Top 5 Scenic Mtn Bike Rides


by Brooke Wright

Mountain biking in Santa Cruz County is an activity that definitely rewards effort, because the higher you go, the better your chances of getting a jaw-dropping vista at your destination. But a butt-kicking climb up to Mt. Rosalia isn't always in the cards, so we've compiled a list of the top five scenic mountain bike rides in Santa Cruz County without getting super-gnarly. These are ordered from easiest to most difficult.

1. Old Cove Landing to Ohlone Bluff Trail, Wilder Ranch State Park If the simple grace of the wind-swept Wilder bluffs with the Pacific Ocean as the backdrop to a 10.5-mile flat coastal cruise isn’t enough to inspire you, then it’s time to check your pulse. Learn more about this mellow Coastline Cruise.

2. Fire Road Fabulous, Wilder Ranch State Park For a little more exercise but a still very beginner-friendly scenic ride, try Fire Road Fabulous. This ride takes you throughout Wilder Ranch State Park, all in the safety of wide and smooth double track. A few steep sections are all you have to worry about. Scenic high points are: anywhere along Long Meadow Trail, the eucalyptus grove at the top of Eucalyptus Loop and the overlook on Wilder Ridge Trail. All three give you epic views of the shimmering Pacific and the Monterey Peninsula; if the weather’s clear you’ll be able to see all the way to Point Sur from the Wilder Ridge Trail overlook point.

3. Vista Junkie’s Trip, Wilder Ranch State Park To get the most diverse and scenic ride available to intermediate riders in the county, check out our Vista Junkie’s Trip at Wilder. Old Cabin Trail and Enchanted Loop both offer enclosed magical and sweeping trails, while Wilder Ridge Loop and the height of the climb—Chinquapin—give riders a chance to enjoy ocean views. A must-see indeed.

4. Henry Cowell Ridge Trail, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park Henry Cowell State Park offers some of the most scenic hiking trails in Santa Cruz County, but if you are willing to walk or even carry your bike on steep trails or even across the San Lorenzo River, it can also be deeply explored with wheels on its double track. This 6-mile route takes you through the most scenic parts of Henry Cowell and even includes the option to jump in the river after picturesque climbs and descents along a redwood-encrusted ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountain range.

Start at the main park entrance on Highway 9. Take the paved (and at times very steep) Pipeline Road for 1.5 miles, then take the Ridge Fire Road on your right for the short jaunt to the Rincon Fire Road. Turn left. Climb or walk up the intense but beautiful double track for just over a quarter mile. If you are interested in swimming at Big Rock Hole, watch for a trail on your left before the trail dives down, and walk downstream a few hundred feet when you reach the river. If you were hoping to stay with your bike and aren't interested in a swim, keep riding the double track, which shoots down to a later intersection with the river. Another choice moment: you can fjord across with your bike and explore the trail further, or enjoy this rest stop by the river and then turn around.

Either way, when you head back you will make a right onto Pipeline (away from your car, for now) for another short and scenic ride. Pipeline climbs steeply but is paved, so it is manageable with the right gears. When you see Powder Mill Fire Road, take a left onto it to reach the Observation Deck for a great vista of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Monterey Bay. The water from the fountain there tastes amazing. After another well-deserved break, follow your tracks back to Pipeline and continue to the parking lot.

5. High Tech Delite, Wilder Ranch State Park If you’re ready for some technical climbing and want the prize of priceless vistas, check out our High Tech Delite route. Only for the tech savvy (on wheels, that is). This gives you a taste for the variety of geography on offer in just one park in Santa Cruz, along with the opportunity to show and develop your skills.