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Bluffs, a Beach Cave, and the Historic Ranch

Wilder Ranch SP: A 1/2 day visit to the lower park.
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Difficulty: Easy
Length: 3.5 miles
Duration: 1-3 hours
Family Friendly

Overview:  This particular walk will give you just a taste of what Wilder Ranch has to offer. The park has 34 miles of hiking, biking and... more »

Tips:  Location:
The park is located north of Santa Cruz, immediately west of Highway One, approximately 1.8 miles past the Western Drive... more »

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Points of Interest

1. Park HQ

The park's offices and maintenance facility. The Visitor Center is located down the Trail Head at the restored Wilder Ranch farm buildings.

2. Parking

The parking area is quite large, capable of handling trailers and bus tours. It is located behind and east of the park rangers’ offices. Restrooms are available.

3. Trail Head

The Trailhead is located on the eastern side of the parking area at the picket fence.

The trail down to the farm is through the fence. The trail to the bluffs is the track fronting the fence to its seaward end.

Take the Old Cove Landing Trail out toward the coast.

Old Cove Landing Trail is a bluff-top trail that leads to a historic cove that... More

4. Park Interpretive Point 1

5. Railroad Crossing

Abandoned Union Pacific railroad grade. One of the park's rangers indicated that this right-of-way (ROW) may have been granted over to Santa Cruz County with the intention of using it for tourism.

Cross the tracks and follow the trail. To the east, the valley is part of the Wilder Beach Natural Preserve. It is closed to the public and part of the... More

6. Views overlooking the Preserve

Views overlooking the Wilder Beach Natural Preserve.

7. Poison Oak

Here you will see some good examples of poison oak.

It's amazing how many people don't know what poison oak looks like. The plants in this area are easy to spot examples.

"Leaflets three, let it be". "Berries white, poisonous sight". In this region the poison oak has medium-sized, lobed dark green leaves. The plant grows as ... More

8. Wilder Beach Natural Preserve

Wilder Beach Natural Preserve will be visible for much of this leg.

Keep an eye out for small animals and birds of prey. I ran into several jackrabbits on the trail.

The trail is in generally good-to-outstanding condition(made of packed earth with fine gravel in spots).

9. Beach Views

10. Bench Overlooking Wilder Beach

An expansive view of Wilder Beach and the watershed.
Interpretive signage with a focus on the bird-life using the wetlands habitat.

Species include: Pigeon Guillemots, Pelagic Several Cormorant Species, Brown Pelicans, Peregrine Falcons, and Plovers.

11. Park Interpretive Point 4

12. Junction: Side Path to Point

A minor footpath out to a point overlooking Wilder Beach.

Unfortunately the trail is closed part of the way out.

13. Side Trail out to Bluff. The path to the outer end is CLOSED.

Take the path as far as the “closed” sign and go no further.

Zoom in on the image and enjoy the sea arch under the trail. The end of the trail out on the point has also fallen away in a collapse.

When done, return to the trail.

14. Park Interpretive Point 5

15. Side Trail to the Bluffs

A short side trail to a section of the bluffs.

This exposed section of the shoreline has had its topsoils stripped by winter storms. When the tide is out the rocky bench below the bluffs is above water. When the water is clear you can see all the way to the bottom.

A rough bit of coastline

16. View from the Bluffs

At the exposed tip of the bluffs with an expansive view back to Wilder Beach.

17. Bluff View into a Pair of Inaccessible Coves and Seas Caves.

Rough, narrow little beaches with caves. Break out the sea kayak.

18. Junction: Out to the Point.

A side trail out to the point.

19. Views Out on the Point

Looking at the secluded coves from the westerly side and west out along the coast.

The rock shelf below is a sunning spot for the local and migratory seals.

20. Cliff Erosion

A point where the cliff has eroded into the trail area. It's roped off.

21. View Overlooking the Fern Grotto Cove

22. Park Interpretive Point 8

23. Junction: Trail down to the Fern Grotto and Beach

Take the side trail down the slope to the beach.

24. Trail Junction

Head into the draw down to the beach.

Be careful when crossing rocks and muddy surfaces. If it's been raining recently, it can get slippery down toward the bottom at the mouth.

The upper trail is a shortcut returning a bit farther along the bluff trail.

25. Fern Grotto and Beach

Surrounded on three sides by bluffs, a secluded and private spot. The first thing you’ll notice will be the stillness. The beach is well sheltered from winds encountered up on the bluffs. The beach is clean..

On this visit there was a strong undertow in the surf out-wash so it might be a good idea to keep all but the strongest swimmers out of... More

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26. View Over an Unnamed Cove

A narrow box cove with an offshore rock bench. There is a trail down. Wave action has scoured the sands at the shoreline-a clear sign that it can get rough down there in the winter.

Keep an eye out for seals on the bench.
It looks like a fun place to visit by kayak though it might get a bit turbulent for diving.

27. Junction Down and along the Bluffs

The path down to the cove.

More views along the bluff as we head westerly.

28. Junction: Trail Down to Sand Plant Beach

Sand Plant Beach is a fairly wide expanse of sand at the opening of a long draw inland with an extensive estuary system.

Only the beach is on park land-everything inland (in the vegetation) is on private property. This beach is an active nesting ground. The dune grasses tend to be delicate so it might be a good idea to keep off them.

The... More

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29. Views along the Gulch

The trail follows the top edge of the gulch and eventually meets the adjoining park farmlands.

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30. Junction and Farm Buildings

A road heads westerly down into the gulch where it tapers into a trail. Remember that the gulch is privately owned and not part of the park.

Our path at this point becomes part of the farm driveway, passing the buildings and field hand parking.

Keep an eye open for work vehicles.

31. Railroad Grade Junction

Follow the driveway down to the railroad grade.

The track is the next junction that allows for two options.

This walk will turn east and follow the tracks back toward the trail head.

Heading west and following the tracks will access the Ohlone Bluff Trail, Strawberry Beach, 3- and 4-mile beaches, and the westerly portions of the park that... More

32. Junction, Returning to WP 5

Head back toward the parking lot and trail head. The next junction is just around the corner.

33. Junction to the Old County Road and Historical Wilder Ranch compound

This is a return to WP 4. Head inland on the trail toward the Wilder Ranch compound.

On the way active croplands will lie to the east down-slope from the trail and you will get your first views of the Old Victorian farmhouse.

34. Junction: Main Path to the Farm

This is the path leading from the parking area to the farm. Head downhill.

35. Junction: Old Coast Road

Imagine the drive before HWY 1

36. Wilder Ranch Farm Compound

The homes and Dairy Farm center open up-to a welcoming place.

A very active interpretive effort, with all sorts of hands-on activities, happens here. Docents -frequently in costume-give visitors a fantastic opportunity to taste the skills needed to operate a turn of the century dairy farm.

For kids, it's a great opportunity to interact with the ... More

37. Museum, Park Store, and Offices

A 1940s era farm house which houses the Visitor Center has a focus on Santa Cruz farming, dairy, environmental restoration efforts and natural history, and the Ohlone Indians’ way of life.

38. Workshop: Machine Shop.

An amazingly complete workshop containing lathes, mills, and essentially most of the tooling needed for any repair of farm equipment.

Of real interest is that the shop is all belt-driven. It was powered by a compact device called the Pelton Water Wheel that was installed in 1889. A small turbine connected to a free falling water supply The... More

39. Blacksmith's Shop

A fully functional blacksmith's shop capable of doing all the work required on an operating dairy.

40. Equipment Shed

An open sided building packed with antique farming implements, tractors, and heavy farm tools.

41. Garage

Behind it to the north is the Corn Crib.

42. Bollcoff Adobe

The 1790s era Bolcoff Adobe. Joseph Bolcoff actually doesn't appear in the ranch’s history until 1849-50. From 1791 to 1835, all of the land west of Mission Santa Cruz was called Rancho Arroyo del Matadero (“ranch of the streambed slaughtering ground”), where mission cattle were butchered. In the 1830s, the land was left to the three daughters of ... More

43. Victorian House

A 1920s era Victorian House

44. Farm House

1860s Meder Home (doubled by the Wilders 1899-1903).

The original farmhouse was built by Moses Meder in the late 1870s. The structure spent decades boarded-up, padlocked and deteriorating. The Meder farmhouse has been restored to its early 1900s appearance, complete with replica furnishings, supplies, and the necessities of early 20th century... More

45. Horse Barn

This is an intricate structure in regard to its architectural details and craftsmanship. Horses seem to have been of great importance, value, and pride for the Wilder family through the generations.

A great architectural and historical resource on the barn and several additional ranch buildings are in the Historic American Building Survey,... More

46. Granary

Likely built between 1879-1892 during a period of dairy expansion on the ranch.

This building is on the Historic American Building Survey, Library of Congress.

47. Cow Barn

Behind to the east is the Bull Shed.
Under the trees to the north is the Calf Weaning Shed.
And in line just further north is a Feeding Shed.


The lower floor of the cow barn is open to the public. Today it is used for the display of antique wagons, carriages, and animal drawn field tools. The building is also used to store materials needed in... More

48. Junction

Head back to the parking area retrace the route back to the path to the trail head.

49. Trail Head Return

Return up the short hill to the trail head.

50. Entrance Kiosk.

Entrance kiosk.

51. Park Entrance

Park Entrance:

1401 Old Coast Road
Santa Cruz, CA 95060