Santa Cruz Section 3
Four Mile Beach Trailhead to Wilder Ranch, Wilder Ranch State Park
Finally we once again get to leave the highway behind and enjoy great blufftop walking, secluded pocket beaches and fascinating geology. This walk, entirely within Wilder Ranch State Park, hints at what Santa Cruz County's entire north coast could one day be like for the Coastal Trail. Wilder Ranch State Park allows historic use on its 5000 acres, in this case the growing of Brussels sprouts and other cool climate crops. As stewards of the natural resources, California State Parks encourages organic practices on land they manage for farming.
From the turnout parking area walk around the pipe gate and follow the well traveled trail down Baldwin Creek to Four Mile Beach at ¼ mile. You might take a break on the pleasant beach. The Coastal Trail continues south on a path climbing up to the bluff on the south side of the creek canyon. At the top, the trail follows the bluff edge down the coast.
You overlook Three Mile Beach around one mile. It's a steep descent down the bluff if you want to get to the beach. Otherwise, take the trail around the arroyo and continue along the blufftop track. After you pass Needle Rock Point, follow the bluffs to the next cove at 1¾ miles. You look down on the deeply indented cove of Strawberry Beach. Beware of the sheer cliffs here. The cliffs all along the trail consist of sedimentary rock that's been bent and tilted by earthquakes and exposed to the wave action.
Continue along the bluff edge track, following the coastline as it heads almost due east. At 2⅜ miles you skirt the rim of the deeply indented cove of scenic Fern Grotto Beach. Continue along the bluffs. Around 4⅛ miles the trail comes to a viewing platform overlooking Wilder Beach and a marsh. They have been closed to protect snowy plover nesting sites and other important habitat. The trail turns inland and follows the edge of a wide arroyo. Cross the railroad tracks at 4¾ miles and follow the road to the parking lot for Wilder Ranch State Park at 4⅞ miles.
SUGGESTED ROUND TRIPS & LOOPS: From either end of this section, walk out and back, up to 9¾ miles for the round trip.
Distance: 4⅞ miles (7.8 kilometers).
Open to: Hikers, bicyclists.
Surface: Trail, dirt road, beach.
Access point: Four Mile Beach Trailhead.
How to get there: From Santa Cruz go north on Highway 1. In 4 miles from the city limits, watch on the left for an unmarked rutted parking area on the coastside of the highway. The entrance is at the top of a little rise just before the highway crosses Baldwin Creek. Park above the highway where the road drops toward the wide arroyo.
Elevation gain/loss: 120 feet+/60 feet-.
Cautions: Stay back from steep, crumbly cliff edge. Watch for big waves on the beach.
Further information: Wilder Ranch State Park (831)423-9703.
Facilities: Chemical toilet at Four Mile Beach. Restrooms and water at Wilder Ranch State Park parking lot.
Campgrounds: Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is 3 miles inland from Santa Cruz.
Lodging: Santa Cruz Hostel (831)423-8304. Many lodgings are available in Santa Cruz.
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