Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Skyline to the Sea, Berry Creek Falls, Sunset Trails

To Berry Creek Falls and beyond is 10.5 miles round trip with 600-foot elevation gain

In 1902, the California State Park System was born with the establishment of the California Redwood Park at Big Basin Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz County. California preserved many more “redwood parks” during the twentieth century, but the redwoods at Big Basin remain one of the gems of the park system.

And one of the gems of the state’s trail system—Skyline to the Sea Trail—explores Big Basin Redwoods State Park. As its name suggests, the path drops from the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Views from the Skyline—redwood-forested slopes, fern-smothered canyons and the great blue Pacific—are superb.

This gem of a trail has many friends. During one weekend in 1969, dedicated members of the Sempervirens Fund and the Santa Cruz Trails Association turned out more than 2,000 volunteers to dig, clear, prune and otherwise improve the trail. Area volunteers put together an annual Trails Day that is now a model for trails organizations throughout the state.

The wildest and most beautiful part of the Skyline stretches from park headquarters at Big Basin to Waddell Creek Beach and Marsh. It winds through deep woods and explores the moist environments of Waddell and Berry Creeks.

Springtime, when the creeks are frothy torrents and Berry Creek Falls cascades at full vigor, is a particularly dramatic time to walk the Skyline to the Sea Trail. During summer, the cool redwood canyons are great places to beat the heat.

Tall trees and a trio of waterfalls make this trip through the Big Basin backcountry a hike to remember. The three falls—Berry Creek, Silver, and Golden—are enchanting, as are lesser cascades along Berry Creek.

The walk begins on the Skyline to the Sea Trail, but leaves this path well before the sea, detours to visit the waterfalls, then loops back to the main part of Big Basin. Paths alternate between wet and wild redwood-filled canyons and drier exposed ridges. This is a grand, clockwise tour of California’s first state park, a most memorable walk.

Directions to trailhead: From park headquarters, walk west from the entry fee kiosk and follow signs for Skyline to the Sea Trail.

The hike: From the Redwood Nature Trail, cross Opal Creek and bear left on Skyline to the Sea Trail. First the route is in very tall redwoods, climbs over a ridge (and past a junction with Middle Ridge Road), then returns to the redwoods

Two miles out, you cross the Kelly Creek footbridge, sticking with the Skyline Trail despite the temptations of several side trails. Kelly Creek merges with West Waddell Creek and three miles along travels a course above West Waddell Creek.

Four miles out you’ll cross West Waddell Creek on a footbridge. A side trail leads 0.1 mile to a vista point for a closer look at the misty 65-foot falls cascading into the redwood-filled canyon.

Another 0.5 mile of travel brings you to an overlook of 60-foot Silver Falls and a bit farther Golden Falls, which spills over a reddish-gold cliff.
Five miles along, Berry Creek Falls Trail junctions with Sunset Trail, which you’ll join, hiking for a time over more open, oak- and madrone-covered slopes before returning to the redwoods.

The path crosses Berry Creek, crests a ridge and descends to Waddell Creek. About 9.5 miles from the start, you’ll cross Middle Ridge Road, descend 0.5 mile to Dool Trail, travel along redwood-lined Opal Creek and return to the trailhead via the Opal Creek footbridge.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at www.thetrailmaster.com.