Big Basin Redwoods State Park
In 1902, the early environmental movement saw one of its crowning moments come to glorious fruition with the formation of the California Redwood Park. The park, later renamed Big Basin Redwoods State Park, would prove to be the first unit in what would eventually evolve into the modern California State Parks system. The park continued to grow over the last century, both in size and popularity and is now one of the most visited parks in the state. With history, massive redwoods, and an extensive array of trails and backpacking opportunities available, it’s no surprise why. No park exemplifies the natural majesty and cultural relevance of the Santa Cruz Mountains better than Big Basin, but don’t just take our word for it.
What To Do
It might be going too far to say Fido is frowned upon at Big Basin, but dogs aren’t allowed on any of the hiking trails or even the dirt fire roads. The paved North Escape Road offers some good dog walking, especially once you get past the parking, but you can only do it as an out-and-back. The little connector trail between Blooms Creek campground and Park Headquarters allows dogs, as do the picnic areas, campgrounds, and all paved surfaces unless otherwise marked. That’s about it, though.
Go see the world famous Berry Creek Falls!
Big Basin’s Redwood Loop, at Park Headquarters, proudly continues a long tradition of obvious trail names, but at least you know what you’re getting into. Of course, most people come for the redwoods, and if that’s the case, this trail is not to be missed. It’s .6-miles and ADA accessible and boasts some of the biggest trees in the park. If you only have 20 minutes at the park, this will get you your quick fix of big trees. If you’re in for a longer adventure, it’s easily added on to most hikes as it’s right by the centrally-located Visitor Center.
If you’re looking for a low-traffic day hike option, Buzzard’s Roost is a strenuous 5-mile out-and-back hike with some spectacular views. Take Skyline to the Sea trail from Park Headquarters to the Skyline-Hihn Hammond Connector. Hihn Hammond Road takes you up to the Pine Mountain Trail, which climbs steep and rugged, dead-ending at the main vista. It’s a great option that most visitors don’t know about- so don’t go blabbing to everyone about it!
Check out the Visitor Center, but remember, there are two different ones at opposite ends of the park (see Where to Go below). That said, both the Rancho Del Oso Nature Center and the Nature Lab at Park Headquarters are a great way to preview some of the wildlife you might encounter on the trail, depending on which trailhead you start at. Park HQ’s Visitor Center offers historical exhibits highlighting Native Californian culture and the history of the park’s formation. Right nearby is where you’ll find the park store, with refreshments, souvenirs, and some camping equipment, though they do charge a bit of a premium for the convenience. Major supplies should be bought ahead of time or in town, but you can’t beat stopping in for a post-hike smoothie.
Take in a show! Most summer nights the park offers campfires in their massive amphitheater, a great way for visitors of all ages to learn about the wildlife and history of the park. Ranger Tabone’s regular campfire, Nature’s Supermarket, is a particular treat as he demonstrates the preparation and cooking of local native plants in the traditional Ohlone style, and even offers samples for audience members. Call Big Basin’s main office for information about campfires and other interpretive programs offered at the park.
When To Go
Typically the park is only open sunrise to sunset for non-campers, though most summer nights you can stick around for a campfire or other evening program (see What to Do). The sunset closure is particularly important when planning a long day hike, which is highly recommended, if you’re into that kind of thing.
There are advantages to going every season, the off-season naturally presents challenges with the weather, though with our perpetual drought conditions that’s not always the case. Less traffic on the trail (and in the campgrounds, and at the Visitor Center, and on the drive there) is another advantage of visiting in late fall through early spring, and watching the mist play through the trunks of ancient redwoods is simply magical. Of course, summer has its own allure, and offers more opportunities like guided hikes, campfires, and kids’ programs. It makes a great excuse for multiple trips in a year!
Where To Go
Big Basin Redwood State Park has two visitor centers, so it’s easy to get confused when looking up the address. Unfortunately, those visitor centers are 30 miles apart by car, or 13 miles apart on the Skyline to the Sea Trail, so you’ll want to get it right the first time. Car campers and most visitors, in general, are looking for the Big Basin Headquarters and Visitor Center located at 21600 Big Basin Hwy, Boulder Creek, CA 95006.
If you’re looking to visit Waddell Beach, are staying at the Horse Camp, or are trying to hike or bike the Skyline to the Sea Trail from the bottom up, then you’re looking for the Rancho Del Oso Visitor’s Center located at 3600 CA-1, Davenport, CA 95017.
Whichever section you visit, it’ll cost $10 to park for the day (sunrise to sunset), unless you have the CA State Parks annual parking pass (no, not a National Parks one, sorry). You can self-register if you get there before the HQ office opens, directions are posted by the front windows. Parking can be limited, and sometimes you have to park well down North Escape Road, meaning that, depending on where you’re going, you might have to hike a mile or two to the trailhead. There’s 15-minute parking by the HQ office so be sure to get your pass and map and everything first.
More information about the park and its hours, as well as digital versions of the official park brochure and map, are available at parks.ca.gov.
Don’t get cocky, kid. The Park HQ has little forms available that you can fill out your hike plan on and leave on your car dashboard, so they have an idea where to look if you get lost out there. Use them! Again, make sure to stop by the HQ office for this before getting sucked down the rabbit hole of finding parking along North Escape Road.
Be prepared. That sounds dorky, but there’s a reason why the world’s largest club of outdoor enthusiasts makes this their motto. It’s wise even for the shortest of adventures, and increases in wisdom with time and mileage. Plenty of water, a detailed map of the park, layers of clothing, close-toed hiking boots/shoes, weather-appropriate gear, a first aid kit, a flashlight, snacks…these are good things. Don’t go without them!
Know where you’re going, from driving route to hiking route and back. For instance, don’t confuse the place with Great Basin National Park, as that’s in Nevada. You may scoff, but people have made that exact mistake before, only to have their plans dashed. If you don’t know exactly where in the park you want to go, stop by the Visitor’s Center first. If there’s no docent around to help, you can always ask the staff at the front office for park highlights and trail advice.