Your complete guide to Big Basin Redwoods State Park. From the best Big Basin hikes to the best campgrounds and everything you should know before you go.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park brings back fond memories from my childhood of hiking through the quiet redwood forest and being immersed in nature from a young age.
A 45-minute drive from where I grew up in Santa Cruz, Big Basin was an easy escape for family hikes on the weekends and school field trips to learn more about the local fauna in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
And at over 18,000 acres, there’s a lot to explore at Big Basin Redwoods.
Because this area was protected relatively early compared to other redwood forests in California, this is where you’ll find the largest continuous stand of ancient coast redwoods south of San Francisco.
The old-growth redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains are much larger than what you might find in other redwood forests in the Bay Area, where second-growth trees are more common.
The difference in the age of the redwoods in Big Basin is palpable as you walk the park’s trails.
Many are as old as 1,000 to 2,500 years old.
Some of them tower over 300 feet and are 50 feet in circumference.
This is all to say that the Big Basin redwoods are some of the oldest and tallest trees in the world.
This is one of the reasons why Big Basin Redwoods is the most popular weekend trip from San Francisco for those looking to get out in nature and explore California’s most beautiful redwoods.
Because Big Basin is such a special place to me and so many other Californians, I wanted to put together this full guide to the park.
These are my recommendations for the best Big Basin hikes, campgrounds, and everything you’d want to know before visiting Big Basin Redwoods.
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History of Big Basin State Park
As California’s oldest state park, there’s a lot of history to be found at Big Basin.
Established in 1902, Big Basin Redwoods State Park is where you’ll find some of the best redwood hikes in the state, as well as some of the oldest California redwoods in the world.
Big Basin is also the park that inspired conservation efforts in California and the state park movement to protect more of California’s natural beauty.
It was the Sempervirens Club that was formed in 1900 by local community members that ultimately saved this area from the increasing demands of the logging boom in California.
And Big Basin’s history goes back much further than just when it was established as a state park.
Before the Spanish explored this area in the late 18th century, it was inhabited by Native Americans for at least 10,000 years (including the Cotoni and Quiroste tribes).
Local tribes used the Big Basin forest for food and resources and maintained a healthy ecosystem for thousands of years before they were wiped out by colonialism.
Tips for Visiting Big Basin State Park
- Bring layers and be mindful of Big Basin weather – California redwood forests have microclimates and are often cooler than outside temperatures. In addition to this, many Big Basin trails switch from the redwood forest to non-covered portions. It’s good to bring layers for when you’re both in and out of the forest.
- Visit early in the day and avoid weekends for fewer crowds – Big Basin Park is one of the most popular state parks in California so it gets busy, especially in the summer and on holiday weekends. If you can visit the park mid-week or during the shoulder seasons of spring or fall, you’ll find fewer crowds and have more of the redwoods to yourself. If you visit on the weekend, make sure to get to the park before noon to avoid the bulk of the crowds.
- Give yourself plenty of time to actually get to the park – No matter what direction you’re coming from, the road to get to the park is winding and one lane. You’ll have to go slow with the amount of hairpin turns and blind corners. Add on to this the fact that there’s usually someone going 10 miles under the speed limit with few opportunities for passing, and it’s good to factor in extra time than what Google Maps tells you.
- Bring cash for the parking fee – Although some state parks now accept credit card payments, it’s always good to bring $10 in cash just in case. If there’s no one working at the entrance kiosk or you arrive before it opens, you’ll need to fill out a permit yourself and slip it in the payment box with cash for the fee. If worse comes to worst, there’s an ATM inside the gift shop near the visitor center, but the gift shop doesn’t open until 8 am.
- Watch out for tree roots and horse poop on the trails – Part of walking through redwood forests, especially on more narrow trails, is the abundance of tree roots along the trail. And even though dogs aren’t allowed on the hiking trails at Big Basin, horses are allowed on many of them. Make sure to watch where you’re stepping so you don’t trip on a random tree root or step in rogue horse poop along the trails.
- Visit Rancho Del Oso Nature & History Center – If you’re looking to mix up your visit to Big Basin Redwoods State Park with something that doesn’t only involve hiking, Rancho Del Oso Nature & History Center is a good place to stop at. Located on the coastal portion of Big Basin Park (so not where the main Big Basin Redwoods Visitor Center is), the Nature & History Center is where you can learn more about the cultural and natural history of the Big Basin area.
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Best Time to Visit Big Basin State Park
Big Basin State Park can be visited at any time of the year.
It’s open year-round and due to California’s relatively temperate climate, it’s a good park to visit no matter what season it is.
With that said, the park does have a wet season in the winter when trails are more slippery and muddy.
And the wet season at Big Basin isn’t anything to mess with – it gets 3x the amount of rainfall as the rest of the Bay Area.
The wet season lasts from November to February, with January usually being the rainiest month at Big Basin.
The winter also sometimes brings storms that can cause fallen trees to block the trails.
If you’re visiting in the winter, it’s good to check trails conditions and closures ahead of time and bring a solid pair of waterproof hikes shoes.
Summer in Big Basin Redwoods is busy, so be prepared for more people and fewer parking spaces, especially on weekends.
There also tends to be more fog in the mornings in the summer.
If I had to choose a time of year to visit Big Basin, I’d go for spring or fall for good weather and fewer crowds.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park Parking
If you’re visiting in the summer (from Memorial Day to Labor Day), parking lots fill up quickly.
This is especially the case at the main parking lot near the Big Basin Visitor Center.
Plan to get to the park before noon to snag a spot and make sure you have $10 in cash for the day-use fee or a California Explorer Pass.
If you arrive at the park and they’re already at capacity, you’ll be turned away.
There isn’t any street parking outside of the main parking lots because of how narrow the road is to get into the park.
Hiking Big Basin Redwoods State Park During the Current Climate
When I visited the park in June 2020, park staff were taking measures to protect against the pandemic and keep visitors safe.
Although I visited the park on a weekend when it’s busiest, I felt safe on the trails and in the parking areas with how many people were wearing masks and staying more than six feet away.
There were six-foot markers for the line to the bathrooms, although I didn’t see any readily available hand sanitizer at the bathroom so I’d recommend you bring your own.
*Note: there was hand sanitizer at the visitor booth near the main parking entrance though.
When we went to pay the park ranger at the kiosk for the day-use fee, she was wearing a mask and extended a cup on a pole to take our cash to prevent physical contact and stay a good distance away.
Loop trails at the park, such as the Sequoia Trail, were designated as one-way trails so you didn’t have to pass other people who were coming from the opposite direction.
Although there were still a few people who didn’t abide by the one-way markers.
Overall, all staff were wearing masks properly and I’d say about 85% of all visitors we came across were wearing masks as well.
There were many signs throughout the park and on the trails telling people to wear masks and keep at least six feet of distance from each other.
What to Pack for Hiking in Big Basin
It’s good to be prepared when heading out into the wild!
This is what I would recommend packing for exploring the hiking trails in Big Basin.
- Good Hiking Shoes / Boots – There are a few accessible and flat Big Basin Redwoods State Park trails, but most are full of gnarly tree roots (that are easy to trip over) and uneven terrain. Make sure you have the right footwear to enjoy the redwood forest without painful stubbed toes or twisted ankles due to the wrong shoes.
- Breathable Layers – Big Basin hiking trails can go from cool to scorching hot during sections that aren’t in the forest. California’s coastal redwood forests have microclimates of their own, so it’s usually slightly cooler while you’re in the forest than what the outside temperature is. Because of the varying temperature depending on which trail you tackle, it’s good to bring breathable layers for hiking Big Basin.
- Sun Protection (sunscreen, sunglasses, hat) – You might not think sun protection is necessary if you’re hiking through the forest, but, as mentioned above, many Big Basin trails have sections that are completely uncovered. Slap on the sunscreen and bring a pair of sunglasses and a hat just in case.
- Plenty of Water – It’s easy to forget to drink water while you’re hiking through the cool redwood forests of Big Basin, but it still important to hydrate. This is especially the case if you’re climbing up one of those big hills in the park or tackling a longer hike.
- Trail Snacks – Most Big Basin trails are long enough to warrant bringing at least a snack if not a packed lunch. And, in general, it’s always good to bring some food with you while you’re hiking in case things go wrong and you accidentally get lost.
- Bug Spray – There can be a lot of bugs and mosquitos in the redwood forest in the spring and summer, especially if you’re doing a Big Basin waterfall hike or you plan to be near water. Bring bug spray and put it on before you start hiking so you don’t sweat it off.
- Mask and Hand Sanitizer – Don’t forget your mask and bring plenty of hand sanitizer. Masks are now required on California trails if you’re within six feet of another human who isn’t in your household.
- Hiking Poles (Optional) – There are all different levels of elevation and climbs in Big Basin Redwoods State Park – from sea level to over 2,000 feet. If you tend to get sore knees or you simply like the added stabilization, hiking poles make hiking SO much easier on your body.
- GPS Device – if you plan to explore the backcountry or go to more remote areas of the park.
- California Explorer Pass – If you regularly visit California state parks and beaches throughout the year, it can be worthwhile to grab a California Explorer Pass. It not only helps out the local parks but it also allows you to park for free at almost every California state park or state beach. Believe me, those $10 day-use parking fees can add up if you visit California state parks often.
Big Basin Trail Map
Best Big Basin Hikes
Please check trail conditions and closures here before you plan out your hike.
Redwood Loop Trail
Miles: 0.6 | Elevation change: 10 ft
Trailhead: Across the street from Park Headquarters at the large Redwood Tree Marker.
If you’re looking for an easy trail to start with, this is one of the best quick and easy redwood grove trails in Big Basin State Park.
The Redwood Loop Trail is one of Big Basin’s main attractions because of how accessible it is and the lofty trees that can be found along it.
This trail is where the largest trees in the park grow, including the Mother of the Forest Tree that is 329 feet tall and has a circumference of 70 feet.
Enjoy the easy loop trail to start off your time in Big Basin Redwoods and get your first taste of how magical it is to walk underneath giant California redwoods.
You’ll want to give yourself around 30-45 minutes to complete the full loop.
Creeping Forest Trail to Dool Trail
Miles: 2 | Elevation change: 500 ft
Trailhead: Take the Skyline to the Sea Trail from Park Headquarters to Gazos Creek Road where you’ll find the Creeping Forest Trail.
If you’re looking for more Big Basin State Park hikes that are short and easy, the Creeping Forest Trail to Dool Trail Loop is a good option and just slightly longer than Redwood Loop Trail.
This two-mile trail gives you a different perspective of the forest, literally.
Some of the redwoods on the trail have a hard lean to them because of seismic activity.
Other features of the trail include a creekside walk, green woodland, and another redwood grove.
The Creeping Forest Loop isn’t the most impressive as the trees are on the smaller side, but if you’re short on time and want a quick hike, this one is conveniently located right next to Park Headquarters.
You’ll want to give yourself an hour to an hour and a half to do the full loop.
Miles: 4 | Elevation change: 600 ft
Trailhead: Near the main parking lot, just south of Park Headquarters.
One of the best hikes in Big Basin, the Sequoia Trail is a good easy-to-moderate trail to explore the redwoods and get a decent workout while you’re at it.
From a hushed redwood grove to Sempervirens Falls, one relatively steep climb up Slippery Rock, and a winding narrow path through the forest, the Big Basin Sequoia Trail is all about diverse landscapes.
This is one of the oldest trails in the park and, besides the one unshaded uphill climb, it’s a relatively flat trail.
Near the start of the trail, you’ll come across a beautiful grove of redwood trees – one of the most stunning groves in the park.
About 1.8 miles in, you’ll see the sign for Sempervirens Falls – a 20-foot waterfall tucked away across Sky Meadow Road.
The waterfall has a stunning opal color to it due to the natural minerals found in the water.
Spring is the best time to see if at its fullest, but it’s a scenic spot to visit at anytime of the year.
From the falls, you’ll have an upward trek up Slippery Rock, which apparently can be very slippery when it’s wet but I’ve only climbed it in sunny weather.
After your climb, you’ll connect to the Skyline to the Sea Trail to complete the full Sequoia Trail loop back to Park Headquarters.
You’ll want to give yourself two to three hours to complete the full Sequoia Trail Loop.
Berry Creek Falls Trail
Miles: 10.5 | Elevation change: 2,150 ft
Trailhead: Sunset Trail near Park Headquarters.
One of the most popular hikes in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, the Berry Creek Falls Loop is an all-day 10.5-mile adventure through a good chunk of the park.
The Berry Creek Falls hike, also known as the Big Basin waterfall loop, is where you’ll find the highest concentration of Big Basin waterfalls.
For most of the trail, you’ll be immersed in old-growth redwood forests, waterfalls, and scenic lookout points over the forest.
It’s easily one of the most beautiful redwood hikes in the Bay Area.
To start the hike, take the Sunset Trail from the Main Park Headquarters to the Berry Creek Falls Trail, where you’ll find the waterfalls.
From there, you’ll eventually come across the Skyline to the Sea Trail that will intersect with the Redwood Loop Trail and take you back to Park Headquarters.
I recommend hiking counter-clockwise for slightly easier ascents and descents and for the best views at the end of the hike.
You’ll want to give yourself at least five to six hours to complete the full loop.
If you plan to hike to Berry Creek Falls in the winter or early spring, make sure to check trail conditions ahead of time.
This trail is notorious for being muddy during the wet season and can sometimes have fallen trees or landslides after a storm.
If you want to split up the hike into two days and you’re interested in backpacking Big Basin, there’s a backpacking campsite at Sunset Camp (around the midpoint of the trail).
Just note that permits are required if you plan to do any overnight backpacking in Big Basin.
You can also hike to Berry Creek Falls from Waddell Beach if you’re coming from the coastal side of the park.
The hike from Waddell Beach is slightly longer at 12 miles roundtrip, but offers just as much scenery and diversity on the way to and from Berry Creek Falls in Big Basin.
Skyline to the Sea Trail
Miles: 3-30 | Elevation change: 500-1,710 ft
Trailhead: For the multi-day hike, start either at the Saratoga Gap parking lot (if you’re not parking overnight) or from the Castle Rock State Park parking lot (if you’re parking overnight). For a day hike, start at the large Redwood Trail Marker across the street from Park Headquarters in Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
Another popular Big Basin hike, the Skyline to the Sea Trail is also one of the most popular multi-day backpacking trails in California.
The full Skyline to the Sea Trail is a one-way 30-mile trail that spans further than the perimeter of just Big Basin Park.
If you want to do the full hike, you’ll go from Castle Rock State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains to Waddell Beach in three days.
For this hike, you’ll need to grab a Skyline to the Sea Trail permit, which you can get here.
Plan to book it at least a couple of months in advance.
If you’re not interested in doing the lengthy multi-day hike, hiking the portion of the Skyline to the Sea Trail that’s within Big Basin State Park is a popular day hike option as well.
There are few different Skyline to the Sea Trail options for a day hike as the trail intersects with quite a few other hikes in Big Basin.
One of the most scenic Big Basin redwood hikes that involves the Skyline to the Sea Trail is the Sunset-Skyline Short Loop.
This 2.9-mile hike takes about an hour to an hour and a half with a 500-foot elevation change.
The trail gives you a good overview of Big Basin scenery and is probably the best short hike in Big Basin that’s under two hours.
Another good day hike loop is to take the Skyline to the Sea Trail to the Meteor Trail to Middle Ridge Fire Road, which then forms a loop with the Dool Trail or Gazos Creek Road to take you back to Park Headquarters.
This six-mile loop’s main features are Opal Creek, plenty of old-growth redwood trees, and Rogers Creek.
The full loop takes around three hours and has a 600-foot elevation change.
Another popular option is to take the Skyline to the Sea Trail to the Hollow Tree Trail and back.
This out and back trail takes you through old-growth redwood forests, creeks, and the historic Maddocks Cabin Site.
The full hike is eight miles and takes about four hours to do with a 600-foot elevation change.
Lastly, if you’re looking for good views, you can do the one-way hike to Waddell Beach from the Skyline to the Sea Trail.
This is basically just doing the last day of the multi-day Skyline to the Sea Trail as a day hike.
This 12.5-mile trail takes around six hours to complete and has a 1,000-foot elevation change.
Just note that it’s 12.5 miles one way so you’ll need to arrange transportation to be picked up at the end of the trail (there isn’t public transit or cell reception at Waddell Beach).
Big Basin Camping
There are a total of 142 campsites at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, including some that can accommodate RVs up to 27 feet and trailers up to 24 feet (but there aren’t any sewer or electrical hookups).
Camping fees at Big Basin are $35 per night and include parking for one vehicle.
It’s $10 per car for additional vehicles.
Walk-ins aren’t permitted at Big Basin campgrounds, you have to reserve a campsite ahead of time at Reserve California or call 800-444-7275.
The Big Basin Huckleberry Campground is one of the main campgrounds at the park.
It’s also the most diverse campground with three different types of camping: walk-in campsites, drive-in campsites, and Big Basin cabins.
Huckleberry Campground is one of the larger campgrounds at the park, but it’s also fairly quiet in terms of street noise as it’s tucked a good distance away from the main road and visitor center.
In terms of the tent cabins at the campground, they all require a two-night minimum stay.
If you’re renting a cabin, make sure to bring your own bedding/sleeping gear and warm clothes – as you would if you were tent camping.
One thing to note is that Huckleberry gets more mosquitos than other campgrounds due to the nearby creek, so don’t forget bug spray!
The Huckleberry Campground is open year-round and located right next to the Shadowbrook Trail.
It’s about 1.5 miles from the main Big Basin Redwoods visitor center.
Another good option for a Big Basin campground is the Wastahi Campground.
This is a walk-in campground, meaning you’ll have to carry your camping gear anywhere from 30 to 600 feet from where you park.
But the extra effort pays off if you’re looking for a quiet and clean Big Basin campsite (it’s less busy than Huckleberry).
This campground is only open during the summer (Memorial Day to Labor Day).
And it’s located pretty close to the Huckleberry Campground, as well as the Shadowbrook Trail and Sequoia Trail.
Wastahi Campground is also about 1.3 miles from the visitor center.
Note: there isn’t any RV parking at Wastahi Campground.
Blooms Creek Campground
If you’re looking for a super central campground in Big Basin, Blooms Creek Campground is an ideal option.
This was actually Big Basin’s first tent campground, established in the 1930s.
The Blooms Creek Campground is within walking distance to the visitor center and a good chunk of the park’s main trailheads.
Because of how conveniently located it is, it’s one of the busiest and most popular campgrounds in the park.
You can also often hear street traffic from Big Basin Way.
Spots fill up quickly here so it’s best to book well in advance, especially on summer weekends.
There is room for RVs to park at the campsites, but the road to the campground is quite narrow and not super accommodating for those in bulky vehicles.
The Blooms Creek Campground is open in the summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day and on Friday and Saturday nights from April to May and September to October.
Other Big Basin Accommodation
If you’re not a fan of camping but you still want to stay near Big Basin Redwoods, I’d recommend booking a room at one of these accommodations: Brookdale Lodge (20-min drive), Fairview Manor Bed & Breakfast (25-minute drive) or The Inn at Saratoga (45-min drive).
Big Basin Redwoods State Park FAQs
Is Big Basin Dog-Friendly?
Dogs are allowed in campsites, on paved roads, and in picnic areas but not on any of the Big Basin Redwoods trails or at Rancho Del Oso Nature & History Center.
So unless you don’t plan to go hiking or you don’t mind leaving your dog in the car, it’s not the best park to bring the pooch.
How Do I Get to Big Basin State Park?
About 1.5 hours south of San Francisco, Big Basin is one of the most popular places to see the redwoods near San Francisco.
To get there from the city, you’ll take US-101 South or I-280 South until you get to the San Jose area.
Once you get to San Jose, you’ll take CA-85 South to CA-17 / CA-9 to CA-236.
Since there are multiple ways to get to Big Basin Redwoods from San Francisco, it’s good to just use Google Maps to figure out which route has the least amount of traffic.
Note that the road into Big Basin (CA-236) is winding and only one lane, so it’s good to give yourself extra time to get to the park in case you get stuck behind slow vehicles.
If you’re coming from Santa Cruz, it’s only a 45-minute drive north.
You’ll take CA-9 North to CA-236 South / Big Basin Way.
And from downtown San Jose, Big Basin Redwoods is only about an hour’s drive.
Since there are two main ways to get to Big Basin Redwoods from San Jose, it’s good to just use Google Maps to figure out which way has less traffic.
How Far is Big Basin From Santa Cruz?
Big Basin is technically in Santa Cruz County, but from downtown Santa Cruz, it’s about a 45-minute drive (22 miles).
Also, if you’re coming from Santa Cruz, make sure to check out my post about the Best Things to do in Santa Cruz as someone who grew up there.
Can You Drive Through Big Basin Redwoods State Park?
No, not really.
There’s just one major road (Big Basin Way) that takes you to the main park headquarters where you can park, but there aren’t many roads that cut through the park.
This is partially what makes Big Basin Redwoods so magical – the lack of development and street noise as you hike into the forest.
How Long Are the Hikes in Big Basin?
It depends on what you’re looking for.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park hikes are varied and good for all levels of hikers.
There’s everything from 0.6-mile nature loops that are wheelchair accessible to multi-day backcountry trips over rugged terrain.
I tried to highlight a good variety of trails that can be found in Big Basin above, depending on what you’re looking for and how long you want to hike.
Are There Bears in Big Basin Redwoods?
With only a handful of black bear sightings in Big Basin Redwoods over 50 years, you probably won’t come across many bears at Big Basin.
With that said, there are quite a few mountain lions which is partly why dogs aren’t allowed on the trails.
It’s also rare to spot a mountain lion though since they tend to be more scared of you than you are of them.
I’ve hiked in Big Basin and the Santa Cruz Mountains countless times and I’ve never come across a mountain lion.
With that said, if you do come across a mountain lion, don’t run away as you will just encourage it to chase you.
Instead, make yourself as big as possible and speak loudly to try and scare it away.
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