Wilder Nights! ….or not

Well, not really. This post is about a day hike in Wilder Ranch, but in trying to come up with some clever headline Emily Dickinson‘s poem immediately popped into my head.

Wild Nights–Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile–the Winds–
To a Heart in port–
Done with the Compass–
Done with the Chart!
Rowing in Eden

Ah, the Sea!
Might I but moor–Tonight–
In Thee!

And “Done with the Compass– Done with the Chart” isn’t a bad description of my style of hiking. I start out with a plan, but am often sidetracked by side trails, and sometimes have to figure out where the heck I am. This time, however, I purposely did not follow any side trails, even though that was part of my mission for the hike. So like the hike itself, this is a totally random and contradictory blog post.

Sunday, 9:00 am, I started at the small non-permit parking area at Crown College at UCSC. (Note that it’s only non-permit parking on weekends; you need a permit during the week. And that you should arrive early — I got the last available spot.) I took the Chinquapin Trail through the university’s property, a lovely undulating walk through redwood forest.

Trees along the Chinquapin trail

The trail opened up as I approached Wilder Ranch State Park.
Approaching Wilder Ranch

My goal for this hike was to explore the only trail I hadn’t yet hiked in this park: the Woodcutter’s Trail. Most of the park’s trails lead down to the ocean, but this one stays inland and (roughly) follows Empire Grade Road before dipping southwest to meet Smith Grade Road. What I was looking for was a side trail that might lead to the parking area on Empire Grade Road.

Let me backtrack here. Way back in the summer, I wondered if one could park near the north entrance to Wilder. The main entrance, with lots of parking (official and non) is at the south end of the park, on Highway 1. The north entrance gates are strictly no parking zones, being fire entrances, but I knew there was a popular bike staging area just up the road a bit. So I parked there, and tried walking to the park gates. This was a bad idea. Empire Grade Road is very busy and winding, and there are no shoulders. A driver who had just dropped off some bikers stopped and gave me a ride, so I arrived at the park safe and sound. But my quest for a close-by parking spot for Wilder still remained unfulfilled.

So this Sunday, I walked the extra 2.25 miles from the known parking area at the university, thinking that if I followed the Woodcutter Trail I’d surely encounter a track leading in from the above-mentioned staging area. And if a lot of bikers use it, it should be fairly obvious.

Well, no. I saw several small footpaths leading off to the right, but none seemed large enough to be worth following. So I just followed the Woodcutter Trail 1.9 miles to its end at Smith Grade. Where there is parking; there is a pull-out with enough room for 3 or 4 cars. So right now the bottom line (for me) is that if I want to hike in the upper regions of Wilder, I have to hike in some 2 miles from the nearest parking. Which is fine; I’m a hiking fool anyway.

The Woodcutter’s Trail is a very nice hike. I walked right past the “Trail Closed: Storm Damage” sign at the trailhead, scofflaw that I am. And the trail wasn’t really damaged. There were still some very muddy spots along the way, despite 2 weeks of gloriously warm and sunny weather, and I could see that during rainy periods the water would run right down the middle of the trail. So I would not recommend following this route during or immediately after a storm. But in nice weather, it is a glorious downhill all the way to Smith Grade. And a not-too-bad uphill all the way back. A good hike for breaking in my new hiking boots.

Breaking in my new boots

A brief pause in a meadow for a bite to eat let me find these shooting stars (Dodecatheon alpinum).
Little flowers

But most of the trek was all redwoods, all the time.

Total distance: roughly 9 miles, round trip. Definitely recommended. And I’ll be back to find that elusive trailhead!

Author: Melissa

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