Hiking in Big Basin Park

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Big Basin

Big Basin is best explored in late spring or summer, because most of it is in the shade. It can be very rainy and muddy in winter. The southern part (on Waddell Beach) is foggy in the summer, though.

Hiking in Big Basin

Pictures of these trails
Map of Big Basin trails
Berry Creek Falls loop (Big Basin, 18kms, easy)
Skyline To The Sea (Big Basin, 18kms, easy)
Waddell Beach to Berry Falls to Chalk Mountain (Big Basin, 27kms, strenous)
Pescadero Creek Park to Big Basin (42kms, strenous)

Skyline To The Sea (20kms 5.5 hrs)

This trail goes from Big Basin State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains (near Boulder Creek) all the way to the coast (a short detour takes you to the Berry Falls). If you take the John Hammond Rd, you go by the McAbee Overlook and probably make it a little shorter, but you miss the falls. The Skyline To The Sea trail actually enters Big Basin at the intersection between China Grade & 236, way before the visitor center. (The trail actually begins in Castle Rock Park (see Santa Cruz state parks) but it merely coasts the highway until it intersects China Grade: from Castle Rock State Park to Saratoga Gap to Waterman Gap Trail Camp is 16kms, then to Big Basin Park HQ is 19 kms, total of 35 kms)
Whether you start at Big Basin's park headquarters or from China Grade, the Skyline-to-Sea trail is well marked. Best is to hike the Ridge trail that goes through a wonderful overlook point and then connects with the Skyline-to-Sea trail (which is more like a fire road).
It winds its way through luxuriant vegetation, following the course of Waddell Creek and ending about 17kms later at the southern visitor center at Rancho Del Oso, from which it is about one paved km to Hwy 1 (50kms south of Halfmoon Bay, 5kms south of Ano Nuevo, 5kms north of Davenport, 30 kms north of Santa Cruz). Waddell Beach is just 500 meters away, on the other side of hwy 1.
Since the trail is mostly downhill, it should not take longer than 5 hours (2002 time: 4h 40').
About 7kms into the hike, a short detour leads to the famous Berry Creek Falls (and there are more waterfalls upstream, if you care to extend the detour).
Trail map.

Directions to the visitor center of Big Basin. From San Francisco take Interstate 280 to 92 west to 35 south to 9 south. Continue on Highway 9 about 12 kms to Highway 236. Turn right into 236 and drive about 16 kms to Big Basin State Park (Big Basin home page, Road map). Estimate two hours from San Francisco, one hour from San Jose, one hour from Palo Alto.
If you plan to hike only one way, someone has to leave a car at Rancho del Oso. Unfortunately, from Big Basin to Rancho del Oso is a very long drive (best is to take 236 east to Boulder Creek, 9 to Santa Cruz, and then north 1). Where to park at the other end: the park entrance is directly opposite the Waddell Beach parking lot.

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Pescadero Creek Park to Big Basin

One can hike in one day from Sam McDonald Memorial Park to Pescadero Creek Park to Portola Redwood Park to Big Basin to Waddell Beach. See this description.

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Waddell Beach to Berry Falls to Chalk Mountain (27.5 kms, 8.5 hrs)

One can hike a loop entering Big Basin from Waddell Beach (instead of the more touristy park headquarters). It is also a much easier drive. No fee is required. And the park gets combined to the beach. Waddell Beach/ Rancho del Oso is located about 15 minutes north of Santa Cruz, or south of Pescadero. There are signs indicating both Waddell Beach and Rancho del Oso.

From Waddell Beach (free parking) hike 2km to Twin Redwoods, then straight up along the "Skyline To The Sea" trail. It is about 2.5 kms to the junction with the McCrary Ridge trail and about 5 kms to the junction with the Henry Creek trail. Here one can turn right and then left (well marked) to reach Berry Falls (0.5 km). The trail continues upstream 0.5 km to Silver Falls and Golden Cascade (perhaps the most impressive sight of Big Basin). At the junction with Sunset trail, take a left towards Sunset campground. This reaches a fire road, Alderson Landing Road: turn right and continue 1km. Turn left onto Canyon Road for 2 kms, then straight into Chalks Rd for 3 kms that take you to the top of Chalk Mountain (a very short and well-marked detour takes to the very top).
(One can make it shorter by skipping the waterfalls. At the junction with the Henry Creek trail, take the Henry Creek trail. This goes down to the creek. When there is water, this requires wading the creek. On the other side of the creek, the trail starts winding up its way to the ridge. At the top (2.6 kms) there is a gate. That is the junction with the fire road. It is 3.4kms from here to Chalk Mountain).
The top of Chalk Mountain is basically the beginning of the devastating 9km-long Westridge trail (an endless series of steep uphill and downhill grades). It is also one of the most beautiful (and remote) trails in Big Basin. You are likely to meet no hikers at all. There are views of Mt McAbee and Pine Mt to the east, and of the ocean to the southwest. Pay attention to your left: at some point you have to take a sharp 180 degree curve instead of going straight (this was not well marked in 2005). If you get to a point where you see Rancho del Oso way down below, you missed that junction. Going down that junction leads back to Twin Redwoods. From this point it is again 2km to the car. (Note: at the bottom of the descent, a sign points to a right turn to go to Waddell Beach. This is the hiking trail. Rangers don't want hikers to use the "Sjyline to the Sea" trail, which is used by horses. The hiking trail though is trice longer and is another endless series of up and down curves, which can be very frustrating at the end of a long hike. You may want to ignore that sign and continue straight towards the STTS trail, then turn right into it. If you take the hikers' trail, add at least 2 kms to the total distance).

Summarizing:

Waddell Beach-Twin Redwoods: 2km
junction with the McCrary Ridge trail: 2.5 kms (1h 30')
junction with the Henry Creek trail: 5 kms
Berry Falls: 0.5 km (2h 30') (30' break)
Golden Cascade: 0.5 km
junction with Canyon Rd: 1km (4h)
junction with Chalks Rd: 2km (5h)
Chalk Mountain: 3 km (5h30')
Westridge trail: 7km (7h30')
Twin Redwoods to Waddell Beach: 2km or 4kms along the hikers' trail (8h' or 8hr 30')

Grand Total: 27.5 kms (8.5 hours at a brisk pace)

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Berry Creek Falls loop (18kms, 5hrs)

From the park headquarters, walk south on the Hammond Rd and return from the Sunset trail. The famous falls are at the beginning of the Sunset trail, but continue upstream for more impressive falls.

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