The Meteor Trail was the third trail in Big Basin to re-open after the 2020 CZU lightning fire. It opened in late December 2022, but only a few weeks later it closed again for 4 months due to that winter’s heavy rains.
Before the fire, the Meteor Trail was the most scenic of all the trails on the east side of Middle Ridge. The dark, narrow canyon was exceptionally lush, with large, densely-packed redwoods and a groundcover of redwood sorrel and ferns. The trail is so different now that it’s hard to imagine that this is the same place.
All of the trails on this hike were heavily burned by crown fires that destroyed the branches of the redwoods. The extent of the damage is most noticable on sunny days when, although the loop is wooded, there’s no shade to speak of and it feels surprisingly hot and dry. The overall look of the landscape and the amount of fire damage is pretty consistent throughout the hike; no areas came through the fire unscathed.
Another striking change since the fire is that a dense layer of shrubs has aggressively colonized the forest. The shrubs now growing under the redwoods, with their thick, waxy leaves optimized for sunny environments, are more commonly found in coastal scrub communities. Before the fire the ground was covered with huckleberry, and there are still a few huckleberry shrubs here and there, but you have to look for them.
Start at the main parking lot and take North Escape Road. It’s also possible to take the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, but the road is much easier and more scenic.
The road passes by the Stanford Group, a collection of several big trees that are noticably less fire-damaged than the surrounding redwoods. Eventually the road descends to and crosses Opal Creek, which still has the cloudy, opalescent appearance that it had before the fire. The valley gets narrower and the redwoods larger after the creek crossing.
Turn left onto the Meteor Trail. At the moment the road ends at this point, so it’s hard to miss the intersection. The trail climbs through a wide, shallow ravine, but the ravine gradually gets narrower and the redwoods become more densely packed. The trail also gets pretty steep.
At the top of the Meteor Trail, turn left onto Middle Ridge Road, which continues climbing before descending to Ocean View Summit.
Ocean View Summit is maybe too grand of a name for what’s actually more of a small knoll that, on a good day, might offer a slight glimpse of the ocean. Nonetheless, park rangers often send people asking for hike recommendations up here, so it’s pretty popular; on a nice weekend you might pass a group every 5 minutes trudging up to the exposed knoll.
A faint, overgrown trail on the left leads a few yards to the top of the summit. There aren’t any trees around the summit, so it has clear views in three directions, but the views aren’t especially dramatic.
Continue down Middle Ridge Road, which undulates up and down over the ridge.
The road descends to an intersection with Gazos Creek Road in a relatively well-preserved grove. Turn right, then after a few yards, turn left onto the Sunset Trail. The trail switchbacks down to the visitor center area.
© 2023 David Baselt