As the population of the Bay Area grew in the 19th century, demand for timber led to large-scale logging of the redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains. In 1902, a group of prominent citizens, led by the painter and photographer A.P. Hill, convinced the state legislature to establish a state park to preserve one of the last areas of virgin redwood forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Flora and fauna
The park is famous for its magnificent coastal redwoods, but it also features knobcone pines and other native species. The larger mammals in the park include mule deer, bobcats and (rare) mountain lions.
A large valley in the Santa Cruz mountains, the "big basin" is a watershed whose streams flow into the Pacific Ocean. The mountains trap the coastal fog and rain, providing an ideal climate for the redwoods. Though wet and chilly in the winter, the forest is warm and dry during the summer and fall months.
The park is less than an hour from San Jose and the cities on the Peninsula. Highway 236, also called Big Basin Way, runs from Highway 9 through the park, to rejoin Highway 9 about 10 miles south in the town of Boulder Creek. The north entrance to the park is about 9 miles from Highway 9, and the south entrance is about 9 miles from the town of Boulder Creek. The road is narrow and very twisty, and is crossed by bridle trails at a number of points.
Day use fees are $10 per vehicle. Pay at the Park Headquarters.
Once you've arrived at the park headquarters, there's not much use for your car, unless you're driving on to one of the park's picnic areas or campgrounds.
The park has trails for all types of visitors, including wheelchair-accessible paths, and short trails that have no vertical gain whatsoever. Many of the trails from the park headquarters rise up to the ridge of the basin, and proceed down toward the ocean. These trails are good for 5- to 10-mile hikes, with moderate uphill climbs.
The Skyline to the Sea Trail begins at Castle Rock State Park, to the east of Big Basin. The second half of the 30-mile long trail passes through Big Basin, and runs all the way down to the Pacific Ocean at Wadell Beach.
Bicycles are not allowed on the trails, but the park has several miles of paved roads that are closed to cars, and are in excellent condition.
- A small park museum is directly adjacent to the park headquarters. Open from 9AM-5PM, admission is free.
- Berry Creek Falls. More than 80 feet high. It's about 10 miles from the park headquarters to the falls and back.
Despite the park's lean budget, the rangers lead a number of activities for visitors, including educational classes for children, evening campfires, and guided hikes. Docents also lead educational hikes for visitors curious about the flora, fauna and history of the park.
- There is a small grocery store near the park headquarters, which sells food, firewood, and camping supplies. The store is open from 10AM-4PM daily, and is closed during December and January.
- A small gift shop at the park headquarters sells souvenirs and books.
- There is no gas station in the park. The closest gas station is in Boulder Creek.
Big Basin Tent Cabins are a very popular way to stay at the park. Each tent cabin has two double platform beds with mattress pads and a wood stove. Tent cabins cost $50 per night, with a 2-night minimum on weekends. The cabins are managed by a private company. For reservations call 800-874-TENT (8368).
Because of its proximity to the Bay Area, camp sites at the park are usually reserved far in advance during the summer months. Plan ahead if you want to stay at the park during the summer. Family campgrounds and group campgrounds can be reserved up to 7 months in advance.
Family Campgrounds provide sites for tents or RVs. The park has 146 camp sites distributed among four different campgrounds. Most campgrounds have parking right at the sites, so they are suitable for either tents or RVs. Some campgrounds are "walk-in" sites, so they are only suitable for tents. Some of the family campgrounds have coin-operated hot water showers. Site fees are $35 per night. Reservations are handled through Reserve America, tel: 800-444-PARK (7275). Reserve America charges an additional fee of $8.
Four Group Campgrounds at the park can accommodate groups of 40 or 50 people. Reservations for group campgrounds are also handled through Reserve America.
Four Trail Camps are also in the park, mostly along the Skyline to the Sea Trail. You must have a reservation to camp at the trail camps, and cannot camp two consecutive nights at the same site. Reservations can be made up to two months in advance, through the park headquarters, tel. (831) 338-8861. Hours for trail camp reservations are 9-5, Monday through Friday. The site fee for trail camps is $10.
Be aware of rattlesnakes sunning themselves on trails during the morning heat.
- Santa Cruz is the most obvious place to go next, if you didn't come from there in the first place.