Waterfall Loop
Big Basin Redwoods State Park,
National Park Service, Santa Cruz County
In brief:
Redwoods, creeks, and waterfalls -- that's what this loop is all about.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 11 mile loop hike is strenuous, with considerable and constant elevation change, adding up to about 2000 feet overall.

Mostly shaded; a good summer hike.

Trail traffic:
Very heavy around park headquarters, otherwise moderate.

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails, with one short, steep scramble downhill over rock steps at Silver Falls.

Hiking time:
6 hours (this is extremely variable -- many hike it in 4 hours or less, while others may take all day).

Good all year -- waterfalls at peak in late winter and spring.

Getting there:
From I-280 in Santa Clara County, exit onto CA 85 south. After about 4.5 miles, exit #14 onto Saratoga Avenue. Drive west about 2 miles into Saratoga and the junction with Saratoga-Sunnyvale, then continue straight on Big Basin Way/CA 9. Drive uphill on 9 for about 7 miles to the Saratoga Gap intersection (junction of 9 and CA 35), then continue straight on CA 9. Drive downhill on 9 for 6 miles to a stop sign, then continue straight onto CA 236. Proceed on this narrow winding road for 8.5 miles to the park headquarters (left) and parking lots (right).

Street address (for in-transit navigation):
21600 Big Basin Way, Boulder Creek, California 95006

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 3710'19.17"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
There is some food available in the park, including a seasonal snack bar. More options in nearby Boulder Creek, where you can also gas up. Big Basin has several campgrounds, tent cabins, and a few backpack camps. Campground information (with links to reserve) from hipcamp.

Trailhead details:
Pay the $10 day use fee at the entrance station or park headquarters. Toilets and drinking water are available at the trailhead. The park map is available (for $3) at park headquarters.

Most trails are open to hikers and equestrians. Bikes are only permitted on fire roads. Some trails are designated hiking only. Dogs are not permitted on trails (leashed dogs are allowed on paved park roads).

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

Map Choices/More Info:
This hike is described and mapped in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator of this website). Order this book from Amazon.com.
• CSP's Big Basin brochure and map
• The official Big Basin map (available at the park) is most helpful, particularly for the detail of the park headquarters, which helps to find the trails.
• Dave Baselt's Big Basin Redwoods State Park map is an excellent guide to Big Basin (order from Redwood Hikes).
Redwood Hikes has a great map and descriptions of this hike.
• Semperviren Fund's Trail Map of the Santa Cruz Mountains (Map 1) is a great map for the northern section of Big Basin, particularly useful if you are interested in long hikes from adjacent parks such as Butano and Pescadero Creek.
BBRSP's unofficial home page.
• Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and some 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.
• Read Bay Nature's feature: A Redwood Century at Big Basin

Big Basin Waterfall Loop in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

Nestled in California's oldest state park, Sunset Trailthis popular hike begins at the Big Basin park headquarters, and follows undulating Sunset Trail downhill through forested canyons to a series of three dramatic waterfalls. The return leg, a segment of Skyline to the Sea Trail, rises along murmuring creeks back to the trailhead.
      Begin on a path to the left of the Campfire Center, following the signs to Skyline to the Sea Trail. After crossing Opal Creek on a little bridge, you'll reach a T junction with Skyline to the Sea Trail. Turn right toward Dool and Sunset trails.
      At a level grade, the broad trail runs along Opal Creek, through the outskirts of the park headquarters area. Noise from vehicles and park visitors fades with each step through redwood, huckleberry, and tanoak woods. After about 0.3 mile, Skyline to the Sea continues to the north, on its way to Castle Rock State Park, but turn left, onto Dool Trail.Rare sunny stretch on Sunset Trail
      The trail rises easily through the forest, then reaches a junction with Sunset Trail, at about 0.4 mile. Turn left.
      Sunset Trail begins to climb through woods where madrone are prominent. Many of the trees along the trail are charred by fire, and some of the huge redwoods have burned-out trunks. Early settlers confined poultry in these hollowed-out trees, which became known as "goose pens." At 0.9 mile, Sunset Trail crests at the junction with Middle Ridge Road. Continue across the fire road on Sunset Trail, which begins an easy descent. Looking back up the steps near Silver Falls
      Winding down into a redwood canyon, you might see milkwort and California harebell in summer, and in a short grassy stretch, lingering blossoms of Ithuriel's spear and vetch. At 1.1 miles a connector to Skyline to the Sea departs on the left, but continue straight on Sunset Trail.
      A few coast live oaks give way to a forest dominated by redwood and tanoak. The trail ascends gently, crosses over a knoll, and drops through woods where trilliums, redwood violets, western hearts ease, and fairy lanterns bloom in spring. At West Waddell Creek, a pretty stream graced with a few big-leaf maples, the trail rises again. Timms Creek Trail begins at 3.9 miles, heading off to the left as Sunset Trail makes a sharp turn right. Timms Creek Trail, which leads to Skyline to the Sea Trail, is a good bail-out route for hikers who are ready to return to the trailhead. Continue on Sunset Trail, climbing steadily straight uphill.
      Sunset Trail crests near a huge fallen redwood, then begins to descend through very quiet woods. Berry Creek Falls TrailAfter crossing Berry Creek, the path ascends again, and soon steps out of the woods to bisect a swale of chaparral. Manzanita covers the chalky white hillsides to the left and right, and these low-slung evergreen shrubs, mixed through occasional knobcone pines, permit views south to the forested canyon surrounding the waterfalls. Bush poppy's cheerful yellow flowers stand out in a sea of green in early summer, preceding chamise's bloom and fruit on huckleberry shrubs. As Sunset Trail leaves the chaparral, live oaks, California nutmeg, and Douglas fir bridge the transition back into redwood and tanoak. At 5.5 miles the trail to Sunset Camp breaks off to the right -- continue straight, now on Berry Creek Falls Trail. Berry Creek Falls in summer
      The sound of water rushing, then falling, increases as the trail descends. Then, on the right, Golden Falls comes into view. A short switchback drops the trail to the side of the fall, where water slides down a sloping wall of tawny-colored sandstone. The water rushes to a second, short drop, then pools at the top of Silver Falls. As the water shoots straight down 50 feet in a single gasp, the trail clings to the side of the cliff, descending rock stairs.The guidewire on the right is essential, and take special care when the water flow is heavy, for the steps will be slippery. Berry Creek Falls Trail reaches the base of Silver Falls and then levels out and follows the creek. When the creek is low, you can jump across to the right and walk a few feet to get a close look at the fall. This interlude between waterfalls is my favorite spot on the hike -- West Berry Creek burbles along the trail and sunlight filters through redwoods to an understory of ferns, where starflower, trilliums, and redwood sorrel brighten the forest floor in spring, and butterflies float through the air in summer. Just past the confluence of West Berry and Berry creeks, the trail crosses the stream and rises to overlook the top of Berry Creek Falls, a 60-foot drop distinguished by gorgeous ferns and moss covering the rocks around the water flow. There are wonderful views to the falls as the trail descends to a viewing platform near the base of the falls -- if it's not crowded, this is an ideal location for lunch. Past the platform, the trail descends to a junction at 6.7 miles. Turn left onto Skyline to the Sea Trail. Skyline to the Sea Trail
      A bridge crosses the confluence of Berry and West Waddell creeks, then Skyline to the Sea Trail climbs somewhat sharply to a bench where there is one last view to Berry Creek Falls. I lunched here on my last hike and enjoyed the waterfall view and entertainment provided by a band of marauding steller's jays, who perched on a nearby fence hoping for breadcrumbs. Past the bench, Skyline to the Sea Trail begins a rollicking course of short ups and downs, along West Waddell Creek. Azaleas and big-leaf maples line the stream as the trail crosses the water for the south bank, where you may notice salal and wild rose in the understory of tanoak and redwood. Past some big boulders sitting in the creekbed at 7.9 miles, Timms Creek Trail crosses the creek on the left, at the confluence of West Waddell and Kelly Creek. Continue straight on Skyline to the Sea Trail, still climbing, here at a more straightforward uphill pace.Skyline to the Sea Trail
      The trail wanders through a beautiful redwood forest where clintonia, a lily with magenta flowers, blooms in late spring. Later, in summer, orchids unfurl, including the native reddish stripped and spotted coralroots, and helleborine, with purple-green flowers, an import from Eurasia. Skyline to the Sea Trail forks, with the left leg crossing the creek-either path is an option, as they both reconnect shortly.
      Past the rejoining, Skyline to the Sea Trail crosses Kelly Creek, then begins to climb out of the canyon, away from the creek. The forest remains quiet and shaded, and you might see banana slugs along the trail, particularly in cool, damp weather. At 9 miles the connector to Sunset Trail heads uphill to the left -- continue straight on Skyline to the Sea Trail.
      The ascent mellows as you reach the hike's highest elevation, over 1,300 feet. Skyline to the Sea Trail crosses Middle Ridge Fire Road at 9.5 miles, then descends through redwoods scarred by fire. At the 10.6-mile mark, bear left at a fork toward park headquarters. At 10.9 miles, you'll return to the hike's first junction. Turn right, cross Opal Creek, and return to the trailhead.

Total distance: 11 miles
Last hiked: July 3, 2003