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. 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.
From Santa Cruz, go north on Highway 1 about 2 miles past Western Drive and turn left.
By Bus: Take Santa Cruz METRO route 20 or 69A.
Things to doTrails
A 35-mile network of multi-use trails crosses the park. Bicycles, please obey 15 mph speed limit; stop when approaching a horseback rider; walk bicycles through ranch complex and be respectful of hikers.Interpretive Programs
The Cultural Preserve area — a rodeo arena, ranch buildings, and three restored workshops run by water power — has early farm implements and tools. Docents at Wilder Ranch often dress in period clothing for interpretive tours and living history demonstrations. Check the calendar for program topics and times.Beach Area
Wilder Ranch has several pocket beaches, some of which are popular surf breaks.
The Visitor 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. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday to Sunday.
The ParkStore sells many hard-to-find books on local history, plus other items relating to the cultural and natural history of the park. All proceeds stay local to fund park operations, restoration efforts and educational programs. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday to Sunday.
Fees and Passes
Parking is $10 and supports the park. Annual State Parks passes also are available to purchase at the entrance kiosk.
- Picnic areas
- Accessibility: 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.
- Interpretive programs
- Horse camp
There are six first-come, first-served sites for visitors with horses. For access to the horse camp, call 831-423-9703. There is no other camping offered at the park.
Ranch Kids Days, a weekday program, provides children on school field trips with a local history experience guided by volunteer docents. In addition, special events are scheduled on weekends throughout the year. Check the park’s activity pages for details or call (831) 426-0505.
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.
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 1871 Levi K. Baldwin and Deloss D. Wilder purchased 4,160 acres of the former rancho and built a 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, 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 to purchase the property and in 1974 State Parks acquired the land. Wilder Ranch State Park celebrated its 40th year in 2014.
- Fires and smoking are not permitted on any trail.
- All natural and cultural park features are protected by law. Do not remove or harm plants, animals or other features of the park.
- Bicycles, please obey 15 mph speed limit; stop when approaching a horseback rider; walk bicycles through ranch complex and be respectful of hikers.
- Dogs are not allowed in the park.