bike santa cruz

Emma McCrary Trail

On a foggy morning in Santa Cruz California my friend @sasquatchcanyon guided me through the Emma McCrary Trail. The sun still down, headlamps on, pedaling through the darkness as our lights pierced the dense coastal fog. As we passed the trail head we were quickly swallowed by a dense canopy of lush redwood trees. Our lights struggled to illuminate the trail; there is nothing like learning a new trail in the darkness of Redwoods and Coastal Skies. Nothing. Emma_McCrary_Trail_05

Emma McCrary is a 1.5 mile muti use trail built by the Parks Department, the Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz and of course the help of hundreds of volunteers. The trail head starts on Golf Club Drive and connects with the Rincon Trail that leads up to the University of Santa Cruz.

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"Drew designed the Emma McCrary trail to sustain winter rains and heavy traffic by various users. Meandering through some of the prettiest parts of the park, the trail design employs frequent grade reversals, a low average grade, numerous rollers and cambered turns to control speed and maximize sight distances while making the trail enjoyable for all levels of users.” - MBOSC

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I rode Emma on a Cyclocross bike dozens of times before I got my hands on a Mountain Bike. The trail is really suited for all kinds of bikes. Obviously the CX bike excels up the climbs making Emma a great place for Cyclocross racers to train. I could do hill repeats there all day it’s just so damn fun. Though nothing beats floating down Emma on a bike with suspension. The trail is heavily used so it’s littered with break bumps and ruts.

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The earlier you ride Emma the better. Like I said before it’s a heavily used trail and on the weekends it’s just a zoo. The trail is used to connect with the Ricon Trail, UCSC and Wilder. I like to roll in around 8am as the sun is rising, headlights on, beat the crowd and enjoy the stillness of nature.

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If you do decide to head out pre sunrise make sure to bring a good light and watch out for any homeless people that might be waking up in the woods. Years ago that entire forested area was littered with junkies giving it the nickname Heroin Hill. Though the trail has definitely pushed those junkies further down the tracks I’ve occasionally run into some in the early morning. So make sure someone knows where your going and stay alert.

For more stories like this make sure to explore Broken and Coastal and Pedal Often.

Wilder Ranch State Park

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[portfolio_slideshow id=3339 width=1200px] Wilder Ranch is a coastal preserve just a few miles from downtown Santa Cruz featuring dozens of trails and fire roads that are mostly legal for cycling. During my three months in Santa Cruz I found myself exploring Wilder in the early mornings every day before work. I fell in love with the sunrise, the thick coastal fog, the dew covered meadows and the grazing deer.

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Wilder became my morning sanctuary and I am grateful for all the time I got to spend there.

I can recall climbing up Old Cabin in the stillness of morning, Niterider on, headlamp on, ascending in the darkness, nothing but the sounds of breathe and tires rolling over soil. Eventually the thick forest giving way to a blooming sunrise, deers grazing to my left, dew covered spider webs blanketing the meadow floor. Life seems infinite during these momements.

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There are endless ways to get into Wilder but here are the ones that I come to love :

- Up Bay St and hop onto the Fire Road in UCSC. Check out the sunrise at the top and then climb up Star Wars. Take the Single Track to Pipeline. Follow Pipeline along Chinquapin to the Twin Gates.

- Up the Emma Mccrary Trail to U Con Trail. From the top of U Con take one of the many trails that link up with Pipeline. Roast Pipeline to Twin Gates. [su_divider top="no" divider_color="#DDFF99" margin="0"] [su_spacer size="10"] [su_quote cite="MBOSC" url="http://www.mbosc.org/local-parks/wilder-ranch/"]Wilder Ranch is home to some of Santa Cruz’s most iconic riding. On the coastal side of Highway one, trails wind along the bluffs overlooking the Pacific. On the inland side of the highway, trails climb up rolling grasslands that overlook the ocean, and dip down into verdant redwood timbered drainages. Wilder offers a up miles of fire roads and singletrack. Some singletrack highlights include, Enchanted Loop, Twin Oaks, and Old Cabin.[/su_quote]

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Here is a breakdown of the trails I regularly rode in Wilder :

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Chinquapin Trail : This is where most people pedal into Wilder via UCSC / Twin Gates.

Enchanted Loop : The first time I rode down the Enchanted Loop I was on my Cyclocross bike. It was pretty radical to say the least. This is arguably the most gorgeous Single Track in Wilder and my personal favorite! Radical descent littered with roots and rocks followed by flowy Single Track and a extremely steep climb out.

Mailboxes : Arguably the most frequented illegal Single Track in Santa Cruz. First time down this I was on my Cyclocross bike and had to walk two steep rock gardens. Worth it for the river crossing at the end!

Fence Line : Another really popular section of Single Track that will take you down to the end of Mailboxes. Make a left at the bottom to navigate a gnarly rock garden and river crossing or head right to head back into Wilder.

Old Cabin : Yet another trail first explored on my Cyclocross bike. I love looping Enchanted and Old Cabin together. Highly recommended. After Old Cabin hop onto Wild Boar and smash down Engelsman to the Bike Path at the bottom.

Engelsman Loop : I love this trail. Perfect for the Cyclocross bike and my go to way to loop back into Santa Cruz.

Eucalyptus Loop : This is a Fire Road that will connect you with various Trail Heads. I tend to avoid this trail unless I am climbing back up Wilder to do some more loops.

Wilder Ridge Loop : This is a great way to climb up Wilder from Highway 1. It seems like a lot of group rides will meet at the bottom.

Baldwin Loop : This is probably the most unused trail in all of Wilder. When I rode it the fog was so thick I could only see 10 or so feet in front of me. The Woodcutters : A fire road that goes through Wilder via Chinquaphin Trail up to Smith Grade. Theres a lot of hidden single track in the surrounding area if you keep your eyes peeled.

Woodcutters : Fire Road at it’s best. Lots of Single Track out there if you keep your eyes open. Drops you off on Smith Grade.

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So if you ever find yourself in Santa Cruz, wake up before the sun, gear up and pedal towards Wilder. You won't regret it. I promise!

Skeggs + Butano State Park

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After having a successful Bikepacking trip with Sam and Josh I was pretty eager to start planning the next one. My days in California are numbered and taking advantage of every beautiful weekend is a priority. Josh had work but Sam immediately jumped on board and started planning a rad route taking us through the Santa Cruz Mountains. Saratoga_Gap_Crash

Within the first 30 minutes I was navigating a small rock garden through Saratoga Gap and went over the bars. Most of the impact was absorbed by stomach which landed directly onto a rock. I feel pretty lucky since a couple inches higher I could have landed on my chest which could have been catastrophic. I am stoked that Sam caught it on his GoPro!

Skeggs_Butano_BikePacking-3Skeggs_Butano_BikePacking-7Left : Sam navigates one of the many gates along the Long Ridge Open Space Preserve and Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve.

Right : Sam made sure we stayed on track. We got turned around a few times on this trip but that wouldn't happen until later in the day.

Skeggs_Butano_BikePacking-18Skeggs_Butano_BikePacking-20Skeggs_Butano_BikePacking-21"Borel Hill is a minor peak in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It is located in Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve, near Portola Valley and Palo Alto, California. Borel Hill is a popular destination in the spring when it is covered in wildflowers, primarily poppies and lupine. In the winter, Borel Hill frequently sees snow, a fact that sometimes takes those who live closer to the San Francisco Bay by surprise."

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After a quick stint down Skyline and through a short Fire Road on the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve we arrived at Alices. Alices is a popular destination for motorcyclists and tourists since it sits at the junction of Skyline and La Honda.

After leaving Alices we had a few miles on Skyline before we got to Skeggs AKA El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve. As we hugged the side of the road fearing every car that flew past us we spotted a dirt path that looked like it was running parallel with Skyline. After navigating through a patch of Poison Oak we were safely tucked away from the reckless drivers on Skyline and making our way towards Skeggs!

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The mystery trail eventually took us to Wunderlich County Park which ended up taking us all the way to Skeggs! After exiting the park we did see a No Bicycles sign but there wasn't one where we entered.

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Skeggs (El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve) was a treat. Sam has been talking about it for awhile and I am glad he pushed me to ride it.

"Thirty-six miles of multi-use trail are available for exploration at this 2,817-acre Preserve. While this Preserve is extremely popular with bicyclists, it also has lots of hearty hiking and horseback riding opportunities. Visitors to the Preserve will find mixed evergreen and redwood forests, creekside trails, coastal and forest views, and special features, such as rare sandstone formations."

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At this point in the ride the sun was setting and we really needed to get to camp. We made the decision to abandon our original route to Butano and backtrack to Skyline. Once on Skyline we booked it to La Honda where we started the 24 mile journey to camp. We were beat and daylight was slipping away.

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We lost the light towards the bottom of La Honda and had to navigate the back roads of Pescadero in the dark. Those last 15 miles were so peaceful. We mostly suffered in silence taking in the darkness one pedal stroke after another. Looking back; I believe that I can speak for the both of us and say that those last 15 miles were pretty special.

When we finally rolled into town we pedaled straight to Mercado & Taqueria De Amigos where we ordered burritos and downed some tall boys. With our bellies full we bought some more supplies and then rode the additional five miles to Butano State Park. The campgrounds were full but luckily the camp hosts were awake and were kind enough to let us set camp by their RV.

The rest of the night is a blur.Skeggs_Butano_BikePacking-167Skeggs_Butano_BikePacking-178We got an early start and after thanking our camp hosts we made our way to the Olmo Fire Road. Olmo was extremely challenging. Roughly three miles straight up with gradients as steep as 30%!!! This was also the first trail in which we regularly saw Banana Slugs.

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Olmo eventually connects with the Butano Fire Road which took us China Grade. China Grade linked us up with Johansen which is another fire road that took us into Big Basin.

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Johansen splits giving you the option to keep right on Johansen or veer left onto Middle Ridge Road. We took Middle Ridge because Sam had a plan to roast some secret trails.

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Middle Ridge brought us to the Big Basin store where we picked up lunch and some beers to drink at a waterfall Sam knew about.

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After filling up our water bottles we rode down Hihn Hammond Road and linked up with the historical Last Chance Road. Our Krebs map said that a section of Last Chance was open to bikes but we did notice a No Bicycles sign at the trail head. We were pretty set on our route and went for it. Last Chance was incredible and definitely my favorite Single Track of the entire trip.

Notable features :

- Lush single track rarely ridden. - A waterfall with deep holes to soak in on hot days. - Technical rock gardens that were CX bike friendly. - A tricky creek crossing.

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This is where things got interesting. Last Chance Road leaves Big Basin and turns into an actual road which is unfortunately private. Residents are extremely protective of their land yet most people would agree that the road should be made public. We kept our heads down and just tried to get down the hill as fast as possible. We were confronted twice by residents that were visibly upset but Sam was able to diffuse the situation both times.

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Sam and I were stoked when we made it to Swanson Road! We successfully navigated through Last Chance Road and were just over an hour away from Santa Cruz.

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We concluded our trip by washing our legs and arms with Tecnu in the Pacific Ocean. Sam spotted some whales while I continued to eat everything left in my jersey pockets.

Trip notes :

- Be more careful navigating rock gardens on a cx bike. - Watch out for speeding motorists on Skyline and La Honda. - Motorcycles frequently slide out and crash on La Honda. - Skip Alices and bring a lunch. Too much time wasted. - Mercado & Taqueria De Amigos in Pescadero rules. Open until 9pm. - The camp hosts at Butano State Park are awesome.

Trip Stats :

- 1 night and 2 days. - 110 + miles. - 10,000 + feet of climbing. - 0 flats or mechanicals

Check out the full routes below :

San Francisco to Santa Cruz Bike Tour

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I had 10 days in the Bay Area to spend time with Family, Friends and my Bike. One of the things I wanted to do was load my CX bike up and pedal to Santa Cruz. I wanted to to climb and push my self despite regardless of how much gear was strapped to my bike. The trip was an amazing experience and just a glimpse into how fun bike touring can be. [portfolio_slideshow id=1822]

Below is my route on Strava. Feel free to use it or email me for any questions!