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Chinquapin-Eucalyptus-Long Meadow

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Chinquapin Trail to Eucalyptus Loop to Old Cabin Trail to Wild Boar Trail to Long Meadow Trail to Chinquapin
5.5 miles roundtrip from Empire Grade entrance; 2 hours; moderate to strenuous

The 1996 acquisition of Gray Whale Ranch gave Wilder Ranch an entrance off Empire Grade Road and presented hikers and bikers with the possibility of having their downhill fun first and ending their day with a relentless slog up the slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Whatever works!

The lovely 1.2-mile–long Chinquapin Trail starts at about 1000 feet elevation at a closed gate about 2 miles past the East Entrance to UC-Santa Cruz (park on the wide section of shoulder off the southbound lane). Past a grassland that's boggy in winter, it skirts a small section of rare sandhill habitat, with its white sand and manzanitas, then dips down into a lovely grassy meadow where the endangered Ohlone tiger beetle lives (and dies; sadly, its springtime hobby is basking on the same dirt roads where cyclists ride). Chinquapin leads to a magnificent overlook marked by a stand of huge eucalyptus. Here the 3.3-mile Eucalyptus Loop begins its descent to about 600 feet through meadow, oak woodland and deep ravines with huge redwoods, ferns and sorrel growing along creeks. At this point you have several choices: head either left or right to complete the loop and return on Chinquapin Trail; head left for the shorter route to Long Meadow Trail; or head right for the longer route (by about .5 miles) to Long Meadow Trail, with some extra elevation loss and gain as the trail goes through a ravine. The rest of this entry describes the second option.

Turn left on Eucalyptus Loop and follow it to Old Cabin Trail, which leads down into and then out of a cool, deep redwood ravine with boardwalk crossings over the creek. Turn left on Wild Boar Trail, then turn left again at picturesque Long Meadow Trail, which passes some lime kiln ruins and continues through scenic grasslands for 1.5 miles or so before it rejoins Chinquapin near Empire Grade Road. At the top of Long Meadow, keep an eye out for a redwood grove off to the right of the trail where someone has carved seats into a group of redwood stumps. When the wind is right, you can hear music from the UCSC campus on this trail.

Return to Wilder Ranch State Park.

Field Notes

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On 1/1/16 in honor of First Day, a docent led hike will be held at Wilder Ranch State Park. The 12 mile hike starts at 9:00 a.m. from the Interpretive Center, follows a part of the Engelsmans Trail to the Long Meadow Trail to the Chinquapin Trail to the Twin Gates on Empire Grade. The route then follows the Chinquapin Trail to the Eucalyptus Trail, then completes the Enchanted Loop, picking up the Upper Part of the Wilder Ridge Loop returning to the Interpretive Center about 5.0 hours after the start of the hike. We'll visit the Lime Kilns, pass through coastal prairie, marine terraces, a redwood forest, and mixed oak woodlands in a small valley that looks like something out of Lord of the Rings. If the Marine Layer permits there will be sweeping vistas of the entire Monterey Bay. Bring water, lunch, layers of clothing, and good hiking shoes. This hike will be a great way of starting the new year.

A second First Day Hike will be a two mile excursion along a loop following the Old Cove Landing Trail. It will pass along Wilder Beach Natural Preserve, visit a fern grotto, a sea cave, a harbor seal haul out, and observe a little known natural bridge. The hike will take about two hours.