Wilder Ranch (Ohlone Bluff Trail and Baldwin Loop)
29% SINGLETRACK53% FIRE ROAD18% 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...
This ride is one of the easiest routes you can ride at Wilder Ranch (with the exception of a simple out-and-back solely along the flat Ohlone Bluff Trail). I wanted to do this ride to try Baldwin Loop for the first time. If you insist on parking in the main parking lot of the park, this is one way of getting to it. (Another option would be to take Highway 1 there and back.) This might not make sense to everyone, because, if all you want to do is Baldwin Loop (and Enchanted Loop), you can simply park on the side of the road closer to the western end of this ride, where the ride crosses Highway 1. That way, you can just do the the 5.5-mile Baldwin and Enchanted loops, or string that along with other parts of the park further uphill, and bypass the coastal part of this ride. This particular route is simply a way of making Baldwin and Enchanted loops a bit more worth the drive (in my case, the long drive) here, while keeping this an easy ride.
The ride starts out on the coast. It follows the pancake-flat Ohlone Bluff Trail through most of its length as it follows the edge of the coastal bluff. Other than scoping this trail out for a future ride with casual-biker family members and small kids, and the opportunity for stopping at a couple of small beaches, this trail doesn't have too much to offer to a mountain biker. Unless, that is, you count the 180-degree "full-frontal" view of the ocean.
Near the western end of Ohlone Bluff Trail, this route has you crossing "4 Mile Beach" by a shortcut trail while Ohlone Bluff Trail diverts away from the coast (for a third time) to go around a sizable "inlet". The start of this shortcut trail was quite overgrown with grass and easy to miss when I rode here, so you might need to look around a little bit to find it.
Once the route crosses Highway 1, the trail follows along the outer edge of an old wooden fence for a very brief distance past a few ranch buildings. Right after you leave the fence behind, you reach the point where you should take a fork on the trail toward the right, to start a counter-clockwise traversal of Baldwin Loop. This beginning of Baldwin Loop was extremely overgrown when I did this ride in the spring of 2010. (See the photos.) Unfortunately, it was overgrown not only with grass but also with some thorny plants. You'll have to brave some scratches to make it through this thicket. It's only a few yards long, though.
Having left the "hidden" entrance of Baldwin Loop behind, the trail starts out as a rocky and wide singletrack, but quickly disappears into grass (again, at least as of the spring-time ride that I did here). If you pay attention, the trail can still be tracked. You'll be in this tall-grassed section until you make a left turn to head straight inland. You'll still get the occasional thorny thistle brushing up against you along that grassy stretch, but it's nothing like the start of the trail.
Baldwin Loop soon attains the appearance of many of the fire roads in this park: flat, with cut-rock surfaces in some places. This is not the interesting part of Baldwin Loop (unless you count that "adventure" at its start). The interesting part will come in the downhill return. This part of Baldwin Loop is just for taking you to Enchanted Loop, as far as this particular ride is concerned.
What follows is Enchanted Loop. This is one of my favorite parts of this park's trail network. I prefer doing it 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.
Note that this ride predates some changes made to Enchanted Loop. The later parts of that loop are now a very pleasant and gently climbing singletrack that doesn't follow very closely the line of the old, ugly, and steep climb out. To see the current route and GPS track of Enchanted Loop (not to mention its updated photos), see the "Wilder Ranch (Enchanted Loop via Wild Boar Trail)" ride.
After you finish Enchanted Loop, you find your way pretty much back to the beginning of the same loop, but this time take the western half of Baldwin Loop toward the coast. This trail is a very narrow singletrack. It's literally one-foot wide over most of its length. It initially starts out crossing a meadow and then begins to enter more vegetation as it nears the bottom of this little valley. You go through some tall grass in a number of spots and need to brush up against bushes once in a while, but it doesn't become too overgrown until very near its end. At the time of my ride here, I had to push my way through stinging nettle and many other plants a number of times. Normally, they don't give you much more than a slight burn on your skin for a short while, but you might want to think hard in case you're especially allergic to plants like this. There was also some poison oak in the mix in some of these overgrown trail segments. So, be careful.
When you reach Highway 1, this ride takes the road back to the parking lot. It's a pretty quick return, and slightly downhill on average. Of course, if you've parked in the park's main parking lot and have really enjoyed Ohlone Bluff Trail, your other option is to take Ohlone Bluff Trail again back to your car. I believe that route is 2.5 miles longer than the return by road, but the duration will change more than what that additional distance would imply, since whizzing along Highway 1 will be faster than pedaling on a dirt trail, no matter how flat the trail.
© Ergin Guney
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