Redwoods, creeks, and waterfalls -- that's what this loop is all about.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 11 mile loop hike is strenuous, with considerable and constant
elevation change, adding up to about 2000 feet overall.
Mostly shaded; a good summer hike.
Very heavy around park headquarters, otherwise moderate.
Dirt trails, with one short, steep scramble downhill over rock steps at
6 hours (this is extremely variable -- many hike it in 4 hours or less,
while others may take all day).
Good all year -- waterfalls at peak in late winter and spring.
From I-280 in Santa Clara County, exit onto CA 85 south. After about 4.5
miles, exit #14 onto Saratoga Avenue. Drive west about 2 miles into Saratoga
and the junction with Saratoga-Sunnyvale, then continue straight on Big
Basin Way/CA 9. Drive uphill on 9 for about 7 miles to the Saratoga Gap
intersection (junction of 9 and CA 35), then continue straight on CA 9.
Drive downhill on 9 for 6 miles, then turn right onto CA 236. Proceed on
this narrow winding road for 8.5 miles to the park headquarters (left) and
parking lots (right).
Street address (for in-transit navigation):
21600 Big Basin Way, Boulder Creek, California 95006
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
There is some food available in the park, including a seasonal snack bar.
More options in nearby Boulder Creek, where you can also gas up. Big Basin
has several campgrounds, tent cabins, and a few backpack camps.
Pay the $10 day use fee at the entrance station or park headquarters. Toilets
and drinking water are available at the trailhead. The park map is available
(for $3) at park headquarters.
Most trails are open to hikers and equestrians. Bikes are only permitted
on fire roads. Some trails are designated hiking only. Dogs are not permitted
on trails (leashed dogs are allowed on paved park roads).
The Official Story:
Big Basin page.
Big Basin Info (recording) 831-338-8860
Map Choices/More Info:
is described and mapped in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco,
by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator of this website). Order
this book from Amazon.com.
CSP's Big Basin brochure and map
The official Big Basin map (available at the park) is most helpful,
particularly for the detail of the park headquarters, which helps to find
Dave Baselt's Big Basin Redwoods State Park map is an excellent
guide to Big Basin (order
from Redwood Hikes).
Hikes has a great map and descriptions of this hike.
Semperviren Fund's Trail Map of the Santa Cruz Mountains (Map
1) is a great map for the northern section of Big Basin, particularly
useful if you are interested in long hikes from adjacent parks such as Butano
and Pescadero Creek.
Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and some trail descriptions.
South Bay Trails, by Jean Rusmore, Betsy Crowder,
and Frances Spangle (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and trail descriptions.
Read Bay Nature's feature: A
Redwood Century at Big Basin
Basin Waterfall Loop in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to
the featured hike.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
Nestled in California's
oldest state park, this popular hike begins at the Big Basin park headquarters, and follows undulating
Sunset Trail downhill through forested canyons to a series of three dramatic
waterfalls. The return leg, a segment of Skyline to the Sea Trail, rises
along murmuring creeks back to the trailhead.
Begin on a path to the left of the
Campfire Center, following the signs to Skyline to the Sea Trail.
After crossing Opal Creek on a little bridge, you'll reach a T junction
with Skyline to the Sea Trail. Turn right toward Dool and Sunset trails.
At a level grade, the broad trail runs
along Opal Creek, through the outskirts of the park headquarters area.
Noise from vehicles and park visitors fades with each step through redwood,
huckleberry, and tanoak woods. After about 0.3 mile, Skyline to the Sea continues
to the north, on its way to Castle Rock State Park, but turn left,
onto Dool Trail.
The trail rises easily through the forest,
then reaches a junction with Sunset Trail, at about 0.4 mile. Turn
Sunset Trail begins to climb through woods
where madrone are prominent. Many of the trees along the trail are charred
by fire, and some of the huge redwoods have burned-out trunks. Early settlers
confined poultry in these hollowed-out trees, which became known as "goose
pens." At 0.9 mile, Sunset Trail crests at the junction with Middle Ridge
Road. Continue across the fire road on Sunset Trail, which begins
an easy descent.
Winding down into a redwood canyon, you
might see milkwort and California harebell in summer, and in a short grassy
stretch, lingering blossoms of
Ithuriel's spear and vetch. At 1.1 miles a connector to Skyline to the
Sea departs on the left, but continue straight on Sunset Trail.
A few coast live oaks give way to a forest
dominated by redwood and tanoak. The trail ascends gently, crosses over
a knoll, and drops through woods where trilliums, redwood violets, western
hearts ease, and fairy lanterns bloom in spring. At West Waddell Creek,
a pretty stream graced with a few big-leaf maples, the trail rises again.
Timms Creek Trail begins at 3.9 miles, heading off to the left as Sunset
Trail makes a sharp turn right. Timms Creek Trail, which leads to Skyline
to the Sea Trail, is a good bail-out route for hikers who are ready to
return to the trailhead. Continue on Sunset Trail, climbing steadily
Sunset Trail crests near a huge fallen
redwood, then begins to descend through very quiet woods. After crossing
Berry Creek, the path ascends again, and soon steps out of the woods to
bisect a swale of chaparral. Manzanita covers the chalky white hillsides
to the left and right, and these low-slung evergreen shrubs, mixed through
occasional knobcone pines, permit views south to the forested canyon surrounding the waterfalls. Bush poppy's
cheerful yellow flowers stand out in a sea of green in early summer, preceding
chamise's bloom and fruit on huckleberry shrubs. As Sunset Trail leaves
the chaparral, live oaks, California nutmeg, and Douglas fir bridge the
transition back into redwood and tanoak. At 5.5 miles the trail to Sunset
Camp breaks off to the right -- continue straight, now on Berry Creek
The sound of water rushing, then falling,
increases as the trail descends. Then, on the right, Golden Falls comes
into view. A short switchback drops the trail to the side of the fall,
where water slides down a sloping wall of tawny-colored sandstone. The
water rushes to a second, short drop, then pools at the top of Silver
Falls. As the water shoots straight down 50 feet in a single
gasp, the trail clings to the side of the cliff, descending rock stairs.The guidewire on the right is essential, and take special care when the
water flow is heavy, for the steps will be slippery. Berry Creek Falls
Trail reaches the base of Silver Falls and then levels out and follows
the creek. When the creek is low, you can jump across to the right and
walk a few feet to get a close look at the fall. This interlude between
waterfalls is my favorite spot on the hike -- West Berry Creek burbles
along the trail and sunlight filters through redwoods to an understory
of ferns, where starflower, trilliums, and redwood sorrel brighten the
forest floor in spring, and butterflies float through the air in summer.
Just past the confluence of West Berry and Berry creeks, the trail crosses
the stream and rises to overlook the top of Berry Creek Falls, a 60-foot
drop distinguished by gorgeous ferns and moss covering the rocks around
the water flow. There are wonderful views to the falls as the trail descends
to a viewing platform near the base of the falls -- if it's not crowded,
this is an ideal location for lunch. Past the platform, the trail descends
to a junction at 6.7 miles. Turn left onto Skyline to the Sea Trail.
A bridge crosses the confluence of Berry
and West Waddell creeks, then Skyline to the Sea Trail climbs somewhat
sharply to a bench where there is one last view to Berry Creek Falls.
I lunched here on my last hike and enjoyed the waterfall view and entertainment
provided by a band of marauding steller's jays, who perched on a nearby
fence hoping for breadcrumbs. Past the bench, Skyline to the Sea Trail
begins a rollicking course of short ups and downs, along West Waddell
Creek. Azaleas and big-leaf maples line the stream as the trail crosses
the water for the south bank, where you may notice salal and wild rose
in the understory of tanoak and redwood. Past some big boulders sitting
in the creekbed at 7.9 miles, Timms Creek Trail crosses the creek on the left, at the confluence of West Waddell and Kelly Creek. Continue
straight on Skyline to the Sea Trail, still climbing, here at a more
straightforward uphill pace.
The trail wanders through a beautiful redwood
forest where clintonia, a lily with magenta flowers, blooms in late spring.
Later, in summer, orchids unfurl, including the native reddish stripped
and spotted coralroots, and helleborine, with purple-green flowers, an
import from Eurasia. Skyline to the Sea Trail forks, with the left
leg crossing the creek-either path is an option, as they both reconnect
Past the rejoining, Skyline to the Sea
Trail crosses Kelly Creek, then begins to climb out of the canyon, away
from the creek. The forest remains quiet and shaded, and you might see
banana slugs along the trail, particularly in cool, damp weather. At 9
miles the connector to Sunset Trail heads uphill to the left -- continue
straight on Skyline to the Sea Trail.
The ascent mellows as you reach the hike's
highest elevation, over 1,300 feet. Skyline to the Sea Trail crosses Middle
Ridge Fire Road at 9.5 miles, then descends through redwoods scarred by
fire. At the 10.6-mile mark, bear left at a fork toward park headquarters.
At 10.9 miles, you'll return to the hike's first junction. Turn right,
cross Opal Creek, and return to the trailhead.
Total distance: 11 miles
Last hiked: July 3, 2003