Hike to Berry Creek Falls
One can experience an excellent hike to the iconic Berry Creek Falls by hiking a 9-mile out-and-back trail from Big Basin Redwoods State Park HQ. Of course, the full splendor comes on the 11-mile loop, with three additional waterfalls, all of them along the spectacular Berry Creek Falls Trail. Be forewarned; both are strenuous backcountry hikes that will take most hikers several hours at least. For those able to make it, however, the beauty is ample reward. Many consider this to be the premier hike of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
What To Do
The hikes are demanding, whichever way you do this. The 9-mile out-and-back hike from Big Basin HQ along the Skyline to the Sea Trail is perhaps less strenuous than the loop but is a back-heavy hike; it’s almost entirely downhill to the falls and a long uphill trek back to the car. The 11-mile loop, completed by the Berry Creek Falls Trail and the Sunset Trail, involves a good deal of elevation gain and loss, essentially requiring hikers to climb and descend four ridges between the falls and Big Basin HQ along the Sunset Trail.
The loop is the only way to see Golden Falls, Silver Falls, and the Cascades, three sights that are well worth the extra mileage. The Berry Creek Falls Trail itself is a 1.5-mile gem, serenely following the perennial stream as it winds through a lush, verdant canyon.
When To Go
Start early and give yourself plenty of time, especially in winter and early spring when the days are shorter. This hike takes most hikers at least 5 hours, often more, so it’s not one to start in the afternoon. The trails and day use parking lot are open sunrise to sunset only, and hiking back in the dark is never a good idea anyway.
All of the falls on this hike are fed by aquifers, which means they’ve kept flowing even in the middle of long droughts and dry summers. Of course, park visitation is much higher in the summer, and this hike is quite popular, so it’s worth a try in the offseason as well, if the weather’s decent.
Where To Go
These hikes start and end at Big Basin Redwoods State Park HQ. Parking is $10 for the day (sunrise to sunset) unless you have the State Parks annual parking pass (heads up, a National Parks pass won’t work here). You can self-register if you get there before the HQ office opens, directions are posted by the front windows. Parking can be limited.
Digital versions of the official park brochure and map, are available at the Big Basin Redwoods State Park website.
Make sure you have proper footwear, plenty of water, a map, and lunch as it will take most of the day. Check-in at Park HQ and get a form to leave on your dashboard, so Rangers know where you are in case something happens. Call the park office before you go to check for trail closures, even in the summer.
There are a couple of vault toilets at Sunset Trail camp (a ¼ -mile detour) for those hiking the loop. Otherwise, the only bathrooms are at the Big Basin HQ area. Backcountry rules apply, so bring your trowel and toilet paper just in case, and get off the trail as much as possible if nature calls.
Leave Spot at home for this one; pets are not allowed on trails at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, only service animals.