For those who demand diverse scenery on their mountain bike ride—old-growth redwood groves, coast-side cliffs and sandy coves, rolling and terraced cliffs—one park has it all! Wilder Ranch State Park on the coast west of Santa Cruz is accessible and filled with beginner-friendly and expert options for trails. Rent a bike and purchase a map at Another Bike Shop. Then head west on Mission Street (behind the bike shop) until the road becomes a bike path. You’ll glide past bucolic rolling coastal farmland, straight into Wilder Ranch.
Beginners and bikers looking for a relaxing cruise along the shore should head south, where the trail dead-ends into a stop sign, and ride along Old Cove Landing Trail (3 miles out-and-back). Warm inland air mingles with the briny chill of the coastal breeze for a nice ride along the shoreline’s marine terraces and fern grottos. Lucky folks just might catch sight of dolphins, seals, and migrating whales swimming offshore below flocks of brown pelicans. Experienced bikers looking for a strenuous trek should steer towards Engelsmans Loop Trail and explore the park’s expansive system of mountain biking trails on a challenging 10-mile route that takes about 2.5 hours to complete.
Climb uphill on Engelsmans Loop for a mile through oak woodlands and coastal prairie, then stop and enjoy the view of the ocean behind you before turning onto Wild Boar Trail. After about a half mile, you’ll take a left at Old Cabin Trail, which has you bobbing and weaving through the cooling shade of coastal redwoods and the dry heat and knobcone pines of the inland grasslands. Stay left at Eucalyptus Loop, continuing through lush groves of manzanitas and redwoods, to Twin Oaks Trail. Veer left here and continue onto Wilder Ridge Loop to head downhill, back to where you began.
Another Bike Shop, 2361 Mission St., Santa Cruz, (831) 427-2232, has an incredibly knowledgeable staff and some of the best gear around, so have them deck you out with the right bike for your ride, and buy a map of the park while you’re there. $40/day for mountain bikes, $80/day for full suspension.