When you think about California, it’s fair to say that many will likely consider Los Angeles, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, San Diego or perhaps even Yosemite National Park. However, during our visit to San Jose and Silicon Valley, we would argue that in terms of natural beauty, Big Basin Redwoods State Park is even more majestic than any of the aforementioned attractions. If you love the outdoors, Big Basin hiking trails are some of the best in the state.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park can lay claim to being California’s oldest state park. The stunning sight of these majestic coastal redwoods that tower above the California landscape is a true sight to behold and once you begin meandering through this state park, you immediately realize the size of these redwood forests.
Depending on how much time you have to explore Big Basin will likely determine which of the various hiking trails you choose to experience. Regardless of your choice, all of the trails epitomize Big Basin’s natural beauty and you will be eager to experience more! Let’s take a look at our brief adventure through California’s majestic landscape of redwood forest.
Where is Big Basin State Park?
For those of you planning a visit to Big Basin Redwoods State Park, you will be pleased to know that this is perfectly located to experience some of California’s other iconic landmarks. Situated in close proximity to both San Jose and San Francisco, this is a perfect time to organize an itinerary where you can explore the home of Google, Facebook and Apple while taking a trip to the Bay Area to enjoy an Alcatraz cruise or of course, the breathtaking Golden Gate Bridge.
Visiting this area of California may usually encourage you to utilize the awesome public transportation system, also known as the BART, but in order to appreciate Big Basin Redwoods State Park, we highly recommend renting a car for the ultimate experience.
A word of warning, if you are prone to car sickness, be prepared for an extremely winding road trip through the mountains to reach this state park. Don’t worry though, it’s worth the suffering when you arrive and have the opportunity to appreciate the natural beauty around you!
- San Jose International Airport to Big Basin Redwoods State Park – 29 miles (50 minutes) – Click here for directions using Google Maps
- San Francisco International Airport to Big Basin Redwoods State Park – 48 miles (1 hour 15 minutes) – Click here for directions using Google Maps
If you are planning a day visit to this state park, be prepared to pay $10 for parking at the headquarters. We visited during the late afternooon, so $10 was rather expensive given that we only spent a few hours there. However, all proceeds go back into the park, so it’s all for a good cause to help preserve this gorgeous, historic environment. If you arrive early, $10 is definitely a bargain!
History of Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Although the history of the Big Basin Redwoods landscape dates back thousands of years, the “state park” status originated in 1902 which again, to reiterate what I referenced earlier, makes this the oldest state park in California.
The establishment of Big Basin as a “state park” marked the beginning of the preservation and conservation movement in California and inspired the vision of many of the other areas that have been defined as such in more recent years.
It’s no surprise to hear that these ancient coastal redwood trees that range from 1,000 to 2,500 years old are the undoubted main attraction in this state park. Many of these giant natural attractions stand as tall as the State of Liberty (over 300 feet in height) and up to 50 feet around.
“Imagine a time when the whole peninsula from San Francisco to San Jose shall become one great city; then picture, at its very doorstep, this magnificent domain of redwood forests and running streams, the breathing place of millions of cramped and crowded denizens of the city.” (Carrie Stevens Walter, Sempervirens Club, 1901)
For those of you willing to hike deep into this state park, you may encounter a myriad of wildlife species, awesome panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and of course, my favorite, various waterfalls…but we will save those for another trip!
Spanning over 18,000 acres, Big Basin Redwoods State Park covers a landscape with a diverse ecosystem and once you reach the entrance to this park, you know that a real adventure is about to start.
Big Basin Hiking Trails
It’s all about the redwoods in Big Basin, so depending on the length of time you plan on spending inside this state park will determine which of the following hiking trails suits your style. With over 80 miles of distinctive hiking trails, varying in length and difficulty, there is sure to be something for every aspiring traveler who visits this iconic state park. You will be sure to want to return again because there is just so much to experience!
Although much of the redwood forest doesn’t have a direct hiking trail through it, here are some of the most popular trails that you can enjoy.
- Redwood Nature Trail (0.6 miles) – Renowned as the most popular trail, primarily because it’s the easiest to navigate. This is the trail we experienced given our time constraints and keep reading for some of the best highlights around this trail. Don’t let the short distance fool you…there is PLENTY to keep you occupied on this trail!
- Sunset-Skyline Short Loop (2.9 miles) – For those that are looking for a 1-2 hour trail and don’t mind a little strenuous activity, this is by far the best choice. You move away from the busy park headquarters and into redwood uplands.
- Slippery Rock (5.4 miles) – The name of this trail sounds worse than it actually is…it’s a relatively easy hike that can be experienced on a day hike with plenty of awesome scenery.
- Berry Creek Loop (10 miles) – If you love waterfalls as much I do, this is certainly going to be a hiking trail that will remain on your radar! Yes, it’s a lengthy hike and will likely take all day but not only will you experience a myriad of amazing redwood trees, you will also enjoy numerous waterfalls along this trail. Berry Creek Falls is by far the most popular destination in Big Basin and although it’s best experienced in the heart of winter, the falls run all year round.
- Sempervirens Falls (3.4 miles) – Do you really want to experience a waterfall while exploring Big Basin Redwoods State Park? For those that don’t find the thought of hiking for 6-8 hours along the Berry Creek Loop particularly appealing, this is a shorter trail with another gorgeous waterfall at the end. The main drawback of this trail is that much of it runs parallel to a road, albeit fairly quiet.
Plenty of hiking trails to be found and the above are just a few of the alternatives available. Be sure to hop inside the park headquarters before venturing out into the redwood wilderness to figure out which trail is best for your visit.
For us, we only had time to enjoy the Redwood Nature Trail but as I referenced above, this should take nothing away from the beauty throughout this short and easy hike.
these trees, because of their size and antiquity, were among the natural wonders of the world, and should be saved for posterity (Andrew Hill, 1899)
Redwood Nature Trail
The Redwood Nature Trail is the perfect introduction to Big Basin Redwoods State Park. It’s a short trail that is less than one mile in distance and meanders through the redwood forestry by the park headquarters. At the beginning of the trail, you can collect a map that highlights a number of iconic points scattered around the trail and each one is numbered as you begin your journey through the forest.
The moment your journey deep into the forest begins, you quickly realize how you are dwarfed by the size of the redwoods surrounding you. Take a moment to peer up and the imposing sight of trees that have been present for thousands of years immediately points to the history in this area.
The beginning of the trailhead starts as you walk alongside Opal Creek (depending on which direction of the loop you choose to take) before encountering some of the best redwoods in the state park.
The Chimney Tree is one of many redwoods that are either hollow or have an opening large enough to fit a vehicle inside them and you can either walk through them or admire the breathtaking landscape around you.
The Mother and Father of the Forest trees are two other iconic landmarks that are unmistakeable and it’s through their sheer size (height and diameter) that makes these such an integral part of the California landscape.
If you are thinking about taking a hiking adventure around California, we would strongly recommend adding Big Basin Redwoods State Park to your itinerary. With a variety of challenging hiking trails to choose from, there is something for every level of expertise here and without doubt, the sight of those towering redwoods will leave you wanting to explore them further on a return trip.
The sight of a tree may not seem like much but when you explore Big Basin you will understand why admiring the beautiful components of a redwood forest are so much more than just your every day tree that we all take for granted.
And I think that’s where the reality hits home! We take trees and other natural habitats for granted and it’s only when you are encapsulated among this maelstrom of beauty that you realize the integral role they play in the landscape we live today.
Have you explored Big Basin Redwoods State Park? Are there other “redwood forests” that should be on our radar? Share your thoughts below!