Tuesday, September 14, 2010

4 Mile Beach: Wilder Ranch State Park

Wilder Ranch State Park is a popular stopping point for many Santa Cruz families and can be crowded on weekends. The north edge of the park is much less popular however, and importantly has no entry fee for its parking lot off the side of Hwy 1. No formal trailhead exists, and the trails (even those listed on the map) are sometimes difficult to follow and require small stretches of very steep climbing. What the north trails lack though they make up for in beauty especially the 4 mile beach trail.

Directions:

From Santa Cruz
  • Take Mission Blvd (Hwy 1) North towards Pescadero/Half Moon Bay
  • Exit left into dirt parking lot just past Jacobs Farm

The parking lot is informal, and at first I wondered if I was in the right place. There are no signs which indicate anything about Wilder Ranch State Park. From the parking lot, several small trails connect to a large dirt road which traces the edge of Jacobs Farm (a working farm) on down to 4 Mile Beach. A couple was having engagement photos taken, and groups of friends went running by on down to the beach.

After about half a mile the trail quickly dumps out on to the beach. A mostly informal, but ever so slightly maintained trail leads of the left side up the bluff just before the trail hits the sands of the beach. The tidal zone, and sea stacks on the south end of the beach are accessable from the main beach, but far enough to make hiking across the sands less preferable to tracing the bluffs.

At the top of the first bluff, in the shade of three evenly placed Eculayptus trees we looked out on the beach go'ers. On Labor Day I was keenly aware the afternoon was very much a farewell to summer. The trail continues, somewhat uncomfortably close to the farm fields as the sea stack on the south end comes into sight. The 200 foot sea stack is spectacular, rising directly from the pacific ocean.

A great vantage point on the stack sits just off the main trail on scrub brush covered plateau. After hanging out on the cliffs I eventually descended another informal path down the bluff (a scramble, but easy enough) to the base of the sea stack in the spray of the ocean. At the bottom the power of the ocean is overwhelming as the waves crash against the rocky shore. Two flat rocks, north of the stack particularly caught my eye as waves would roll over them causing a cascade of water to slowly filter out of them before the next wave crashed against it.

South, up to the beach, is more tide pools to be explored, and a stretch of the coast I always find enjoyable to visit. Though waves may send ocean spray towering tens of feet into the air, the rocks above the ocean were fairly dry and not subject to much spray. After photographing the ocean for a bit I headed back towards the car. On the hike back a string of Pelicans flew by, using the updrafts from the bluffs to trace their way up the coast towards the north.

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