If you have a full day, hike, bike, or ride your horse through the grassy wave-cut terraces north of Highway 1 to the lush Enchanted Loop and see some of the park’s hidden coast redwoods.
Parking and a restroom in the main lot are accessible. Visitors may require assistance to access historic structures via short, ramped entries. For current information on accessibility and parking, call 831-426-0505 or visit http://access.parks.ca.gov.
Thirty-five miles of multi-use trails wind along the coastal bluffs near the beaches, tide pools and sea caves and move up into the park’s hills and terraces to an elevation of 1,800 feet on Ben Lomond Mountain. Starting at Wilder, bicyclists can connect with trails on the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) campus and at Henry Cowell State Park.
Highly recommended adventures include
• Wilder Ridge Loop (6.3 miles) to Enchanted Loop (2 miles), which offers some of the park’s best views and redwoods.
• East Engelsmans to Wild Boar to Old Cabin (2.9 miles). At Eucalyptus (1 mile) head back down the hill to Twin Oaks (1 mile) and onto Wilder Ridge (1.5 miles) to the horse corral. A flowing ride through the trees on single-track trails.
• The descent from Empire Grade Road on the Chinquapin Trail to the Ohlone Bluff Trail by the sea (about 6 miles, depending on your route). Requires a shuttle at the other end.
• Wilder Uplands to the UCSC campus and Henry Cowell State Park. By the time you reach Graham Hill Road on the east side of Henry Cowell, you’ll have pedaled some 14 miles with an elevation change of 1,800 feet.
Whichever route you choose, take a map. There’s a free trail map in the park brochure and a $5 topographic map in the visitor center at the cultural preserve.
On weekdays at Ranch Kids Day, children on school field trips can experience local history as they sample activities at stations staffed by volunteer docents. In addition, special events are scheduled on weekends throughout the year. Check the park’s activity pages for details.
If you prefer activities centered around your own family or if you come in the off-season, you and your kids can work your way through the Adventure Guide together. Download the guide, or call 916-654-2249 to order a copy in English or Spanish.
Before heading to the park, explore the online Redwoods Learning Center, set up by Save the Redwoods League. It offers fun, redwood-themed activities, classroom tools, and ways to get involved in redwood protection. Redwoods bingo, anyone?
Trails starting at the parking lot and cultural preserve head in two directions: along the ocean bluffs and beaches and up into the hills and terraces of the backcountry. Redwoods can be found along the Old Cabin, Enchanted Loop, Woodcutters, Long Meadow, and Twin Oaks trails.
Hikers share all of Wilder’s trails with bicyclists and most with equestrians. Maps are available in the park brochure (free) and in the visitor center ($5 for a topo map).
Old Cove Landing Trail to Ohlone Bluff Trail
Trailhead: Parking lot. 2.5 miles, mostly flat.
Head half a mile down Old Cove Landing Trail to the scenic overlook above Wilder Beach, a snowy plover preserve. Just beyond, you’ll find Old Cove Landing, where schooners anchored in the 1800s. Continue along the coast on the Ohlone Bluff Trail to post 8, where there’s a spur trail leading to Fern Grotto Beach. A quarter mile beyond the spur trail is Sand Plant Beach. From there, head downhill over the railroad track and back to the parking lot.
Wilder Ridge Loop
Trailhead: cultural preserve. 6.3 miles, elevation change 600 feet
From the cultural preserve, take the tunnel under Highway One to the Wilder Ridge Loop. In about two miles (hiking counterclockwise) you’ll reach an overlook with stunning views of Monterey Bay. You can hike back from there for a 4-mile hike, or continue on to Twin Oak Trail where you can loop back onto Wilder Ridge for a 6-mile hike. You’ll travel through rolling grasslands and chaparral past magnificent coast live oaks, with a few small redwoods and Douglas-fir along the creeks. Look for deer, bobcats, hawks, and turkey vultures along the way.
Trailhead: cultural preserve. 8 miles, elevation change 600 feet
Head up the Wilder Ridge Loop, then dip down beside Baldwin Creek on the Enchanted Loop, a single-track trail that showcases some of the park’s finest (second-growth) coast redwoods, as well as elk clover, ferns, sorrel, and huge tanoaks. The quiet little ravine provides a nice contrast to the big views and wide-open spaces of the Wilder Ridge Loop.
HORSEBACK RIDING & CAMPING
Equestrians are allowed on all park trails and unpaved roads except those on the ocean side of Highway One.
Six equestrian-only campsites are available first-come, first-served year round. Call 831-423-9703 for access to this staging and horse-camping area near Dimeo Lane. There’s no other camping in the park.