Celebrating Big Basinís 100th Birthday

Hiking from the Coast to
Berry Creek Falls

Neil Wiley


Perhaps the most impressive waterfall this side of Yosemite is Big Basinís Berry Creek Falls. It is beautiful, over sixty feet high and a rarely viewed jewel that requires effort to see. Most people hike from the park headquarters at about 1000 feet elevation down through giant redwoods to the falls at 400 feet via the Sunset, Berry Creek, Skyline-to-the-Sea Trails loop. Itís an 11.5-mile, five to six hour loop. But I decided to take another route.

Instead of starting from headquarters, I drove around to Waddell Beach on Highway 1, then walked up Skyline-to-the-Sea, or in this case what might be called Sea-to-Berry Creek Falls Trail. I found that the hikerís trail was closed, so I shared a wide, relatively smooth dirt road with bicyclists. Although horses and their riders can use this road, too, I never saw any horses. It is, however, a popular horse trail. In fact, mountain realtor Niki Lamb says she has ridden it many times.

I saw thousands of spring flowers in the first few miles up the trail. Lilies, wild iris, California poppies, California lilac, sticky monkeyflowers, Indian paintbrush, succulent live-forevers and other flowers in lavenders, pinks, purples, oranges, yellows and reds. The first mile or so is open and marshy. Small vegetable and flower farms border the trail, but by the time you reach Alder horse camp, the redwood and pine forest closes in.

You walk along a lovely stream, West Waddell Creek, occasionally crossing over and back. The dirt road becomes narrower, then before Camp Herbert, it disappears, becoming a narrow trail but still passable by bicycles and sure-footed horses. About a half mile from the falls, however, the trail for horses and bicycles is blocked by a stream crossing over large rocks. A hitching post is available to tie up your horse or lock your bike.

The next half-mile is a rugged but most interesting climb. I felt that I had entered the forest primeval. Huge fallen trees, giant ferns and heavy forest make you think of dinosaurs and a time before man.
You first hear Berry Creek Falls, then you see it. An observation deck gives you an excellent view. The falls creates its own microclimate, and you can feel the cool breeze blowing off the falling water. Itís a good place to eat a sandwich, talk with fellow hikers and rest for the walk back.

Although I considered looping over to Chalk Mountain and down Westridge Trail, the climb up to 1609 feet was not appealing, so I doubled back down the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail to the ocean, where I was met with cool fog, a bracing wind and a fellow hiker who told me about longer hikes in Nepal.

The hike ends at the horse camp near Waddell Beach. If West Waddell Creek isnít too high, you can walk from the horse camp over to the Rancho del Oso nature and history center via the Marsh Trail. (The center is only 0.7 of a mile away.) I was curious about the center because of Holly Reedís recent MNN article (Reed, Holly, Coastal Access, Rancho del Oso, July 2001, page 22). The Center building is open only on weekend afternoons, but interpretive trail booklets are available ($1.00) to guide you around the one-mile nature trail. In the months to come, our calendar will list guided tours and other events at the center.

Yes, the 13-mile walk was long but it was well worth the trip. I especially recommend it for bicyclists, horse people and dedicated hikers.

This walk through Big Basin was brought to you by Josephine Clifford McCrackin, Andrew Hill, and the Sempervirens Club, whose call to ďSave the RedwoodsĒ resulted in our first state park. As Josephine said, the enemy of the redwoods was not fire, but ďgreed, rapacity, the vandalism that would hack and cut and mutilate the grandest, most magnificent forest that can be found on the face of the globe.Ē

Many special events are scheduled for Big Basinís centennial. For information, visit www.mountainparks.org/centen.html or call 831-335-3174.

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