A small sample of a big park
The Skyline-to-the-Sea—Sunset Loop
It was a wet and foggy morning in May. I was paying for parking at the Big Basin Redwoods State Park headquarters when two shivering young women from North Carolina asked a grizzled old man, me, a few questions.
Is it always this cold?
No, but it is usually damp, which makes it seem cooler. (On this morning it was 45º F.)
Are there any big trees?
Yes, Big Basin has some of the tallest and oldest trees on Earth. Some are over 300 feet tall and 50 feet in circumference. The big trees range from 1000 to 2000 years old.
Where are they?
You’ll find them in many places throughout the park, but you’ll find a large grove an easy walk from the park headquarters on the Redwood Loop Trail.
The conversation ended, and I never saw them again, but I’m sure they found the trees. For the casual walker, the Redwood Loop may be a sufficient introduction to the redwood giants, but if you want a better sample of Big Basin, a somewhat longer and less-traveled loop can give you an even deeper appreciation of this wonderful old park.
You’ll find the trailhead across from the park headquarters. You enter the forest and cross Opal Creek on a large footbridge. In a few steps, you reach the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail. If you turn right, you can go all the way to Castle Rock Park and Skyline Boulevard. If you turn left, you can hike to the park’s biggest waterfall, Berry Creek Falls, and on to Waddell Beach and the Pacific Ocean. The total trail length is 33 miles, and hiking to either end is too much for most day-hikers. Instead, we take a 2.9-mile loop that begins with a left turn to follow the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail up a moderate climb of roughly 500 feet to Middle Ridge.
The trail winds along Opal Creek, then moves uphill through a redwood forest. It is a walk on a well-trod path through time. I feel the oldness, hear the stillness, and respect the ancient trees. All around, I see the fallen giants, huge logs rotting to dust. It is a redwood cemetery with headstones of living trees, but it is not a sad place. This is a theater showing the natural order of things, birth and death, growth and decay.
As I cross over the Middle Ridge Fire Trail, a sign warns me “WARNING: STRENUOUS HIKE, BERRY CREEK FALLS, 6 HOURS ROUND TRIP.” It’s a beautiful hike that I recommend, but I don’t intend to go that far, and I’m glad when I see the connector trail to Sunset.
There are even more redwoods on this side of the ridge, and we see them from a different perspective, from high up on a narrow trail cut into the side of the hill. Several large redwood groves dominate the forest, but one of the nicest is the Walter W. Broadman grove, perhaps because it comes with a comfortable bench.
At Sunset Trail, you turn right toward park headquarters. From here, it’s an easy 1.3-mile walk. The straight downhill is unusual and pleasant, but don’t go too fast. The straightness of the trail has led to erosion and exposed roots that can send you on a short but unpleasant trip.
Turn right on Dool Trail, then right again on the Skyline-to-the-Sea-Trail. For a more scenic stroll, pass the first bridge to the park headquarters, and then turn left at the second bridge. If you have more time and energy, consider the short half-mile Redwood Loop, before visiting the small museum and store.
Our area offers many hiking opportunities, but California’s oldest state park is a special place. Its eighty miles of trails and 18,000 acres from sea level to more than 2,000 feet elevation offer a unique natural experience.
Day- use fee is $10. Seniors pay $9. Dogs are not allowed on trails or unpaved roads. For camping information, visit http://access.parks.ca.gov. The store carries food and camping supplies.
There are several routes to Big Basin:
If Highway 17 traffic is light, you can drive down to Mount Hermon Road, go through Scotts Valley to Felton, turn right on Highway 9, right in Boulder Creek to Highway 236, and left on 236 into Big Basin. (About 31 miles from Summit and Highway 17.)
A shorter but more curvy route is to take Bear Creek Road to Highway 9, turn left, and in a few blocks, turn right on Highway-236. (About 23 miles from the Summit/Highway 17 intersection.)
You can also enter the park from the north by driving up through Saratoga Gap on Highway 9 to the northern end of the Highway 236 loop through Big Basin. (This is a much longer drive, but an interesting alternative return, especially if you want to visit Santa Clara Valley on the way home.)