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Wilder Ranch State Park
Wilder Ranch State Park covers approximately 7,000 acres, with 34 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails winding through coastal terraces and valleys. Several buildings once belonging to the Wilder family have been restored. You can explore the history of early ranchers and farmers along the Central Coast through tours and living history demonstrations.
The site was originally the main rancho supplying Santa Cruz Mission, and later became a successful and innovative dairy ranch. The grounds include Victorian homes, barns, shops, gardens, and a historic adobe. Major wetlands restoration projects have attracted some of the original flora and fauna back to the area.
Dogs are not allowed at Wilder Ranch.
To learn about events in the parks and at the beaches, check out the Calendar Page.
From Santa Cruz, go north on Highway 1 about 2 miles past Western Drive and turn left.
The interpretive center has displays on the cultural and natural history of the park, plus a resource center where the visitor can get more in-depth information. A stunning mural by Marin VanDuyn covers the walls of the main room. The ParkStore/Visitor Center, in the interpretive center, sells many hard-to-find books on local history, plus other items relating to the cultural and natural history of the park. All proceeds fund park educational programs. Interpretive center and park store hours are Thursday-Sunday, 10 am-4 pm most months. They are closed Thursdays in December-February, and open extra days April-mid-June. Call (831) 426-0505 for more interpretive center information. *Due to staff furloughs in effect, please call to confirm operating hours.
- Picnic areas
- Food, lodging and supplies nearby
Horse camping only. There are six sites available; cost is $20 per night. For information and reservations, call 831-423-9703.
The cultural preserve and the Old Cove Landing Trail are ADA-accessible. Call the Interpretive Center at 831-426-0505 for current information on tour accessibility and parking, or learn more in the Hilltromper Wheelchair-Friendly Trails Guide.
Layered clothing is recommended due to changing weather conditions.
Volunteer Opportunity Available
Volunteers give heart and soul to the “Life on the Ranch” and other activities that make Wilder Ranch State Park such a fun, interesting, hands-on place to visit. Volunteer docents help with school group programs, present living history demonstrations, put on events like the annual Harvest Festival, help care for farm animals, lead hikes and building tours and host the visitor center. Wilder Ranch is especially seeking volunteers to help on weekdays with its “Ranch Kids Day” program, where school-children experience local history as they visit a host of hands-on stations led by docents.
Once a year, the park puts out an annual call for new volunteers to join their crew of “ranch-hands,” who bring the history of this early Santa Cruz dairy ranch to life. Sign-ups take place in the winter. Call (831) 426-0505 to request an information packet and become a docent at one of Santa Cruz’s most treasured State Parks.
History of the Park
Native Ohlone people made the region their homeland for millennia, and evidence shows they had villages at Wilder Ranch. From 1791 to 1835 the site was the main rancho supplying Mission Santa Cruz. In the 1830s the land, known as Rancho del Refugio, was granted to three daughters of Joaquin Castro, including Maria Candida Castro and her husband Jose Antonio Bolcoff, a Russian sailor who jumped ship to become a naturalized Mexican citizen. Bolcoff built two adobes (one of which remains today).
In 1854 Moses Meder acquired a large portion of the rancho, constructing a home, which is now the front portion of the old farmhouse known as the Meder House. He expanded dairy and farming, building a creamery, dairy barn and other buildings. In 1871 Levi K. Baldwin and Deloss D. Wilder purchased 4,160 acres of the former rancho and built a new creamery. Their partnership lasted until 1885 when the Wilder family obtained the lower lands on Meder Creek. The Wilder Family worked the land for five generations and nearly a century, building the Victorian farmhouse in 1897 and employing such innovations as harnessing water power to drive their equipment and the first electric lighting system in the county.
The Wilder Family ran the ranch until 1969 when property taxes exceeded farm income. In the 1970s, the land was proposed for a development of up to 10,000 homes. Local residents formed Operation Wilder to oppose the plan and county citizens voted to protect the open space. After continued advocacy, the State allocated $6 million for the property and in 1974 State Parks acquired the land.
Today Wilder Ranch State Park covers approximately 7,000 acres, with 34 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails winding through coastal terraces and valleys. Major wetland restoration projects have attracted some of the original flora and fauna back to the area. In the cultural complex, visitors can explore Victorian homes, barns, shops, gardens, the historic Bolcoff adobe, and discover the history of early ranchers and farmers through tours, living history demonstrations and special events.
Wilder Ranch State Park is located two miles north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1. Several buildings once belonging to the Wilder family have been restored and a portion of the park continues to be farmed by local families.
Wilder Ranch buildings include:
- Melvin Wilder Victorian, a historic Victorian farmhouse built in 1896-97 as a wedding present for D.D. Wilder’s son Melvin. The style is Queen Anne Victorian designed by local architect E.L. Van Cleek with features including turned gable ornaments, dormer windows, a semi-hipped roof and multiple gables. It overlooked the original Highway 1.
- Moses Meder Farmhouse, the first structure built by post-Hispanic ownership of the land. It was built in the 1850s in the Gothic Revival style and remodeled in 1904 and 1912. Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks restored the house — including renovating the kitchen — and operate it as a living history museum.
- Bolcoff Adobe, an adobe structure hand-built by the Bolcoff family around 1830. This is one of four remaining historic adobes in Santa Cruz County.
- Horse Barn, built 1891-92
- Workshop and Bunk House, built around 1900
- Garage, built 1903
- Bungalow, built 1945-46