Hikes and Rambles, Travel

Wilder Ranch State Park

I was itching for some adventures in nature today, so the kids and I set our GPS to Natural Bridge State Beach (or so we thought) and an hour later found ourselves pulling into the Wilder Ranch State Park parking lot.

A beach is a beach right? No problem. We paid the $10 parking and set about gathering our beach supplies from the car. I briefly considered bring the Tula and decided against it, I was pretty sure the beach was right down the path. Are you picking up on the ironic foreshadowing?

We walked a short ways down the path and came to a daunting “No Trespassing” sign at a railroad crossing. I had definitely seen that there was some private property within the park, so we turned around and followed a bumpy dirt path for a ways.

Stop Sign at Wilder Ranch
What about this sign says “OK, proceed” to you?

We walked quite a ways before connecting to a wide dirt road where we saw the same truck going back and forth several times. We then encountered the exact same railway crossing sign and this time ignored it.

Finally, we passed a couple houses and some construction storage and made it to the Old Cove Landing Trail. I was a little nervous that this was going to dead end into a concrete wall, but we were definitely getting closer to the ocean so we powered on. At this point I had carried my 30 lb son the entire way (estimate just shy of a mile) without a carrier and I was desperate to find a spot of sand to plop down on.

It was so worth it. When I first caught sight of the cliff with the dense purple wildflowers I literally gasped. I found out later that this was Sand Plant Beach and it was perfect! We had it entirely to ourselves, the view was incredible, the sand was play-grade, there was lots of driftwood to play with, and we saw an otter!

Sand Plant Beach Cliff
I can’t get over that gorgeous water and the unreal purple flowers on the cliff!
Path to Sand Plant Beach
The path down from the trail to the beach is steep, but not unmanageable.
Building with driftwood
The driftwood was perfect for house building.
Toes in the sand
It doesn’t get much better then toes in the sand, especially when 10 of the toes are oh so yummy.
Playing in the sand
The beach was huge and we had it all to ourselves!
Enjoying a muffin on the cliffs
As good a spot as any to enjoy a little snack!

After a happy couple hours on the beach, we headed back to the trail to try for a different route home. The problem was we had no concept of how long the path was. It ended up being a lot longer then I anticipated and at one point we even turned back thinking we’d overshot and should just go back the way we came. Fortunately some bikers came along and reassured us.

Despite the will-we-ever-get-home? worries, the Old Cove Landing Trail was stunning! We passed cove after cove, each more beautiful then the last. Some coves had sea caves, some had seals, and all had turquoise water crashing against steep cliffs.

Seals sunning at Wilder Ranch
I love how easy it is to find seals in California!
Old Cove Landing Trail
Every step of the path was surrounded by wildflowers.
Wilder Ranch Cliff Top
The mountains are just past Monterey.
Wilder Ranch Sea Cave
I wonder if this sea cave is accessible by kayak? The waves were pretty rough.
Fern Grotto
Fern Grotto, we’ll definitely be back to explore this cave at low tide! We had no idea what the tide was doing today, so couldn’t risk it.

Wilder Ranch Coast Wilder Ranch Coast 2 Wilder Ranch Coast 3 Wilder Ranch 4 Old Cove Landing Trail 2


It was an incredible day trip and we didn’t even get to visit the historic Wilder Ranch or explore the sea cave! I can’t wait to go back and I think this just got bumped to #1 on my list of places on the coast to bring visitors.

Wilder Ranch State Park

What do you think?