Big Basin Redwoods State Park


Silicon Valley's mountain retreat
California > San Francisco Bay Area

** The Canyon Rim Route (Butano State Park) ** The Basin Trail ** The Hollow Tree and Meteor Trails ** Slippery Rock * The Creeping Forest Loop * Sempervirens Falls *** The Sunset-Skyline Short Loop *** The Redwood Nature Trail * The Blooms Creek Loop ** Buzzard's Roost *** The Berry Creek Loop *** The West Ridge Trail ** The Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail

Big Basin is only 20 miles from San Jose, a one-hour drive along twisty mountain roads. But when you arrive at the extraordinary park headquarters area, where graceful conifers rise high above 1930s lodge-style buildings, and when you step out into the crisp cool air, it feels like being at a remote mountain resort.

All of Big Basin's old-growth redwood trails start in the basin-like valley near park headquarters. An alluvial flat that extends about a quarter mile north and a quarter mile south of park headquarters has the biggest trees and most attractive woods in the park.

Middle Ridge, rising 1000 feet above the flat, divides the park into two subtly different environments. The region to the east of the ridge is in a rain shadow. Particularly north of park headquarters where the ridge is highest, this area tends to be somewhat dry-looking for a redwood forest, though it's still remarkabaly lush by any other standard. The area is slightly less attractive because of the dense understory of tanoak trees that grows among the redwoods, reducing visibility, and because the ground is mostly bare dirt and leaf litter, giving the forest a disheveled appearance. The redwoods are not generally very large and many have been blackened by fire. The region to the west of the ridge tends to be greener and much more attractive. Sorrel and ferns cover the ground, large trees are more common, and the forest has a richer, healthier look. The park headquarters area is a dramatic exception to this pattern. This outstanding area has many ancient redwoods but little ground cover, suggesting that its water mainly comes from Opal Creek rather than from direct rainfall.

Big Basin is a popular park and although it's never unbearably crowded, around noon on sunny weekends a stream of cars pours into the small parking lot and it can be hard to find parking. Arrive before 10 am or after 5 pm to avoid the rush.

There's a $10 fee to park in the headquarters area, but you can park for free in more remote areas like Whitehouse Canyon Road or China Grade.

Seasonal trail camp closures

All trail camps in Big Basin, Castle Rock, and Portola Redwoods State Parks are closed from November 1 to April 30 each year.

View of Big Basin from the Basin Trail, Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Big Basin from the Basin Trail

Old-growth redwood hikes

*** Berry Creek loop (10 miles)
Sunny, pleasant redwood uplands followed by miles of streamside redwood forest with some impressive groves. Lots of hills. The best long redwood hike south of Humboldt County.

*** Redwood Nature Trail (0.6 mile)
By far the most popular trail in Big Basin, this is a very nice loop through an alluvial flat with the park's most impressive trees.

*** Sunset–Skyline Short Loop (2.9 miles)
This loop is the best choice if you want to go for a one- or two-hour hike in Big Basin and don't mind a little climbing. It gets you away from the busy Park Headquarters area and into some nice old-growth redwood uplands.

** Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail (25.0 miles)
This 3-day hike, which features the best of Big Basin's redwoods, is the most popular backpacking route in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

** Slippery Rock (5.4 miles)
This relatively easy hike includes some decent old-growth redwood scenery, plus a walk up an algae-covered rock face.

** Hollow Tree and Meteor Trails (8 miles)
A climb through a rather dry, fire-blackened redwood forest is followed by a descent through a very nice redwood-lined ravine and then a jaunt along Opal Creek.

* Blooms Creek Loop (3 miles)
A short hike along Blooms Creek followed by a climb through rather uninteresting forest and a descent that winds around attractive redwood-lined ravines.

* Creeping Forest loop (3 miles)
A climb through a mixed redwood forest.

* Sempervirens Falls (3.4 miles)
A popular short hike, mostly alongside paved roads, to a small waterfall.

Redwood grove on the Timms Creek Trail, Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Late afternoon on the Timms Creek Trail

Other hikes

*** West Ridge Trail (9.4 miles)
This one-way hike joins two of the most scenic parts of western Big Basin: the Rancho del Oso valley and Chalk Mountain. Between is a very strenuous climb to a wooded ridgetop.

** Basin Trail Loop (12 miles)
This hike circles the rim of Big Basin, where sunny chaparral with great views of redwood-clad hills alternates with cool, shady woods. You'll then descend into a canyon filled with old-growth redwoods and finish the hike with a few pleasant miles of strolling through the redwoods alongside a burbling creek.

** Buzzard's Roost (5 miles)
A 1200-foot climb to a panoramic view over Big Basin. The only redwoods are at the bottom of the hill, but they're nice. A popular hike.

Getting to Big Basin

From the Bay Area, the most popular way to reach the Big Basin park headquarters is to take Highway 17 from Los Gatos to Felton, then Highway 9 to Boulder Creek and Route 236 to Big Basin. An alternate route is Big Basin Way (Route 236) south from Saratoga. This way is shorter but it's also narrow and twisty, so unless highway 17 is clogged with summer beach traffic the two routes will take the same amount of time.

Parking in the park headquarters area now costs $10.00 per car. The park has a gift shop that also offers sandwiches, chili, and ice cream. The gift shop as well as the visitor center and ranger station may be closed in winter, leaving the park unstaffed. The nearest grocery store, gas station, and drugstore is in Boulder Creek.

Big Basin park headquarters, Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Big Basin park headquarters

Related websites

Weather

Trails

  • Printed and iPhone/Android maps of Big Basin are available from Redwood Hikes Press. They are the same as the maps on this website, but without the greyed-out trails.
  • A free park brochure containing a map is available at the park and online. This map is much smaller and less detailed than the other trail maps of the park.
  • BigBasin.org has general park information and descriptions of selected Big Basin trails.
  • BAHiker.com has great descriptions of the Berry Creek Falls and Buzzards' Roost hikes.

Group hikes

Camping

All trail camps in Big Basin, Castle Rock, and Portola Redwoods are closed every year from November 1st through April 30th. Some drive-in campgrounds are open year round, although the number of sites is drastically reduced in the winter.

Food

Since there aren't any places to eat in the immediate Big Basin area, I'm listing some places in Saratoga and Santa Cruz, about an hour from the park.

  • After a long hike in Big Basin, nothing beats having a beer and a hearty German dinner on the Tyrolean Inn's redwood-shaded patio.
  • Oak Tree Ristoronte in Felton, across from Henry Cowell Redwoods, has pasta dishes, huge servings of smoked pork ribs, and other Italian-American comfort fare. There's a large outdoor patio.
  • The mammoth Whole Foods Market in Cupertino has an impressive selection of backpack-friendly prepared foods. Sandwiches, burritos, calzone, stews, even teriyaki bowls all make great trail lunches.
  • Rose International Market in Saratoga has pretty good pita wraps, which make a great trail lunch. However, the earliest you can get a wrap is about 10:30 am.
  • Pearl of the Ocean is a mostly-vegetarian restaurant in Santa Cruz, about a one-hour drive from Big Basin. Not really authuntic, but surprisingly satisfying after a day on the trail.
  • Sawasdee is a good Thai restaurant in the Santa Cruz area. The food has a rustic, home-cooked look and flavor.

Other

Henry Creek Trail, Big Basin Redwoods State Park

The Henry Creek Trail

 


 

© 2006–2013 David Baselt