Big Basin Redwoods State Park
California's oldest state park
HIGHLIGHTS: Nestled in the deep folds of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Big Basin is the oldest state park in California. It includes more than 18,000 acres of redwood forest, including the largest ancient stand south of San Francisco. About 10 percent of the park won protection with the help of Save the Redwoods League.
ACTIVITIES: Hiking on 80 miles of trails, camping in the redwoods, plus picnicking, guided walks, mountain biking and horseback riding.
VISITOR CENTER: Maps and information about the park's history are available at park headquarters. You can learn about the park's birds and other animals at the nearby Nature Lodge. Both facilities are 65 miles south of San Francisco, just off state highway 236. Call (831) 338-8860 about hours, which change with the seasons.
CAMPGROUNDS: The park offers three drive-in campgrounds: Blooms Creek, Huckleberry and Sempervirens; two group camps: Sequoia and Sky Meadow; and some walk-in sites at Wastahi. For reservations, go to the park Web site or call (800) 444-7275. The park also has three "trail camps" in the backcountry; to reserve those, call (831) 338-8861.
TENT CABINS: If camping isn't your bag, tent cabins among the park's redwoods are an option. The canvas-topped structures are on wooden platforms with wooden sides and mesh vent panels on two sides. They're equipped with two beds, a wood stove for heat, a bench and table. Outside each cabin are a picnic table and fire ring with grill. Learn more about tent cabins and make a reservation, or call (831) 338-4745.
TRAILS: The 30-mile-long Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail allows you to sample two state parks' diverse habitats, from the top of the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. If you want to go generally downhill, start in Castle Rock State Park at Saratoga Gap (at the intersection of SR 9 and SR 35) and proceed through Big Basin's spongy trails, tall trees and frothy waterfalls to Waddell Beach.
MUST-SEE UNIQUE FEATURE OR SEASONAL HIGHLIGHT: In April and May, the pink blossoms of 20-foot-tall azaleas perfume the air. Spring is also the best time to see the park's best-known waterfalls, 70-foot-high Berry Creek Falls. Another remarkable sight is the Chimney Tree, a living, growing redwood entirely hollow from top to bottom.
HIDDEN GEM: Big Basin's ancient trees provide good habitat for marbled murrelets, web-footed seabirds that feed in the Pacific Ocean. For many years, researchers had no idea where murrelets nested. But in 1974, researchers learned about a chick on the ground in Big Basin-and found its nest in a tall, ancient tree. Today, some people call murrelets "commuter birds," because they travel daily from the treetops to the ocean and back.
MORE INFORMATION: Go to the park Web site, call (831) 338-8860, or write to the park at 21600 Big Basin Way, Boulder Creek, CA 95006-9064.
STOP: The Heritage Grove is a nice stop on your way to or from San Francisco. It's a very pretty drive along Alpine Road. However, the road is quite narrow and windy, so give yourself plenty of time!
FAVORITE HIKE: Berry Creek Falls Trail is a 10 mile adventure with multiple views of waterfalls and nature's overall magnificence.
FAVORITE PARK ATTRACTION: The Native American grinding rocks near Sempervirens falls.
DON'T MISS: The park's museum is great for kids and filled with stuffed creatures that are sure to delight your little ones.
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