Enjoy Scenic Bluffs at Wilder Ranch State Park

Santa Cruz, Ca – Winding trails which offer spectacular views of coastal bluffs and beaches make Wilder Ranch an unforgettable hiking spot. Plus, there’s incredible birdwatching to boot.

Species to Look Out For

Western Snowy Plover Circle

Western Snowy Plover

About the Park

Santa Cruz, Ca – State Park

Science Spotlight: Snowy Plovers Nesting at Wilder Ranch

Wilder Beach Nature Preserve, visible from the trails of Wilder Ranch State Park, is closed to the public from entry. The closure is for good reason – down on the beach sand, a threatened species of shorebird nests.

The western snowy plover requires sandy beaches with low vegetation to allow them to camouflage and see predators. These plovers prefer the beach zones that are also most popular to humans, and their breeding season (March – September) coincides with the period of highest beach use by humans. Disruption of western snowy plovers by human activities can result in decreased breeding success and nest site abandonment. This, along with the loss of healthy beach habitats, has resulted in the decline in western snowy plover populations.

Snowy Plovers
© Mike Baird, 2010, Flickr Photo Album, some rights reserved.

While it is estimated that their populations once numbered in the thousands, approximately 2,000 individuals are estimated to remain on our coasts today. The species was listed as federally threatened in 1993, and several initiatives on California’s beaches are actively working to restore their populations.

Park History

Wilder Ranch State Park was originally home to the Ohlone Native Americans. Their centuries of living on the land was cut short by the 1776 expeditions of Gaspar de Portolá, who transformed the area under Spanish control.

In the mid-1870’s, a portion of the land was purchased to be made into a creamery. From there, it transitioned to the control of the Wilder family. The land remained under the Wilder family’s control until 1969, when their financial circumstances resulted in a loss of the property. The land was considered for housing development, but a vote by the citizens of Santa Cruz resulted in its acquisition by the California State Park system in 1974. Thus, the area’s natural areas and rich history remain protected.

Visit the Park

Please note that there is a $10 vehicle day-use fee. Dogs are not allowed at the park.

We recommend taking the Old Landing Cove Trail (2.0 Miles), which winds easily along the coastline, offering spectacular views of coastal bluffs to the left and shrubbery to the right. If you take this trail, be sure to be on the lookout for shorebirds – especially at the viewing platform towards the beginning of the Old Landing Cove Trail.

Here are some helpful resources to help plan your visit:


Author: Taylor Crisologo

Taylor studied biology at Cornell University, where she worked with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on projects ranging from breeding herring gulls off the coast of Maine to dancing lyrebirds in Australia’s Blue Mountains. When she’s not researching great places to experience Bay Area nature, you can find her birding or reading a book at home with her husband and their two indoor cats (Max and Penelope).

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