Big Basin: Camping in the redwoods
Everything you need to know about visiting Big Basin State Park
What makes Big Basin so special?
Giant, beautiful redwood trees. Fresh, crisp mountain air. Moss, mushrooms, babbling creeks. Fertile, wet, dirt. Decomposing plants. You might already be used to these things, but in Big Basin, it's on a different scale. Nature really takes on a new meaning here.
Big Basin Redwoods is a California State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Big Basin is California's oldest State Park and a California Historical Landmark.
The name Big Basin gets thrown around a lot, especially if you're talking about the Santa Cruz Mountains. I heard about the park multiple times before I visited, and when I finally did, I regretted not visiting sooner.
Planning and Preparing to Visit Big Basin
Deciding to visit Big Basin is a great decision. You're going to have a lot of fun. It's always good to be prepared, so let's go over a few things.
If you'd like to camp in Big Basin, there are a couple options. You're going to reserve a tent spot or tent cabin. Reservations must be made at least 2 days ahead of arrival and can be made up to 7 months in advance.
Tent cabins are enclosed structures that are already set up for you. Tent cabins include mattress pads, a table, a wood stove, and a lockable door. There's also room for an additional tent outside. Tent cabins cost more but If you don't want to buy your own camping gear, they are useful. You can add the Total Camping Package, which includes 4 sleeping bags, a cook stove, pots and pans, cooking utensils, a lantern, a 60-quart cooler, one bundle of wood and one bag of ice. The link to reserve is below. Additional information on camping and lodging in Big Basin can be found here.
If you're planning to trek through the backcountry, click here for information about backpacking campgrounds. The most popular backpacking trip at the park is the Skyline-to-the-sea Trail, a 30 mile, 3 day backpacking trip from the mountains to the ocean. More information can be found here.
Items you might want to consider bringing to make your Big Basin camping trip successful include: your tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and other camping gear, food and cooking supplies, and hiking gear such as clothes according to the weather, a Camelbak, and a flashlight or headlamp. In Big Basin there is a general store with food, beverages, and essential camping supplies.
Big Basin is open year-around and each season has it's unique qualities. The best times to visit are spring and fall. During warm weather, the park turns into a nice cool oasis from the heat.
How to get to Big Basin
Big Basin is about 2 hours from San Francisco, 1 hour from San Jose, 45 minutes from Santa Cruz, and about 6 hours from Los Angeles. Mountain roads leading to Big Basin are windy and narrow. Please be careful and plan to leave in the daytime instead of nighttime.
Things to do in Big Basin
The best things to do at Big Basin are hiking, biking, backpacking, horseback riding, picnicking, and geocaching.
Hiking is the most popular. Big Basin has more than 80 miles of trail! Click here for a trail map. Stop by the visitor center for a map and to inquire about which of the hikes fit your skill level.
If you have a full day and are ready for a challenge, do the Berry Creek Falls hike, an 11 mile roundtrip hike. This hike is a workout but along the way you’ll see big coast redwood trees, beautiful creeks, and four spectacular waterfalls. Make sure to leave early and bring lots of water and a flashlight in case you don't make it back before sunset.
Directions for Berry Creek Falls hike: Park at the headquarters, then find the trailhead for the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail. Stay to the left and follow the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail until you reach Berry Creek Falls Trail. Turn right on Berry Creek Falls Trail until you reach Sunset Trail. Turn right on Sunset Trail until you're back at the headquarters. The Berry Creek Falls hike is a loop so you can also take the loop the opposite way by following my directions backwards. Along the hike you will walk along Kelly Creek, Berry Creek, and see the magnificent Berry Creek Falls and Silver Falls.
Here's more hiking links
If you enjoy backpacking, one of the most popular backpacking trips near the Bay Area is at Big Basin. The Skyline-to-the-sea Trip is a 30 mile, 3 day backpacking trip from the mountains to the ocean. More information can be found here.
Big Basin is also a surfing, windsurfing, and kitesurfing destination. More specifically, Waddell Beach is many surfers favorite spot and it's also a part of Big Basin State Park. Bring your gear and either hike or drive to Waddell Beach in Rancho Del Oso! More Information can be found here.
While you're in the Santa Cruz Mountains, check out Mount Hermon Adventure Company for ziplining, redwood canopy tours, and aerial adventure courses!
Tips for Visiting Big Basin
- The damp vegetation in Big Basin is home to awesome wildlife; look for newts, frogs, salamanders, and banana slugs!
- Mosquitos can get bad at Big Basin, bring bug spray
- If you'd like to volunteer at a state park, click here for more information about becoming a Campground and Park Host
- There's another state park close to Big Basin called Little Basin, which is also great for camping
- Big Basin is a great place for large group tours and field trips
- Official Park Website
- Big Basin Yelp Page
- Big Basin Pinterest Page
- Big Basin Redwoods Park Co. Website - Tent Cabins | Store | Cafe
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
21600 Big Basin Way
Boulder Creek, CA 95006
Why Visit Big Basin?
Because it really is an amazing place! It's surprising how rural and off-the-grid you feel in this ancient redwood forest, considering how close it is to the technology Mecca that is Silicon Valley. And the beauty of the forest is just indescribable.
It's difficult to muster up enough energy to leave Big Basin and head back to the concrete jungle. The sounds, smells, feelings, and tastes of the coastal redwood forest leave a lasting impression on you. It's easy to see why more than 100 years ago a group of conservationists had the foresight to know how special these old growth forests are and to put in the work to protect and preserve the park for future generations. If it weren't for these heroes efforts, most of the Santa Cruz mountains would be flattened and the lumber logged off for developments.
If you really enjoyed your time at Big Basin, consider visiting other similar destinations nearby, such as Sequoia National Park or Yosemite National Park. We also highly recommend visiting California's best kept secret, Pinnacles National Park, which is only 2 hours away from Big Basin.
Big Basin Q&A
Question: Is Big Basin dog-friendly?
Answer: There are certain rules for pets in California State Parks. The most important rule is no leashes longer than 6 feet. Please take a look at this webpage on the CA State Park website for more information.
Question: How far is Big Basin from San Jose?
Answer: Big Basin is about 2 hours from San Francisco, 1 hour from San Jose, 45 minutes from Santa Cruz, and about 6 hours from Los Angeles. Big Basin is definitely worth visiting if you're in the area.
Question: Are there bears in Big Basin?
Answer: No, you probably won't see any bears in Big Basin, but mountain lions/cougars do live in the Santa Cruz mountains! There's also deer, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, and opossums in addition to many reptiles and banana slugs!