Buzzard's Roost, Big Basin Redwoods State Park,
California State Parks,
Santa Cruz County
In brief:
5 mile out and back from park headquarters to an incredible sandstone outcropping, with wonderful views of the area.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 5 mile out and back hike begins at about 1000 feet, climbs to about 2150 feet, then returns to the trailhead. It is moderate, with a total elevation change of about 1200 feet. The elevation at Big Basin ranges from about 200 feet to over 2280 feet, so other hikes originating at this trailhead range from easy to strenuous.

Mostly shaded, but full sun at the top of Buzzard's Roost.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails.

Hiking time:
2 1/2 hours.

Nice any time.

Getting there:
There are quite a few routes that lead to Big Basin from the bay area. You can make the trip long and scenic or longer and more scenic. Check a road map to pick the routes suitable from your location. The following are somewhat generic directions. From CA 35 (Skyline Boulevard) in Santa Cruz County, turn west onto CA 9 at Saratoga Gap. Drive west about 6 miles and turn right onto CA 236. Drive about 8 miles to the park headquarters, and park in the lot across the street from the ranger station/park headquarters. (Note: if you or your fellow passengers are prone to car sickness, the southern leg of 236 is less barfy. Instead of turning onto CA 236 6 miles west of Saratoga Gap, continue on CA 9 another 7 miles to Boulder Creek, and take a right onto CA 236 there.)

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
Stores, restaurants, and gas in Boulder Creek. Big Basin has extensive camping options, including several drive-in campgrounds and backcountry camps. Campground information (with links to reserve) from hipcamp.

Trailhead details
There are several parking lots at Big Basin, but park visitation is high, so plan on arriving early on weekends to ensure parking. $10 day use fee (pay at the ranger station/park headquarters if entry kiosk is unattended). Maps available at the ranger station or kiosk. Bathrooms just north of the park headquarters building. There is no direct public transportation to the park.

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). 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:
• 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.
• CSP's Big Basin brochure and map
• Use AAA's San Francisco 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).
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.
Cyberhikes has photos and descriptions of a few Big Basin hikes.
• Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book (order this book from has a simple map and some trail descriptions.
South Bay Trails, by Jean Rusmore, Betsy Crowder, and Frances Spangle (order this book from has a simple map and trail descriptions.

View 68 photos from the featured hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

At Hollister Hills Big Basin parking lotState Vehicular Recreation Area, there's a motorcycle/ATV trail called Troll Trail. I sat at the Lodge Camp trailhead one day and looked up at the horribly steep path, a deep gash that might be run downhill or uphill; it's hard to tell from the map and all day I saw no one on it. All I knew for sure about Troll Trail is that it scared me, and scared me badly. The more I thought about navigating the nasty grade (despite the fact that all I'm capable of riding are the easiest trails, and that I was in no danger of accidentally wandering onto Troll Trail) the more spooked I got. Troll Trail became my moniker for any scary road or trail, whether taken by car, motorcycle, or on foot. When a bay area hiker recently asked me to write about Big Basin, and recommended the Buzzard's Roost hike, I did a little surfing and found a series of photos of Pine Mountain Trail on Cyberhikes. The photo of what Cyberhikes calls "the wall," scared me. Scale is difficult to discern, but the photo shows a sheer slab of stone, and the description says it's 20 feet tall. Redwood TrailI'm no rock climber! How would I make it up the wall? Pine Mountain Trail quickly became the new Troll Trail in my life. I was intrigued and frightened. Like a victim in a horror movie who can't resist exploring the dark cellar, I planned a visit to Big Basin. The night before my assault of the troll trail, I slept badly. I wondered, am I really a capable hiker, or just a weakling who can only deal with well-groomed 7% grade trails that small children and grandmas choose? (No offense to any small children or grandmas intended.) The next morning I arrived at Big Basin, and started uphill, muttering "troll trail" under my breath like a mantra. With steely determination I ascended from the redwoods to the madrones and then to the pines, wound my way up the mountain, and then I faced the wall. Truthfully, it was no big deal. It's just a tougher than usual rock scramble; no problem with sticky-soled shoes. In fact, the trek to Buzzard's Roost is one of the most delightful hikes in the bay area, if you don't mind (or if you look forward to) a little challenge now and then along the way. The moral of the story is that troll trails don't have to be terrifying. It's easy to get psyched out by photos (which can be deceiving), or hikers' tall tales. Take troll trails one step (or wheel) at a time, know your limits, and what seemed impossibly gnarly can become just another notch on your trekking pole. Pine Mountain Trail
      In addition to the challenges of the trip to Buzzard's Roost, Big Basin offers an astounding variety of trails, of assorted length and difficulty. Most tourists walk the 0.6 mile Redwood Loop, then get back into their cars and move on. In the park's backcountry, you're prone to encounter backpackers hiking the Skyline to the Sea Trail, a whopping 28 mile journey. Most bay area hikers have trekked to Berry Creek Falls on a combination of Sunset Trail, Howard King Trail, Berry Creek Falls Trail, and Skyline to the Sea. The loop of more than 10 miles is best taken in the early spring for optimal water flow. Hikers will delight in Big Basin's high proportion of hiking-only paths, and it's easy to string together a memorable hike from the park's many trails. Car, walk-in, and hike-in camping is also available. Although the park is divine in the quieter months of winter and early spring, roads accessing Big Basin are prone to mud slides, so you may want to check road conditions on the Caltrans website before leaving home.
      For the featured hike, make sure to wear sturdy hiking boots, bring lots of water, and if you have trekking pole(s) bring them. Begin at the parking lot across the road from park headquarters, and look for a huge signpost (really, it looks like a joke) for the Redwood Trail. After just a few feet, bear left at a signed junction onto the Redwood Trail. With impressively sized redwoods and fenced path borders, Redwood Trail resembles the main promenades at other bay area parks, like Muir Woods, Henry Cowell, and Armstrong, that offer sanctuary for Sequoia sempervirens. The loop trail continues to the right at a signed junction after about 500 feet; stay to the left as you head toward the Blooms Creek Campground. The trail edges along CA 236, with huckleberry bushes growing thickly in the shade of the redwoods.When you reach the signed entrance to Blooms Creek Campground, turn right and walk along the paved road Stunning view(good scouting for future camping trips). Chipmunks may be seen frolicking through the campground. As the campground road loops back toward the highway, stay straight on the paved but unsigned Hammond Road. Just before the gate, look to the left for the signed start of the Pine Mountain Trail. Turn left onto Pine Mountain Trail.
     The narrow path (open to hikers only) crosses Blooms Creek on a pretty bridge, then meets Blooms Creek Trail at a signed junction. Turn right to remain on Pine Mountain Trail. Straight off the trail begins a climb through redwood, tanoak, and huckleberry. It seems strange that no hazelnuts, creambush, or California bays exist here; the soil must not be to their liking because damp woods are generally their thing. As Pine Mountain Trail ascends, you'll pass two signed junctions with paths that connect to Pine Mountain Fire Road. Stay to the left each time. The quiet trail crosses a creek and a seep, then reaches a unsigned split. Either short fork meets the fire road almost immediately, but neither path is signed at their respective junctions, or here at their split. This is the trickiest part of the trailTurn left (more like straight if you've opted for the left fork) and walk uphill to the visible signed junction (this is a good place for an initial rest stop). Bear right onto Pine Mountain Trail.
      After a very brief descent, the trail starts to climb again. The deeply shaded path angles along the mountain, ducking beneath one fallen redwood and squeezing between two sections of a second fallen giant. As you ascend, the trail gets rockier; the first (and easiest) slickrock scramble is easily ascended with careful footwork. Redwoods begin to thin, replaced by sun-loving madrones and manzanitas The path takes a sharp turn to the left while an unmarked path continues straight. It can be hard to discern the correct trail in low-usage months, as they seem equally trampled. Just a few steps after this non-junction, a small rocky switchback appears. The easiest choice is to walk to the left and then up, but you can also basically shortcut the switchback by walking straight up, and then picking up the trail, which continues to the right. The trail disapperas on the bare rock; aim for the top The steady and reasonably graded trail hints at the views that are to come,with dark forested mountains occasionally visible through breaks in the vegetation. Look for silktassel trees, toyon, chamise, and chinquapins, along with the dominate manzanitas and madrones (still lots of huckleberry too). A slickrock path (of sorts) shoots sharply uphill on the left side of the trail. You can skip the short ascent if you like, but the rocky perch is a perfect place for a rest, with breathtaking views. From here, you can really get a sense of the change in vegetation, as knobcone pines have gradually crept into the picture, and from the viewpoint tower above everything else. With limited topsoil, some the plants (particularly a small chamise) growing around the viewpoint appear to be bonsai, their exposed roots clawing for nutrients on top of the rocks. The air, particularly on a warm day, is spiced from the aroma of pine, a smell that always makes me feel faraway from San Francisco. Carefully descend the path, then continue uphill on the main trail. Buzzard's RoostAt clear spots, look downhill for more rock formations clinging to the hills. Suddenly, you reach the notch (can't bear to call it a wall). If you have any serious doubts about your ability to scramble up this slickrock, consider turning back here. But if you place your feet carefully and use your hands for stability, it's no problem. Chamise lines the sides of the trail as you enter a section that looks like a luge track. The path is smooth, sandy, and curvy, without dirt, and bordered by thin stands of pine and manzanita. At about 2.5 miles, a signpost points the way, left, to Buzzard's Roost (no longer signed, and to the right, a path continues to Pine Mountain). Turn left. The trail drifts away, but it's a clear view to the top, and you can pick your way up the slickrock however you choose. Last stretch to the topAt the top (one of Big Basin's highest points at 2150 feet), there are panoramic and unobstructed views, and large rock formations to explore. The largest one (which must have put the roost in buzzard's roost) is a great place to sit. I felt safe and cradled by the world. I was reluctant to leave this magnificent belvedere. When you're ready, retrace your steps back to the junction with Pine Mountain Trail and Pine Mountain Fire Road. You can go back the way you came, or choose, as I did, to descend on Pine Mountain Fire Road. The broad dirt road (which is open to cyclists and equestrians as well, although you will be unlikely to encounter them on this dead end road) drops steadily through redwoods, crosses Blooms Creek and ends at an undersigned junction. Turn right onto the paved Hammond Road. Just past this junction, look to the right for a beautiful stone fireplace. I want to camp there! When you reach the previously encountered junction with Pine Mountain Trail and the campground, retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

Total distance: about 5 miles
Last hiked: Monday, August 7, 2000