The Great Redwood Empire is seen by many as the crown jewel of Coastal California’s many natural wonders. Stretching north from the Silver Peak Wilderness, at the extreme southern end of Monterey County, to Oregon Redwood Park, just over the state line at Brookings, the redwood empire spans a north-south range of close to 470 miles, and occupies an east-west range of as much as 50 coastal miles at its widest point.
Enter Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California’s oldest (est. 1902), and the redwood-seeker’s Bay Area alternative to Muir Woods National Monument, up in Marin County. Nestled deep in the coastal valleys of northern Santa Cruz County, Big Basin offers a far more expansive area of old-growth coast redwoods than its counterpart to the north. Located about two hours south of San Francisco, the park sees huge numbers of visitors throughout the year, but its size allows visitors the opportunity to get deeper into the redwoods and feel much more thoroughly enveloped by these massive giants than they can at the much smaller Muir Woods.
While there are miles of excellent trails in and around Big Basin Redwoods State Park, one hike in particular stands out as the signature redwood walk of the region, if not the entire Redwood Empire—the Berry Creek Falls Loop.
This 11-mile round-trip loop starts at Big Basin Park Headquarters, and for several pleasant miles follows the rolling track of the Skyline-To-The-Sea Trail through a dense forest pierced by a meandering creek, eventually reaching a junction with the Berry Creek Trail, immediately downstream from Berry Creek Falls, the lowermost waterfall in the series. From there the Berry Creek Trail climbs steeply past each of the three waterfalls, a route at points sufficiently precipitous so as to justify the presence of the steel railings that have been bolted into the rock at strategic points. From the top of the Golden Cascade, uppermost of the three falls, the Sunset Trail winds its way back to Park Headquarters, along the way passing through several expansive groves of old and second-growth coastal redwoods. Plan for 5-7 hours round-trip.
Needless to say, this route can also be done in reverse- it just depends on whether you prefer to descend the falls or climb up them.
Also, to make a figure-8 loop, you can add in the Timms Creek Trail, which links the Sunset Trail to the Skyline-To-The-Sea Trail, roughly halfway between Park Headquarters and Berry Creek. The Timms Creek Trail is less than a mile long, and passes through some positively Jurassic terrain, with stands of lofty redwoods through-cut by the trail’s namesake creek, along which flourishes an abundance of lush greenery.
Springtime is the best time to go if you want to maximize your chances of seeing the three waterfalls in all their misty glory.