Location: Big Basin State Park, California
Directions: Big Basin is located about 1.5 hrs (65 miles) south of San Francisco and about 40 minutes (25 miles) north of Santa Cruz via Highway 9 and 236.
Campground: Huckleberry Campground
Ever since I heard about the Berry Creek Falls loop hike at Big Basin State Park with the three “impressive” waterfalls and the trail that winds through ancient redwoods next to various creeks, I’ve been wanting to check it out for myself. This hike, however, was rated to be a difficult/strenuous 11 mile hike, which I didn’t think my daughter was ready for…until now. So, last Friday of Father’s Day weekend, we loaded up the campervan and headed out to Big Basin State Park which has the distinction of being California’s oldest state park, established back in 1902. We had reservations at Huckleberry campground for two nights which we made 6 months prior. This is a popular campground and reservations are necessary to camp here during the summer (although we did see a very happy group of people who scored a campsite due to a cancellation).
Be prepared for a very winding drive especially if you’re coming from up north, the 8 mile road on Highway 236 to Big Basin was especially narrow and twisty and would have been a nail biter if there was any traffic coming from the other direction. When we finally got there we stopped by headquarters to check-in. At 5:30 pm everything seemed very mellow and quiet, but only about 10 minutes later, large groups of people started arriving and a long line started forming at the check-in window, somehow we just missed the rush.
This is the park’s central area. Besides the headquarters building there is a gift shop, general store, visitor center, and amphitheater. Many of the park’s well known hikes start in this area as well. The parking is limited and traffic gets bad when the spots fill up. Their website even states in large letters “Attention: expect traffic delays in Big Basin on weekends and holidays.” We scouted out the parking lot for the next morning and made a mental note to get here early.
There are 142 campsites in Big Basin of which 35 are standard, 36 are walk-in, 67 are tent only, and 4 are group sites. There are even 36 tent cabins ($85 for cabin, $115 for deluxe package or $140 for camping package) if you prefer not to bring your tent or even your camping gear. Huckleberry campground is about a mile from park headquarters and off of Sky Meadow Rd away from Hwy 236, which made it a very quiet campground with respect to traffic noise.
Site #70 was nice and spacious and had a fallen redwood tree that created a perimeter and a “walkway” to explore on. The site was surrounded by tall redwood trees and yet felt open and bright. The Sempervirens Creek ran along the back of the site, but it was difficult to see it from up at our campsite (there was a trail that led down to the creek though).
I’m not sure if I could recommend this site because depending on where your neighbors in site #71 set up their tent, the site could feel private or too close together. On Friday night, a family with a large tent set their tent up in the space right next to the driveway of our site (they really had no choice, it was the only space that could fit their tent). However, on Saturday night a couple with a small tent was able to fit their tent closer to their table, which made our site more private. So, your privacy will depend on where your neighbors set up their tent.
At the campsite, hubby quickly got busy making a fire to cook dinner. Since we were grilling up steak I didn’t have too much to do. I had already prepped some green beans in a foil packet to put on the fire, as well as made a chimichurri sauce for the steaks at home. For our dinner we wrapped steak slices with avocado and chimichurri sauce in warm tortillas. Wow, that combination was good, it is my new favorite camp meal!While hubby was making the fire my daughter and I decided to try our hand at travel journaling. I had just read a post by Adventures of Five that morning about this and we were inspired to get started. We got out our art box and got busy watercoloring and writing. This was not only fun, but it was the perfect activity to get us focused on our camping weekend. Check out Adventures of Five’s post for some great tips on how to keep a travel journal.
Mosquitos are abundant here! We tested out 2 mosquito repellents this weekend. I wanted to do a quick review because they both worked very well. One was a patch (sticker), made by Justified Laboratories, that you stick on top of your clothes. I really liked that you didn’t have to put anything on your skin. Since it has about a 3 ft range, it is recommended that an adult place one patch on both the top and lower part of the body. It’s supposed to stay active for 6-8 hours after activation, which can be done by scratching the patch. The natural lemon eucalyptus and essential oils (DEET free) even smelled good to me. At first I felt kind of silly with these bright yellow stickers on my clothes, like I forgot to take the clearance tags off my clothes or I needed to wear a name tag at my own campsite. However, I did not get bitten at all that night and I know there were many mosquitos around. Whenever, a swarm got too close, I vigorously scratched my sticker, and maybe I was imagining it, but it seemed like the mosquitos moved away for awhile. A pack of 12 patches cost $14.99 (Amazon) making the cost of each patch $1.25. A bit pricey for a one time use patch, but I’m willing to pay $2.50 a night if I can continue to be bite free while enjoying the outdoors, and more importantly not have to put anything on my skin. I will be using this, clearance tag look and all, for now but may reconsider if it doesn’t continue to be 100% effective. The other product we used was the mosquito repellent wipes by Repel (Amazon), which contains 30% DEET. I didn’t like the smell and feel of this on my skin, so I just used it on my ankles and the tops of my hands (exposed areas). I didn’t get any bites in the places I rubbed this on, but I did get a couple on my neck and scalp (scalp, really?). So, the product worked, but I’m not the biggest fan of rubbing something on my skin (especially when I won’t be able to shower it off before I go to bed). 1 pack of 15 wipes cost $ 6.30 (Amazon), and I only used one wipe, so this product was much cheaper costing around $0.50 for the night. This is supposed to last 10 hours and they claim that the wipes are “ideal for use on face and neck.”
Saturday was our big hike day. We made our way to the park headquarters parking area at around 9:20 am, later than we had planned. We were able to get one of the last four parking spots, phew! I think there is other overflow parking because cars kept passing us and people kept streaming in. Planning on a 6 hour hike, we packed our day packs with trail snacks, water and lunch, and got started on the Berry Creek Falls loop hike at about 10 am. I’m going to review the hike in my next post, but basically, it was a beautiful, grueling, amazing, exhausting, 11 mile, 6 hour hike definitely worth doing.When we returned to the campsite we were disappointed to find that our firewood and charcoal were taken from our locker. So, back to the general store we went to replace those items. It cost us $25 for a pile of wood and a small charcoal bag! Make sure to buy your supplies before you get there and maybe don’t leave stuff at your campsite (but that’s kind of a pain). We got a fire going and enjoyed the evening outside cooking dinner, roasting marshmallows, watching the stars, reminiscing about our hike… until we heard a noise and saw something black slithering up the side of a tree close to where we were sitting. My daughter and I sprinted into the van and explained to my hubby (through the closed and locked van door) what we saw, to which he replied, “What, you saw Voldemort?” Now that I think about it I’m pretty sure it was Voldemort.
We decided to forgo anymore hiking on Sunday after sleeping in too late. The father got to sleep in on Father’s Day and have a leisurely breakfast.
On our way out we drove through the campground and noted that #48 (standard) and #62 (tent only) were good campsites to recommend or consider on a return trip.
We checked out Sempervirens Fall on the way out since it was just up the road on Sky Meadow Road. It was a small, but beautiful waterfall. There is a trail (Sequoia Trail) you can take starting from park headquarters that leads to Sempervirens Falls (4 miles round trip). The road widens near the entrance to the wooden walkway/stairs for the falls, so it seemed like it was ok to park there for a bit. A couple of park rangers drove by as we parked and didn’t say anything, so I figured it was ok (no signs that say you can or can’t park there). I felt like we cheated because we didn’t hike and showed up in a vehicle, but my legs were still recovering and thankful for the break.
We took the long way home driving south on Hwy 236 to Boulder Creek and these roads were much nicer to drive. The roads were wider and there was a center divider line the entire time. We will be taking this road to Big Basin next time we visit.
Big Basin is a great state park to visit for hiking and camping among ancient coastal redwoods. Making camping reservations early (up to 6 months in advance on reserveamerica.com), being aware of the limited parking at headquarters, and planning your hike before you get there will help you maximize your enjoyment of the park and create an unforgettable experience even on busy summer weekends.
These are a few of many possible hikes:
Berry Creek Falls loop hike – 11 miles (3 waterfalls!), strenuous
Redwood Nature Trail – 0.6 miles, easy
Buzzard’s Roost – 5 miles (1200 ft climb to a panoramic view best in Spring and Fall, too warm in summer ) moderate