Waterfalls! Berry Creek Falls, Big Basin State Park: 11-Mile Strenuous Hike

Redwoods, creeks, and waterfalls -- that's what this loop is all about. This 11 mile loop hike is strenuous, with considerable and constant elevation change, adding up to about 2000 feet overall.

Nestled in California's oldest state park, this 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.

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

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, then turn right onto CA 236. Proceed on this narrow winding road for 8.5 miles to the park headquarters (left) and parking lots (right).

Trailhead details:
Pay a $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.

Rules: 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). 

Gas, food, and lodgingThere 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.

Exposure: 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. 

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

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

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://transitandtrails.org/trailheads/539

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 37°10'19.17"N
Longitude 122°13'20.41"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

The Official Story
:
CSP's Big Basin page.
Big Basin Info (recording)[masked]

Map Choices/More Info
This hike is described and mapped in60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber. 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.

The text above and below is quoted from Jane Huber's Bay Area Hiker Web site.

"Nestled in California's oldest state park, this 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.
      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. 
      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. After 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. 
      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. 
      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.
      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 ...


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  • Elisa

    Awesome meeting!

    April 20, 2014

  • Kal

    Your accomplishment for today: Distance 11.0 mi, Elapsed Time: 5:09:02, Moving Time: 4:31:37, Stopped Time: 0:37:25, Avg Speed: 2.1 mph, Avg Moving: 2.4 mph, Max: 8 mph, Elevation Min: 407 ft, Max: 1355 ft, Total Ascent: 2320 ft, Total Descent: 2308 ft

    1 · April 19, 2014

    • adnan

      I second Ken's comment :). Great hike. Thanks

      April 20, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      Double that pace if you're Anton!

      April 20, 2014

  • Elisa

    Thanks Kal. That was a great hike and a fun group of people!

    April 20, 2014

  • Tony

    It was one of my best hikes. Loved the atmosphere and scenery. Will do again.

    April 20, 2014

  • Marzban

    Awesome hike! Thanks Kal! Had a fun time! Will be posting pictures soon. :-)

    1 · April 20, 2014

  • Kal

    Great effort everyone ! See back next week for Point Reyes.

    April 19, 2014

  • Marzban

    Hey Kal... We are eating at The Basin on corner of big basin way and fifth Street

    April 19, 2014

    • Kal

      Across the street

      April 19, 2014

  • Felix

    I will be late too

    April 19, 2014

    • Felix

      Went tye wrong way

      April 19, 2014

  • Elisa

    Hi, we are running a bit late because of traffic. Please wait up if you can :)

    April 19, 2014

  • Kal

    Please remember to bring at least 2 pints or 1 liter of water.

    April 19, 2014

    • Jake

      Yes! Highly recommend bringing more than you think you'll need. I'm bringing 3 liters, but I evaporate a bit more water (from the head :-)) than the average person.

      April 19, 2014

  • Kal

    To make the group easier to find, I will be wear a purple shirt, blue shorts, and a blue camelbak backpack

    April 19, 2014

  • Jake

    If anyone is coming from south San Jose area, we could carpool. If not, I don't mind sticking to my normal solo karaoke road show. :-)

    April 18, 2014

    • Jake

      Oh, but I should note that I will be coming back promptly at the end of the hike. I have some errands to run and a 6:30am hike the next day.

      April 18, 2014

    • Santosh

      Im from Mountain View and looking for a carpool.

      1 · April 18, 2014

  • jennifer

    Can I get a ride with anyone..i live in Oakland area?
    Thanks.

    April 15, 2014

    • Kiran

      Yes, I can be at the Pleasanton BART. On owens dr right? What time do you want me there? Thanks Marzban

      April 18, 2014

    • Marzban

      Yes...On the Pleasanton side pickup lane, at 11:15am.

      April 18, 2014

  • Theresa

    Redwood City Carpool: Offering ride from Bedwell Bayfront Park parking lot leaving at 11:30. Don't leave a msg here, but email me via meetup if you are interested.

    1 · April 18, 2014

  • Bianca

    Is anyone interested in carpooling from Mtn View, Sunnyvale, Cupertino area?

    April 17, 2014

    • Santosh

      Bianca,
      I am looking for a carpool from Mountain View.

      April 18, 2014

  • Marty

    You must mean 2 pints of water. I have hiked the longer version which is this one except to the sea and back 4 times and have never seen anyone drink four pint bottles of water.

    April 12, 2014

    • Jake

      I do happen to have strawberry margarita mix. Don't tempt me! :-)

      1 · April 17, 2014

    • Marzban

      Ha! Theresa knows the right way to hike! Happy hour hike begins Saturday 1pm at Berry Creek Falls!!! ;-)

      1 · April 17, 2014

  • jennifer

    Anyone planning on camping overnight then doing the 5 mile hike on sunday?

    April 17, 2014

  • Kal

    This is a six hour hike, so people might consider packing some small amount of food such as protein bars or something similar.

    April 17, 2014

  • Kal

    This is a 11-Mile Strenuous Hike with a cumulative elevation change of 2000 ft. Anyone who does not show up with at least 2 liters of water will not be permitted to hike with us.

    April 11, 2014

  • Marzban

    Loved hiking the big basin state park, but haven't done that in a while.

    January 1, 2014

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