Wilder Ranch (Enchanted Loop via Wild Boar Trail)
64% SINGLETRACK30% FIRE ROAD5% PAVED1% ROAD
In my opinion, Wilder Ranch deserves to be ranked as one of the top mountain biking destinations in the Bay Area. While it may not have as much pure appeal to hard-core mountain bikers as Skeggs Point, Annadel, or Demo Forest does, it has a wider variety of trails compared to them (with sun-baked fire-road climbs, narrow singletrack through open meadows, an easy meander along a bluff's edge, as well as dim wooded switchbacks and technical sections), and it has a higher amount of total trail length compared to places like Camp Tamarancho and Rockville. On top of these, it is on the coast, so beautiful ocean views open up on many occassions during your ride.
Note that parking at Wilder Ranch is subject to a day use fee. As of this writing, this fee is 10 dollars, I believe. If you arrive at the park before the toll booth attendant, there's a slot where you can self pay. (It couldn't hurt to come prepared with a pen and exact change.) While there is also free roadside parking along Highway 1 just outside the park entrance and I do see a lot of people park there, I hope you find it in you to opt for the paid parking. My philosophy is to try and support these parks as much as I can (especially since I don't do other kinds of work for these parks anyway, like volunteering for trail maintenance). And if the parks suffer, we'll be the first ones to suffer along with them...
Like most rides at Wilder, this ride starts by going through the cluster of historic ranch buildings near the parking lot. Not long after you pass through the ranch buildings, there's an optional side trip available to you on Cowboy Loop, which I had included on an earlier incarnation of this ride route. This seems to be an underused trail. When done clockwise (as shown at that link), it starts under the shade of some trees, then turns to start a climb, which gets crazily steep at one particular spot. Once the short climb is over, it turns into a singletrack that crosses an open meadow, heading straight toward the ocean. This part of the trail has some holes that are big enough to catch your front wheel and cause you to endo, so be careful with your speed. The grass along the trail was recently mowed during my last ride on Cowboy Loop, but it's easy to see that this trail may frequently be overgrown. You can bypass this side loop in order to save time, as this particular ride route does.
This particular ride initially heads inland on Engelsmans Loop. The early parts of this trail are in the form of an uninteresting fire road. But, before long, you arrive at a relatively recent, windy singletrack segment that is aimed at bypassing a steep and eroded climb on what used to be the fire road continuation of Engelsmans Loop. This singletrack is a young trail as I write this, but it's still reasonably fun as it lazily meanders while climbing at a gentle rate. Plus, in my book, any new singletrack is a welcome change over the fire road that it replaces.
Wild Boar Trail is another singletrack and is even more fun. Wild Boar connects to Old Cabin Trail very shortly, which continues as a playful singletrack under tree cover. There is one very tricky left turn on Old Cabin Trail right by a creek bed, followed by a moderate climb and some almost overgrown, twisty, uphill section along a small ridgetop. After a short emergence into sunlight on Eucalyptus Loop, the ride dives back under tree cover one more time before emerging into a short spell across an open, meadowy part.
What follows that on this ride are two small sub-loops in something like a figure-8. The first one of these is Baldwin Loop. This ride does this sub-loop counter-clockwise, because that direction will allow you to descend on the singletrack portion of Baldwin Loop and climb on its fire-road half. The singletrack on Baldwin Trail is only mildly technical and even that is only at a handful of spots. It's still a fun and winding descent on bare slopes, at times with the view of the ocean in front of you. This route takes the short and (I think) little-used connector called Eagle Cutoff to shortcut to the other side of Baldwin Loop in order to climb back out. (You could also go all the way around the full Baldwin Loop, but the lower parts of this loop are not that interesting, are more overgrown, and doing this would also add even more climbing to your ride.) The trails in this part of the park are apparently underused and are more often overgrown. Eagle Cutoff might be the most overgrown of them all, but that's only for a short stretch near the lowest point of this short trail (at least as of the last time I rode this segment in the summer of 2012).
When you make it out of Eagle Cutoff, you'll be on the fire-road half of Baldwin Loop, heading uphill. The climb here is not particularly steep except for one or two brief segments. So, you'll make it to Enchanted Loop fairly quickly, which is good news, because this is one of my favorite parts of this park's trail network. I prefer doing this sub-loop in the clockwise direction (as do most, I believe) so that you can descend the short technical section and climb up the longer grueling way out. Pay attention as the trail enters tree cover at the beginning of Enchanted Loop, because the highly technical, steep, and rooty descent starts almost immediately after that. It's a short one, though. You're past the trickiest part in less than a quarter of a mile. A couple of switchbacks come after that, and then the trail settles down at the bottom of this little valley. The climb out of Enchanted Loop is a very gentle one on a pleasant and non-technical singletrack that starts in a beautiful forest setting and gets more and more sunshine as you get higher.
This route then follows another beautiful trail, the narrow singletrack of Twin Oaks Trail, flowing through an open, rolling meadow. After a short climb and a short coast on some fire roads, this leads to my second favorite trail in the park: Zane Gray Cutoff, followed by Wilder Ridge Loop to which it connects. This part of the ride will have you coasting down a (technical, in some places) singletrack along the side of a hill sloping gently down to the ocean against wide-open coastal views. The Ridge Loop portion will have you working a little bit for some of your progress, but, overall, it's more of a joy ride than anything you can call a "climb", all the way down to where you meet Engelsmans Loop again. From there, it's just the return to the parking lot.
At the beginning and end of the ride, you'll be walking through historic Wilder Ranch itself. These facilities make quite a few fun and educational activities available to families on weekends. The historic farm equipment and vehicles, and the blacksmith shop demo are definitely worth a look, especially if you're visiting the park with some little ones.
© Ergin Guney
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