Wilder Ranch Englesmann Loop-1.7 miles each way for a total of 3.4 miles. Several options to join other trails exist. This trail is a moderate climb most of one way, no matter which direction you choose, and of course moderate downhill the other. Expect stunning views of the ocean along most of the route…all except the corners of the switchbacks which will take you up against the forest edge, and the top that takes you through a tree and brush lined path before depositing you back out in the open with breathtaking views once again to accompany you most of the way back down.
Englesmann Loop Trail has recently had a major facelift if you have not visited Wilder Ranch State Park in a long time. What was once a lovely trail with an uphill/downhill midway that washed out every single winter after the first BIG rains, is now rerouted to prevent erosion and the major washouts at the bottom! I’m not sure who all to thank for the reroute except for Ranger Sipes, but they did a fantastic job! No more washouts, no more gnarly climb…yet you still get a great workout as you climb long sweeping switchbacks along the wooded west side of the hill to the west of the old trail. On a bike you will want to pause and drink in the view at the top if you are going to fly down the switchbacks…and enjoy a snack while you let horses get up and out of your way so you don’t have to stop or slow midway. Because, you can if you take a moment, see all up hill traffic from the top.
To start my description of Englesmann Trail for those who have never been there….let me start by telling you how to get to this trail. Englesmann Trail starts right at the main Wilder Trailhead to the backcountry. If you have parked in the main Wilder Visitor parking lot, you will walk downhill towards the Wilder Historic Ranch buildings. Turn left into the ranch buildings area, walk between the historic houses and the barns on the paved path. Continue past the goats and sheep and chickens and apple orchard still on the paved path, to the Tunnel. The tunnel is a short underpass under highway 1 and is a piece of history in itself. Wait a few moments if there are horses in the tunnel to let them get through, then start your journey into the Wilder backcountry!
Your first fun venture of Englesmann trail will be to enjoy the exploits of the Drafts of Santa Cruz County (visit their website in my blogroll) in the corrals right next to the trail. These big guys are happy to say hi to you and if you come at feeding time, you will get to watch these 1,400 to 2,000 pound animals cavorting excitedly around bucking and rearing as they jockey for positioning with each other for the best meal! Randy asks though that you not feed them yourselves…for your safety and theirs.
Hike on by the beautiful Draft Horses, and continue straight on the path til you come to a bridge with a wildlife education sign for you to enjoy. Crossing the bridge you have the option here of taking the left fork, or again going straight…leave the sharp right fork (Cowboy Loop) for a new adventure next time.
If you take the left fork you will have a better workout and steeper climbs…if you keep heading straight, this will take you to the right side of the englemanns loop, and on this version expect a longer more gradual continuous uphill. If you opt for the left fork, you will start climbing right after the bridge. Once you top out after the first set of climbs, follow the trail for some time through a small meadow and then a small forested area, enjoying the break from the climbs as you walk on basically flat trail. Once through the trees, you will enter a large lovely wide open valley … and keep your eyes open for the small herds of black tailed deer that frequent this valley. Santa Cruz’s Black tailed deer being a beautiful subspecies of the mule deer you find in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range East of Santa Cruz’s Coastal Range. Shortly after entering this wide valley, the trail takes a left and switchbacks uphill skirting a band of trees…occasionally entering the trees…all the way to the top of the Englesmann’s trail. Stop frequently and enjoy the views back toward the Ocean as they are unparallelled. By the time you reach the top of Englesmann’s Trail, you will have gained about 200 feet in elevation, having climbed from 200 feet to 400 feet.
At the top of the switchbacks, you will come to a junction called “Wild Boar Trail.” You may turn left and take Wild Boar back to Englesmann’s for an additional .6 mile walk. If you take this extra little side trail, stay on the main path and do not turn left on Old Cabin Trail …unless that is your plan and you want a much longer trip. Instead, loop back around to Englesmann’s Trail…encountering a 4 way junction in the process. Once you come to the 4 way junction, turn right and head back the way you came, or turn left towards Limekilns, or go straight across the intersecting trail and continue on Englesmann’s making a complete loop back to the trailhead. If at the top of Englesmann’s Trail, you did not turn left on Wild Boar, but turned right….you also come to this junction…and to stay on Englesmann’s, turn right. Regardless of which trail you take here, Wild Boar, or choosing to stay on the Main Englesmann Trail…be sure and watch for lovely wild Irises in the spring! Both Wild Boar and the stretch of Englesmann from the junction of Wild Boar to the 4 way junction of Wild Boar again have wonderful displays of Wild Iris from about mid Feb to late March depending on the rainfall each year.
Continuing on Englesmann’s, you walk briefly through a tree lined section that is very welcoming in the summer sun. And after a couple of hundred yards, you will start your gradual descent back to the corrals and the trailhead…with lovely views of the ocean to accompany you down!
Somewhere at the top before heading back down, pull out your snacks and have a seat and enjoy the views and your hard work! Then savor a long leisurely downhill stretch…downhill all the way back to the trailhead.