The ocean side of Wilder Ranch State Park gets all the tourists, picnickers and naked sunbathers. Hardly anybody goes to the backcountry on the north side of Highway 1, and almost none of them travel on foot. Hikers probably read “popular with equestrians and mountain bikers” in the guidebooks and start turning the pages. Their loss.
Mainly, they’re missing the meadows. The Wilder Ranch backcountry is pretty much all meadow, which forces the perceptive hiker (and even people like yours truly) to ponder the concept of meadow hiking.
I never imagined there was any such thing till I wandered through Wilder Ranch’s backcountry over the course of two weekends. We don’t give much thought to any meadow not named Tuolumne, and even that Yosemite showplace doesn’t compare all that well to, say, Half Dome or El Capitan. You walk through a meadow on your way to a sexier attraction and forget about it. Usually.
Since I’d already invested one Sunday at Wilder Ranch, I figured a second trip would give me an excuse to write about it in my Mercury News column. I’d already done the coast trails, with a few miles on the north side of Highway 1 just to get a taste of the place.
On paper (or pixels), there’s not all that much to recommend the backcountry side — it’s mostly open country that skirts a few patches of forest. It does attract riders on wheel and hoof, and it doesn’t have many single-track trails.
What it does have is all these meadows. At risk of venturing into hype territory, I’ve gotta say they are marvelous meadows. Tall, green grass dotted with dandelions and baby blue-eyes. Forests of Douglas-fir at the fringes, even a few groves of young redwoods.
I ended up doing a 14-mile grand loop that started at the backcountry entrance, took the Engelsmans Loop trail to the Long Meadow Trail to the northern end of the park, then turned back south on the Chinquapin Trail to the Eucalyptus Loop Trail, then headed west on to the far edge of the park on the Enchanted Loop Trail, which I followed all the way to Highway 1, which I crossed under and headed to the beach for lunch, then took the Ohlone Bluff and Old Cove Landing trails back to the Cultural Preserve at the park HQ. (VirtualParks has a free map).
So let’s look at some pictures (double my usual complement because I saw lots of cool blooms).
One of the meadows on the Long Meadow Trail. These old roads up the hillside are not especially steep — the grade is downright gentle most of the way, which makes the meadow musing that much better.
Sometimes I just like to take a picture of pine cones.
First test question of the day: Identify these light-purple, fluted flowers. They grow on a bush up to about seven feet tall.
Second test question: identify these bluish blooms, which grow in tall grasses. I think they may be a kind of baby blue-eye.
Hey, it was Mother’s Day after all.
Test question three: identify this ground-hugging purple bloom.
An interesting sentiment to find carved into a crossbeam on a picnic table.
Still lots of miniature lupines along the trail.
The Enchanted Loop Trail has one of the rare wooded sections of trail, where I saw this iris.
Enchanted Loop also strays very close to this sheer drop-off. There’s a warning sign down the trail a ways.
Required bent-tree pic.
Test question 4: Why does this bush have this foam on it?
My favorite shot of the day: sun illuminating a poppy.
OK, on to the mighty Pacific:
Passable spot for a lunch break, I’d say. The wind was blowing a gale, which made me grateful to be walking with it behind me rather than pounding me in the face.
Test question 5: Identify these blooms seen at the edge of the beach.
A lizard pauses for his close-up.
The false lupines are out in force this year out here.
I love it when animals just seem to be soaking up the view.
Finally, a few shots from the Cultural Preserve:
Pretty old Victorian. Tours are available on the weekends, I believe.
Coastal dwellers have always had a weakness for convertibles.
Who knew a blacksmith needed so many hammers?
My granddad on my mom’s side had an old John Deere just like this one.
Rooster in repose.
So those are the highlights. The Enchanted Loop was my favorite trail (just don’t fall off the cliff).
Selected Wilder Ranch links:
- Yelp.com user reviews.
- Jane Huber’s Bay Area Hiker page.
- California State Parks page.
- Virtual Parks page with QuickTime VR panoramas.