The hills and mountains surrounding Santa Cruz provide a beautiful backdrop for a town well known for it's beaches and coastline, but that's not all that the area's topographic relief affords. The Santa Cruz area has a strong reputation for surfing, and in terms of outdoor pastimes mountain biking could be considered Santa Cruz's terra firma counterpart. The hills around Santa Cruz are home to an impressive range of riding environments, trail networks and options ranging from beginner to expert. From the technical and flowy descents found at Soquel Demonstration Forest to the redwood forests and riverside trails of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park to the ocean vistas and open riding found at Wilder Ranch, there are no shortage of unique mountain biking in the northern bend of coast on Monterey Bay.
Arguably one of the Santa Cruz's best mountain biking locales for beginner and intermediate riders, or for those simply interested in taking in the spectacular coastal scenery, can be found among the trails at Wilder Ranch State Park. Located 2 miles north and easily ridable from town, the park consists of 7,000 acres of coastal bluffs, oak-grassland and redwood-covered gulches extending from the Pacific Ocean nearly 5 miles upslope towards Ben Lomond Mountain. Lying between the ocean and the park's northern boundary at Empire Grade road (elevation 1,100 feet), are 35 miles of scenic and fun trails to explore.
Wilder Ranch is exceptionally mountain biker-friendly for a state park in that 100% of park trails are multi-use, open to both biking and hiking (most of the trails are also open to horseback riding). There is a fairly even mix between singletrack and dirt road and doubletrack, with a handful of trails providing a majority of the former. One of the highlights of riding at Wilder Ranch is the diversity of natural settings and views you'll experience: One minute you'll be flying down an open meadow overlooking the blue waters of Monterey Bay, and the next you'll be dropping into a fern-filled ravine under the canopy of a redwood forest. Ride lenths can vary from 5 to 20-plus miles depending on how you choose to combine trails within the park. For access, many ride from town north along the bike path paralleling Highway 1, but you can also drive and park within the park's paid parking area near the old ranch buildings or near the park entrance along the highway. There is a highway underpass that connects the bike path and ocean side of the park to the majority of trails on the east side of the highway. Another option is to arrange a shuttle that drops you off at the top of the park at a spot called Twin Gates off Empire Grade. This is near the highest point in Wilder Ranch State Park, and it cuts out a significant portion of climbing if you will be entering from the Highway 1 side.
Below are some suggested riding and trail options within Wilder Ranch State Park. Make sure to pick up a park brochure and download a map beforehand for reference on the trail. The park is large and can be somewhat confusing for first-timers if you are unfamiliar with the trail network.
Note: Wilder Ranch is a haven for poison oak, which can grow rampantly on the sides of trails. Be careful when you get off your bike. Remember, leaves of three, let it be.
Additonal information about visiting Wilder Ranch State Park can be found here.