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Old Landing Cove

Wilder Ranch State Park

May 22nd, 2005

2.5 miles
160 vertical feet
Total Time: 2:15

Rating: 6/10

Directions: From Santa Cruz, take Highway 1 north for about 4 miles. Turn left at the signed entrance into Wilder Ranch State Park. Go to the entrance station (parking is $6), then park in the main lot.   View Driving Map

The sun was shining brightly as we pulled in for a late afternoon hike (around 3pm). The Old Landing Cove trail starts out near the bathrooms at the parking lot. It quickly joins a wide dirt road and crosses some train tracks and heads for the ocean.

Wilder Ranch is known for mountain biking. However, the western (coastal) portion of the park probably has a lot fewer mountain bikers. We ran into a scattered few, but the trail is wide enough that it's not much of a problem. No singletrack here.

For the first part of the hike, the trail is bordered on either side by tall thistle and fennel plants. After veering right, you'll reach a small wooden platform and bench, with an overlook to Wilder Beach, which is a fenced off nature preserve.

One of many beaches on the hike (this is not Wilder Beach)

After enjoying the view, we continued along the trail, which now heads north along the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The winds were quite strong, gusting from the north as they always do in the afternoon. It's possible you'll have a more pleasant stroll if you arrive in the morning.

Sea gulls perched on the edge

We saw sea gulls, of course, a rabbit, and some lizards, but not much else in the way of wildlife. It was mainly just the wind, the waves, and a nice view of the ocean as we continued north. After about a mile, we got a view at the first cove we would visit. There were a dozen or so people already down there, as we wound our way down the trail to the beach. The cove is (I'm guessing) about 200 feet wide and 500 or so feet long. The bluffs above form a horseshoe defining the bounds of the cove. The waves crashed onto the beach and rocky shore on either side of the cove. At the back of the cove is a cave filled with ferns. It is fed by an underground spring, and water is constantly dripping from the top of the cave.

Cove wall

Closer look at cove wall

Fern cave

We took a break on the beach, enjoying the sights and sounds. Eventually we made our way back up the trail and turned left to continue north. As we rounded a corner, we saw another beautiful cove -- this one much narrower with a rock formation submerged like a submarine in the middle of it. The coastline here is dramatic, and we enjoyed more views as we approached our turnaround point, the final cove.

Narrow cove

The last cove is wider and more open than the one with the fern cave. We didn't actually go down. Instead, we just stopped partway along the trail heading down, and took in the view looking south, which is worth the extra distance from the first cove. After enjoying the view, we turned around and headed back the way we came.

View from above the cove, looking south

The large cove

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