Wilder Ranch State Park

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Wilder Ranch State Park
Restored Wilder Ranch house
Location Santa Cruz County, California, United States
Nearest city Santa Cruz, California
Coordinates 36°59′N 122°06′W / 36.983°N 122.100°W / 36.983; -122.100Coordinates: 36°59′N 122°06′W / 36.983°N 122.100°W / 36.983; -122.100
Area 7,000 acres (28 km²)
Governing body California Department of Parks & Recreation

Wilder Ranch State Park is a California State Park on the Pacific Ocean coast north of Santa Cruz, California. The park was formerly a dairy ranch, established in the late 19th century by the Wilder family and operated until 1969. The dairy ranch, in turn, was originally part of Rancho Refugio, a Mexican land grant of 1839. Historic buildings include part of the rancho adobe, the 1897 Victorian farm house and other structures. Many of these have been restored for use as a museum. There are no campgrounds; a day-use parking lot provides access to the museum. Dogs are prohibited on the trails, but many trails allow bikes or horses. The long trails and ocean views make the area a favorite of hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers.

Gray Whale Ranch[edit]

In 1996 the state acquired the adjacent Gray Whale Ranch. The 2,305 acres (9.33 km2) parcel contains many long trails, extending from the northern boundary of Wilder Ranch to the University of California, Santa Cruz campus. The addition of Gray Whale Ranch, plus more recent additions, results in a park totaling 7,000 acres (28 km2) that extends 7.5 mi (12.1 km) up-slope from the coast and creates a swath of publicly owned land from the shore all the way to the town of Felton.[1] The main ranch road (dirt) extends through Wilder Ranch to the coast, and in the other direction connects to a fire road on the UCSC campus.

The former Gray Whale Ranch also contains the ruins of a lime manufacturing operation, including a quarry and lime kilns built by early lime manufacturer Samuel Adams in the mid-19th century.[2] The ranch and lime works were later acquired by industrialist Henry Cowell.

Spelunking is one popular activity on Gray Whale Ranch, although most cavers try to prevent the location of the caves from becoming widely known. The main cave frequented by spelunkers is known as Hell Hole; the main destination inside is the Hall of Faces, a clay room where people leave sculptures and sign a book. Getting to the Hall of Faces is no easy task, and requires descending the 90 foot (27 m) vertical called the Pit. Barricades are periodically placed in the caves to prevent entry, but these barriers are typically removed fairly quickly.[citation needed]

The Gray Whale Ranch had been zoned only for logging but was considered for further development before the Save-the-Redwoods League, a private conservation group, bought the land in 1996 for $13.4 million and transferred it to the State Parks Department. The California Coastal Conservancy and the state Wildlife Conservation Board each contributed to help State Parks acquire the property for just over $1 million.[citation needed]

Marine Protected Area[edit]

Natural Bridges State Marine Reserve is a marine protected area along the coast of Wilder Ranch State Park and part of the adjacent Natural Bridges State Beach. The long, narrow Reserve area is bounded by the mean high tide line and a distance of 200 feet seaward of mean lower low water. This protected area helps conserve ocean tidal-zone wildlife and marine ecosystems.

Seaside Cliffs and beach at Wilder Ranch.


  1. ^ New trail will link Cowell, Pogonip, Wilder, and UCSC
  2. ^ Perry, Frank A.; Piwarzyk, Robert W.: Luther, Michael D.; Orlando, Alverda; Molho, Allan; Perry, Sierra L. Lime Kiln Legacies: The History of the Lime Industry in Santa Cruz County. The Museum of Art and History at the McPherson Center (2007), p.82

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