Fire Road Fabulous


Engelsman Loop to Long Meadow Trail to Chinquapin to Eucalyptus Loop to Wilder Ridge Loop
8.2 miles (or 11.2 with optional UCSC crossover); max elevation: 1080 feet

This 8.2-mile loop lets you enjoy all the heights of Wilder without the hassle of gnarled roots or technical descents. That might not be what most mountain bikers want, but maybe you're a roadie with a hard tail who wants to escape the congested roads for a few hours. Or maybe you have a sturdy road or commuter bike and want to explore Wilder. Or maybe you're a mountain biker who just wants to work your climbing muscles without reprieve. Whatever the case, as long as you have a bike with decent tires and brakes, this route will give you a solid climb to burn off some steam, fat or drama without slowing down.

From the cattle guard, follow the fire road across the bridge just past the horse corral and continue going straight; you are now on the eastern arm of Engelsman Loop. Follow it 1.7 miles up along the ridge above Wilder Creek. Nearly half of the 500-foot elevation gain is accomplished in the first quarter-mile (that’s about a 15 percent grade!), so if you struggle at first, know the pain will be short-lived. Head north up along Long Meadow Trail for 2.2 miles to to join Chinquapin at the top of the park. This marks the end of your 1000-foot climb. Please note: although you may notice bikers dodging off the main fire road onto unmarked trails alongside Long Meadow, those trails are illegal.

To add 3 miles and 350 feet of climbing to this 8.2 mile escapade, head north on Chinquapin Trail and cross Empire Grade, leaving Wilder Ranch and entering the upper campus of UCSC. Stay left at fire road intersections as Chinquapin descends 1.1 miles to meet the U-Conn trailhead. Many illegal trails line the north side of Chinquapin Trail, so stay left, but remain on the fire road. Unless you are in for a full-day adventure, the intersection with U-Conn is probably a good place to turn around and head back up to Twin Gates.

Crossing Twin Gates, head south on the Chinquapin Trail for just under 1 mile to reach a trail junction and a grove of eucalyptus trees. Veer right to speed down 1.3 miles on Eucalyptus Loop, remembering to check out the vistas along the way. Take the old paved road up and over to Wilder Ridge Loop and follow the fire road on your left. Staying on the fire road at each intersection will get you back to the cow gate in 2 miles along an either flat or descending path. Beware the hairpin right turn at the bottom of your last descent that gets you back to the cattle guard.

—Brooke Wright

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