Rancho Del Oso to Berry Creek Falls,
Big Basin Redwoods State Park,
California State Parks, Santa Cruz County
In brief:
12 mile out and back from the ocean to Berry Creek Falls. Mostly on fire roads, this is an easier hike than the equivalent journey from park headquarters, and far less crowded.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
The elevation at Big Basin ranges from about 15 feet to over 2280 feet. The featured hike begins at about 15 feet and climbs to about 400 feet with a considerable amount of elevation fluctuation along the way -- consider the distance when planning this hike, which is 12.1 miles out and back. It's not hard, but it is long, so I rate it as moderate.

Mostly shaded.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time:
6 hours (this a long hike, so your time may vary considerably).

Nice any time.

Getting there:
From CA 1 at the San Mateo/Santa Cruz County border, drive south about 1 mile, then turn right into the parking lot (this trailhead is about 15 miles south of Pescadero Road/about 7 miles north of Davenport).

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 37 5'49.93"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, stores, and restaurants a few miles north, or south in Davenport. Costanoa, about 6 miles north, on Rossi Road, has good food to go, and they even serve breakfast (good coffee too). Big Basin has extensive camping options, including several drive-in campgrounds (reached from the park headquarters area) and backcountry camps.

Trailhead details:
$10 entrance fees at this trailhead. Maps available at the ranger station (open weekends). There's a portable toilet at the beach parking lot, and a pit toilet near the ranger station, not far from a pay phone. No drinking water in this part of the park. There is one designated handicapped parking spot near the ranger station, but you'll need to get through the gate at the park entrance to get to it; contact park staff for more info. Santa Cruz Metro bus #40 stops right in front of the park.

Most trails are open to hikers and equestrians. Bikes are only permitted on fire roads. Some trails are designated hiking only. No dogs on trails (they are allowed, on leash, on paved park roads in the park headquarters area). Park hours 6 a.m. - 10 p.m.

The Official Story:
CSP's Big Basin page.
Big Basin Info (recording) 831-338-8860

Map Choices/More Info:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region or Monterey Bay Region map to get to the park.
• Dave Baselt's Big Basin Redwoods State Park map is an excellent guide to Big Basin (order from Redwood Hikes).
• The official Big Basin map (available at the Rancho Del Oso ranger station, which is open on weekends only) is most helpful.
• Sempervirens Fund's Trail Map of the Santa Cruz Mountains (Map 2) is a great map of Big Basin's southern section.
BBRSP's unofficial home page.
• Ann Marie Brown's California Waterfalls (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and good directions to Berry Creek Falls, as well as Golden, Cascade, and Silver Falls.
• Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and some Big Basin 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 of a few Big Basin hikes.
• Read Bay Nature's feature: A Redwood Century at Big Basin

View photos from this hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

A 12-mile Parking lot out-and-back hike really must have something special at the turn-around point to make the effort worthwhile. This long Big Basin hike on Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail follows Waddell Creek from the ocean all the way to Berry Creek Falls, and boy, is the trip worth it. After trekking through creekside groves of maple and alder, and forests of redwood, tanoak, and Douglas fir, you'll reach a secluded redwood canyon where the falls (which run all year long) cascade more than 60 feet in a single sheer drop.
     This is a pleasant hike all year round, since the trails are mostly shaded. Expect muddy trails in winter and spring, and it's best to check conditions with park staff after a major storm. In spring a host of wildflowers nestle under the trees, and alders, buckeyes, and maples show off their new leaves. Skyline to the Sea TrailThose same trees are pretty again, in autumn, as they color and fall to the ground.
     I hadn't really considered hiking from the ocean to Berry Creek Falls, because I thought the falls were best accessed from the park headquarters trailhead. Anne Marie Brown in her excellent book California Waterfalls suggests visiting Berry Creek Falls (and Silver, Cascade, and Golden Falls) via either trailhead. From Rancho Del Oso a long 5.4 mile segment of Skyline to the Sea permits bikes (as well as horses), and Brown advocates riding to the end of the fire road (where cyclists must leave their bikes), then hiking the rest of the way. I thought maybe since this is a hiking website, that would be a bit of a cheat, so I decided to hoof it the whole way. Skyline to the Sea TrailThe trip, though lovely, does get a bit dull in the middle, unless you're a real freak for forest fire roads. During miles 4-5 (and most of the way back from the falls) I daydreamed of speeding up the trip with the assistance of two wheels. It is indeed an easy ride, even for non-bikers like myself, although beginners will probably want to walk some stretches.
     Start at the gated entrance to Big Basin on CA 1. Skyline to the Sea Trail, initially a wide, paved road, heads north. The trail winds at a level pace through blackberry, lupine, elderberry, pine, California coffeeberry, nettles, coyote brush, sagebrush, lizardtail, monkeyflower, and poison oak. In early spring you might see blossoms on bluewitch nightshade, paintbrush, and vetch. Quail and cottontail rabbits are common along the trail, and ducks frequent the damp marsh which cushions Waddell Creek, off to the right. Along Waddell CreekAlthough the surrounding hillsides are fairly steep, the trail keeps to a nearly flat grade. At 0.31mile, the trail curves left in front of the ranger station, and bypasses a self-registration station for campers. In late winter, look for a luxuriant patch of calla lilies blooming on the left. At a gate, the pavement ends and a dirt surface takes over. A hiking-only section of Skyline to the Sea veers off to the left (closed on my visit). The trail descends slightly, with creambush, coast live oak, and pines growing on the sloped hillside to the left. A private road sweeps right (the first of many in this part of the park, where private in-holdings are still a reality), but Skyline to the Sea continues left, heading into an area lush with coast live oak and buckeye. You'll bisect a small farm, where the fence to the right is lined with rose bushes, A bridge crossing Waddell Creekand you might see fruit trees blooming in early spring. You'll cross a bridge (and Waddell Creek, for the first but not the last time) and remain close to the creek, but thickets of alder, willow, and California bay keep visitors at a distance. Skyline to the Sea drifts to an open shoreline, and the trail suddenly seems transformed with a shift in vegetation. Alder and willow still thrive near the creek, but to the right a steep hillside is covered with fern, Douglas fir, California bay, and redwood. In late winter, look for trilliums and stream violets nestled close to the ground. At 1.60 miles, a path to Alder Camp doubles back to the left. Continue straight on Skyline to the Sea Trail.
     At 1.68 miles, a signed cutoff trail crosses the creek and heads uphill. Continue on Skyline to the Sea Trail, where a short distance ahead, you'll pass a signed path to Twin Redwoods Camp. Crossing Waddell Creek Redwoods mix with tanoak, and huckleberry shrubs and young nutmeg trees occupy the understory. The trail creeps near the creek for awhile, where on an exposed slope to the right, you might see mission bells and milkmaids in mid-March. A chunk of trail that slid toward the creek leaves little room for foot traffic. A bit further down the trail there's a reroute that creeps along the edge of a redwood forest, then returns in a short switchback to creek level.At 3.11 miles, a path to Camp Herbert breaks off on the left. Continue straight on Skyline to the Sea Trail.
      A split in the trail before the creek bids equestrians to cross the creek, while hikers and cyclists are beckoned to a pretty bridge. Alders drape over the creek here, dangling flower bracts in late winter, and catkins in autumn. You'll walk through a cramped meadow and then reach a signed junction with McCrary Ridge Trail at 3.16 miles. The sign warns that McCrary Ridge Trail is steep, and best suited to horses. Continue straight on Skyline to the Sea Trail.Crossing Waddell Creek
     Skyline to the Sea returns to the shore of Waddell Creek, where buckeyes, maples, and alders are common. In March I saw a generous display of milkmaids along both sides of the trail. You'll pass through a pretty patch of redwoods, then climb easily away from the creek, into a thick forest of Douglas fir, redwood, and tanoak, with a few madrone and ceanothus as well. At a sturdy bridge a side creek feeds in from the right, but at the next creek crossing, the bridge was out on my visit -- here the path dips down to the creekbed, then rises to rejoin Skyline to the Sea. Just past this, at 5.11 miles, you'll reach a signed junction with Henry Creek Trail. Continue straight on Skyline to the Sea.
     The trail descends slightly, then crosses Waddell Creek on another car-sized bridge. Skyline to the Sea is always prone to storm damage, and there were deep ruts in the center of the trail when I hiked here in March 2002. At 5.51 miles, Skyline to the Sea prepares to cross the creek yet again, this time on either a footbridge or rock hop Berry Creek Falls(depending on conditions; the bridge is easily washed away). Cyclists must leave their bikes here (there's a rack), and proceed on foot. On the other side of the creek Skyline to the Sea, shrunken to a footpath, climbs on a gentle grade through redwoods. At 5.68 miles, Howard King Trail begins on the right, at a signed junction. Continue straight on Skyline to the Sea Trail.
     The trail begins a sharp descent under the shade of towering redwoods. Ferns are plentiful, and you might see mushrooms in winter (I saw a nearly florescent yellow one). Once more you'll reach the shore of Waddell Creek, but here the only way across is via a twin pair of long metal guides. It was a strange feeling, for each beam is narrow, and walking felt odd and bouncy and, as my beam was partly filled with water, damp. On the other side the trail picks up again, heading back into the redwood forest, where you'll duck under some huge old fallen trees. You might see redwood sorrel in early spring. At 5.95 miles you'll reach an undersigned junction (no signs identify Berry Creek Falls Trail). Skyline to the Sea Trail veers right, then crosses Berry Creek. Continue straight/right on Berry Creek Falls Trail.Returning to the trailhead
      The path starts out tiny, but widens a bit as it ascends through thick stands of redwoods. The creek is mostly out of visual range, but is certainly audible. When you reach a wooden fence lining both sides of the trail, lift your head for the first glimpse of Berry Creek Falls. At 6.03 miles, you'll reach the base of the falls and a viewing platform with a bench. The trail continues uphill toward Silver, Cascade, and Golden Falls, an optional 2 mile extension to this hike. Berry Creek Falls is a favorite with bay area waterfall lovers, and one visit might hook you as well. Water drops sharply about 60 feet, pools at the base, then continues downstream. The rock face on both sides of the falls is cloaked in moss and ferns, and redwoods loom above. When you're ready, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: 12.06 miles
Last hiked: Monday, March 18, 2002