The Bodacious Redwoods of Big Basin

Big Basin Redwoods National Park is home to the largest grouping of massive redwoods that you must see to believe.

The plan was to drive north to Muir Woods really early one Saturday morning to participate in a hike with a ranger, but the sound of rain drops on my window was too tempting. I simply turned off the early alarm and said, perhaps another day. But as my time in Silicon Valley came to an end, I discovered Big Basin Redwoods State Park, and just in the nick of time.

A fallen redwood at Big Basin Redwoods State Park
A fallen redwood at Big Basin Redwoods State Park

The last weekend before my flight back to Germany, we had a strong desire to see some redwoods. We have some baby redwoods in Germany, but wanted to see the ma and pa of redwoods at Big Basin Redwoods National Park.

As fate would have it, a strong rain storm was predicted for my last weekend in California and the dream of seeing the redwoods was quickly fading away. The Saturday storms were monumental and as much as that region of California needed rain, I was disappointingly going to have to give up the idea of Visiting Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

California State Parks
Morning views at Castle Rock State Park on the way to see the Big Basin redwoods

Saturday evening every hour on the hour I methodically checked every weather app and channel I could in hopes of a glimmer of light, but the forecast was rain, winds, rain, and more of it. Sunday morning a glimmer of hope crept through my window—the sun attempting to shine through the grey clouds which told me let’s do this, but do it fast. I checked the weather apps again and they confirmed we had a 3-4 hour window to enjoy the park before the next downpour.

The long and winding road

I had been warned that the drive to Big Basin Redwoods State Park is full of hair pin curves and indeed it was. Normally, I have no fear of twisty windy bends but trees and debris had fallen making the drive a bit more problematic, so I enlisted my husband to drive. Actually, my driving was scaring him, so he was happy to take the wheel. 🙂

Road to Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Road to Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Big Basin Redwoods State Park is about 30 miles (48 km) from Palo Alto and 22 miles (36 km) northwest of Santa Cruz, so if you’re in Silicon Valley it makes a nicer alternative to the very crowded Muir Woods State Park north of San Francisco. The drive to the Big Basin is pleasant and slow due to the turns, but if you start early you’re virtually alone on the road.

A humble view of the redwoods from Big Basin Redwoods State Park
A humble view of the redwoods at Big Basin Redwoods State Park

When we arrived at the park headquarters there was the 1930s lodge-style building with redwoods all around to greet us. After a short chat with the ranger, we paid the $10 fee to park in the headquarters area, where parking is limited, especially on a sunny weekend day. If you don’t mind a hike, you’ll find free parking near China Grade Waddell Beach, or Whitehouse Canyon Road.

All trails lead to the redwoods

Since we only had a few hours of sun and dry weather, we began our hike on the Redwood Trail. It’s an easy 0.5 mile long flat hike that is also wheel-chair accessible. We began our journey by purchasing the Redwood Trail map for 50¢ which provides descriptions of some of the signed areas of the trail. The Redwood Trail features some of the most immense old-growth redwoods in Santa Cruz County and is a great starting point no matter your hiking experience.

Largest Redwood at Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Father of the Forest tree at Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Height 250 ft (76 m), circumference 67 ft (20 m).

Next we hiked half of the Sequoia Trail since the skies were becoming cloudy and returned through the camping grounds then back to HQ. The Sequoia Trail is an easy to moderate 4 mile hike that will take you about two hours to complete and will lead you to the Sempervirens waterfall.

Never thought I could find a slug adorable, but …

As much as I was impressed by the massive redwoods with a gentle appeal, I was hoping to see more of the park’s diverse flora and fauna as well as foxes, coyotes, and perhaps a bobcat from afar of course.

We were lucky that day as we found a couple of Big Basin’s little creatures–the Pacific banana slug. The bright yellow slow-moving slug feeds from the forest floor which is full of organic matter, plants and mushrooms. I normally cringe at the site of the slimy looking brown slugs we have here, but the Pacific banana slug is really cute.

Do not touch or get too close to the banana slugs! They are sensitive delicate creatures that just want to live life in peace and cut off their mating partner’s penis after copulation. Yes, they really do that!

Pacific banana slug at Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Pacific banana slug at Big Basin Redwoods State Park

After the slug sighting, the downpour began just as the weather apps had predicted. We ran back to HQ and vowed to return to visit Big Basin Redwoods State Park soon. Next time we’ll attempt some of the more strenuous trails such as Ocean View or Berry Creek Falls. But for now, we’re off to Santa Cruz where the ocean beckons us with sun, rolling waves, and if we’re lucky, we just might find a restaurant serving a bowl of delicious clam chowder to counter balance the calories we burned hiking.

On August 25, 2016, the National Park Service turns 100! Celebrate the Centennial by visiting one of America’s great national parks.