The many faces of Wilder
Wilder Ranch
Neil Wiley

There are many ways to enjoy the 7,000 acres of Wilder Ranch. You can hike 34 miles of trails through open meadows while looking out over ocean views. You can bike from Swift Street in Santa Cruz along the coast on a dedicated bicycle path, then ride up coastal terraces through upper Wilder. Or you and your horse can share beautiful trails along the coast.

Like history? Tour Victorian homes, barns, shops, gardens, and an old adobe. Have kids? Get close to real cows, horses, goats, chickens, and other farm animals. Plan your own day, follow a self-guided tour, or walk with a docent who can enrich the experience.

If you are looking for a special family outing, be sure to check the Wilder Ranch State Park web page at, or call 831-426-0505. For example, Wilder celebrates July 4 with an old-fashioned picnic, complete with horse-drawn wagon rides, a brass band, homemade foods, and an impromptu parade. It’s great fun.

You can make your own special day by going on a docent-led tour. Just be sure to check availability.

In October, the mountain-area 55-plus group enjoyed a historical Wilder tour with docent Jan Schwind, author of the local history book South Skyline Story. Our tour started at the small visitor center that documents local history. An even smaller gift shop offers trinkets, maps, drinks, and history books.

We visited the Victorian home of Melvin Wilder, built in 1897; the Bolcoff Adobe, built circa 1839; the relatively new D.D. Wilder home built in 1948; and an old farm house that may have been built by Moses Meder in the mid-1850s. We saw the innovative, functional, and decorative horse barn from the 1890s that features tube-like boxes in the ceiling that serve as air-conditioners, tapered chutes for dropping hay into stalls, five different colors of paint, and elegant woodworking.
We also enjoyed a live demonstration of the wood-working shop where grinders, sharpeners, planers, saws, drills, lathes, and even a coffee grinder were powered by belts driven by one Pelton Water Wheel. This wheel is an amazing device that mechanized tools before Santa Cruz had electricity.

After our non-strenuous tour, we ambled around the grounds, visited animals, inspected old farm equipment, and imagined what life was like more than a hundred years ago. We then picnicked at tables near a small pasture of sheep and goats fed by magically falling apples next to a sign that said, “Don’t feed the animals.”

On previous trips to Wilder, I’ve hiked through the tunnel under Highway 1 to climb north up the coastal terraces. There are many options. The walk up Wilder Ranch Loop to about 600 feet is relatively easy, with short climbs and long plateaus. The ocean views are great. Following several trails (Wilder Ridge, Twin Oaks, and Baldwin Loop) brought me back through another tunnel to the ocean. To complete the loop, I walked along the beach, but be careful. High tides can cut you off. If you can’t find the bluff trail, you can walk north to the rail line, then follow it east back to the parking area.

If you are looking for a less strenuous hike and like your ocean close up and personal, follow the Old Cove Landing Trail from the parking lot down to the ocean and Fern Grotto Beach. You may see some interesting birds such as the Western Snowy Plover (a threatened shorebird), the web-footed Pigeon Guillemot, or migratory Pelagic Cormorants.

Details. Wilder Ranch is located about two miles north of Western Avenue, the last stoplight in west Santa Cruz. Be sure to bring six dollars in exact change for parking. If you are exploring the trails, be sure to have a map, water, sun block, and an appreciation for nature. Have fun.