Posts Tagged ‘Santa Cruz activities for preschoolers’

For a while now, whenever I looked at the map, I’ve found myself attracted to Wilder Ranch State Park. It just sounded rather cool.  Unable to discover too much about it on the internet, last week I persuaded my family to join me on an expedition to check it out.

What it says on the sign.


The Wilder Ranch lands have a long and colourful history.  The watershed was used by the Ohlone Indians for many centuries before the dedication of Mission Santa Cruz (1791) brought European diseases and livestock into the area. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the land was used for grazing, and slaughtering, mission cattle and became known as “Rancho Arroyo del Matadero” or “ranch of the streambed slaughtering ground.” A parcel that contained the current state park was later owned by a Russian sailor who had abandoned his ship, naturalized as a Mexican citizen and who divided his time between raising livestock and smuggling, and subsequently by a dairy farmer who sold fancy butter in San Francisco.  It was purchased by Deloss D Wilder in 1871 and his family ran a successful dairy farm there right up until 1969.  California State Parks acquired the property in 1974 to preserve the landscape and the historic ranch.

The aloe grove

What’s there now?

Wilder Ranch State Park is enormous — 7000 acres–and is mostly wilderness with many interesting looking hikes.  I’m told there is a beautiful trail that leads along the cliffs but it’s too long to do with small children unless one carpools (and if anyone is interested in doing that…drop me a line).  The park also contains an historic ranch which is easily accessible by car and a short walk.  One can tour the old farm house, watch historic cooking in action (and sample the baked goods), check out the farm animals, and examine the old farm buildings.  There’s a really nice smithy and wood work shop which fascinated all the men in my group, young and old. It contained a Pelton water wheel constructed by the original Mr Wilder himself in 1889 and which the docents enthusiastically operated for us.  But best of all are the ranch’s gardens–they’re fantastic for small boys to play in.  There are giant aloe groves riddled with secret tunnels and pathways for little ones to explore, and this incredible tree which my boys could have played in all day:

Quite a tree

A good day out for toddlers?

Yes and no.  Our kids loved the gardens and would have stayed there all day — that alone was worth the $10 parking fee — and they were happy to explore the farm buildings with us for a while (especially when they found the tractor barn). But the hiking available was not terribly preschooler friendly, and was just too much even for our intrepid pair.  I would say that the park alone isn’t worth a trip from Silicon Valley for kids this age, but it would make a fun stop if you were in the area.  Wilder Ranch would, however, be an interesting hiking destination for older kids so it’s going on my list of ‘hikes for the future.’


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