BOULDER CREEK - If you’re looking for just a hike, stay away from the Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
The sheer grandeur of the 18,000 acres rising from the Pacific Ocean to more than 2,000 feet in the Santa Cruz Mountains will be wasted on you.
Even with the relatively heavy crowd, this is a place where solitude and time inspire you as you walk among groves of redwoods that soar as high as 300 feet, as big as 50 feet in circumference, and with some trees as old as 2,000 years. They started growing when the Roman Empire was at its zenith. And they’re still standing the test of time as well as awing those who walk among them even in the age of high tech.
You’re just 30 miles as the crow flies from downtown San Jose but you might as well be on another planet.
It is why the two-hour drive from the 209 to walk among the century-old giants is well worth every cent in gas. It is a sure-fire way to help you put things in perspective and appreciate the fact you live in California.
There are more than 80 miles of roads and trails in Big Basin that became the first state park in 1902.
For our hike we opted for the 9-mile loop consisting of the Berry Creek Falls and Sunset trails. The net elevation gain is 3,200 feet. It is considered strenuous but it isn’t impossible for a weekend warrior to handle. Hiking time in most guides puts it between six and nine hours.
We did it in just under six hours. We arrived there from Manteca after 11 a.m. So out of a slight concern that darkness comes early in February we sustained a fairly quick pace even though we went equipped with hiking headband lights in case we pushed sunset.
The longer days of spring and summer doesn’t necessarily mean warmer weather. Fog often lingers beneath the soaring redwoods in summer.
The redwoods do have a different feel than those you walk among on the North Coast, Big Sur, the Wawona and Mariposa groves in Yosemite, or the Sequoia National Park or the secluded cluster in the Sierra back country in Placer County reached via logging roads off the Foresthill Divide.
It’s because there are several distinctive micro-climates on the loop including a series of arguably some of the most spectacular waterfalls you’re ever going to find bunched together beneath towering redwoods.
They are about midway through the hike. Berry Creek Falls, Silver Falls and Golden Falls are reached one after another with each more breath-taking than the one before it.
In retrospect, we should have spent more time exploring the waterfalls.
You will need to wear appropriate shoes - hiking boots are the best bet - as it can be muddy in spots and slippery even in summer. You will need to carry water and whatever else you might want or need on the hike.
There are campgrounds near the falls that you can book by going to www.parks.ca.gov
The park offers a kaleidoscope of flowers and bushes - ferns, azaleas, poppies, wild orchids, and Manzanita. It also is a host to a lot of critters from foxes, coyotes, and bobcats to the occasional mountain lion. For the most part, they stay away from heavily traveled trails.
You will also find California quail, numerous woodpeckers, owls, flickers and more.
If you’re lucky, you’ll come across the infamous banana slugs that feed on organic matter. If you’ve never seen one, let’s just say they are super-sized slugs.
There is poison oak, rattlesnakes and ticks - the usual stuff you’d find in a coastal forest.
Keep in mind there are other trails that are much shorter and friendlier for those less inclined to hike nine miles. You can also do a much longer trip and take the “Skyline to the Sea” trail that takes you from the Santa Cruz Mountains crest to the edge of the Pacific Ocean.
— DENNIS WYATT
209 staff reporter