A short walk from Waddell Beach
Neil Wiley

Not every hike must be a challenge. Sometimes it’s good to stroll, saunter, amble, ramble, or just mosey along. Here is a short walk in Big Basin that your family might enjoy.

A walk in the wild
Are you tired of hearing local athletes tell you they ran the Skyline to Sea trail to the sea and back? With full packs? At night? With no shoes? And when you tell them you walked around the Loma Prieta Playfield once, do they laugh? Well, here’s a good hike that will give you bragging rights without too much sweat.

How about a loop trail in the biggest, oldest state park in our mountains—Big Basin? It’s big—18,000 acres deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It’s tough—80 miles of trails, with climbs from sea level to 2,000 feet. It’s wild—mountain lions, bobcats, and slimy banana slugs.

So, here’s the walk. You start at Waddell Beach 18 miles north from Santa Cruz on Highway 1. You’ll find a parking lot between the ocean and Highway 1, complete with a view and bathrooms. Simply walk across the road (the most dangerous part of the trip) and through the gate. You walk along a nice paved, flat road for a mile or so. It’s easy.
The road deteriorates a bit, but it’s still flat until you come to a decision point. You can continue on this road all the way to Berry Creek Falls. (It’s an easy walk to a nice waterfall, but a long one.) Or you can turn left on a single-track trail that parallels the road. It does climb a bit up to a ridge, but the terrain is more interesting, the views are good, and it feels like a real hike.

In a mile or so, you come to an intersection with the Clark Connection Trail. I don’t advise taking this trail. It goes nowhere but nine miles up to the Westridge Trail and Chalk Mountain. Your children and mate will never forgive you. We went with a group, and almost half were smart enough to quit. Those of us who tried the climb panted like dogs.

A better choice is to continue on the famous Skyline to the Sea Trail. A short distance from the intersection, you cross a little creek. Some of us made a big deal out of walking through a few inches of water, but it is an easy crossing. On the other side, you find the main trail for horses and bikers. Sure, you could walk five miles to Berry Creek Falls. It is a good walk to a good waterfall, but for a shorter round trip, turn right to complete the loop back to Waddell Beach.

You have bragging rights. You walked toward (if not to) Berry Creek Falls, and if you take a few steps to the left at the Clark Connection, you can talk about the sharp climb to Chalk Mountain without pain.

This is a relatively short hike, but be sure to bring water, map, and perhaps a walking stick or two. A compass is often more useful than a GPS. After all, you are hiking the Skyline to the Sea Trail.

If you are on the beach between noon and 4 p.m. on a weekend, walk south on the east side of Highway 1, just past the bridge, then turn left on the dirt road to the Rancho del Oso visitor’s center to see history and nature exhibits. For guided tours and walks, call 1-831-427-2788.

A low-resolution Big Basin map is available at www.bigbasin.org. A better map is available by calling Mountain Parks Foundation at 1-831-335-3174.