Hiking and Camping
Hiking on Your Own
Berry Creek Falls
Berry Creek Falls via Skyline to the Sea and Sunset Trails
Opal Creek, Santa Clara Tree, old growth forest in undeveloped park areas, Waddell Creek, Berry Creek Falls, Silver Cascade, Golden Falls
Trail head location
Parking lot across from park headquarters at the large marker for the Redwood Trail. Continue past the restrooms and cross the bridge over Opal Creek.
Route A: Skyline to the Sea Trail - There and back
Length 10 miles Time 4 to 5 hours Elevation Approximately +/- 300 feet
Route B: Sunset - Skyline to the Sea Trails - Loop
Length 10.5 miles Time 5 to 6 hours Elevation Approximately +/- 400 feet
Route C: Skyline to the Sea - Timms Creek - Sunset Trails - Loop
Length 10.5 miles Time 5 to 6 hours Elevation Approximately +/- 400 feet
Hike out to the falls—one of the basin’s most popular destinations—and enjoy the magnificence of nature, a bit of history, and perhaps even an adventure or two.
The hike to Berry Creek Falls affords park visitors perhaps the best opportunity to experience the wide range of habitats represented in Big Basin. Be prepared for a 4- to 6-hour hike roundtrip (depending on which route you choose), ranging from moderately difficult to strenuous. The falls are actually a series of four falls: Cascade Falls, the Golden, which is named for its golden shimmer, drops down into Silver Falls, a silvery cascade; Berry Creek Falls, the lower falls, are the largest and, some would say, the prettiest of the three. The falls create a lovely pool for park visitors to rest beside. (Stay awhile, but please return all litter back to park headquarters with you.)
Note: All the creeks in the area flow into the West Waddell Creek as it makes its way to the ocean. Subsequently, as the West Waddell Creek swells during heavy rains, the bridge occasionally washes out, preventing access to Berry Creek Falls from the Skyline to the Sea Trail. (It was actually built as a washout bridge to prevent damming and soil erosion along the creek.) During rainy weather, check at park headquarters to make sure the bridge is intact. If the bridge is impassable, cut across the Timms Creek Trail to the Sunset Trail, and see the falls from an elevated perspective! You can still hike down to the foot of the falls before heading back up and retracing your steps back to park headquarters.
Wildlife and Wilderness Caveats
As you wend your way deeper in the park, the probability of encountering wildlife increases. Steer clear of deer. While the mule deer look friendly, don’t approach them. If startled or threatened, they can kick. Bobcats and mountain lions are sometimes spotted in the area as well. Keep an eye out, and let them know you’re there. Mountain lion sightings are rare. If you do see one, do not turn and run. Make lots of noise and make yourself look large. NEVER approach mountain lion cubs. Also, don’t count on using cell phones and GPSs. Cell phones generally don’t work anywhere in the park. GPSs have difficulty communicating with satellites in the dense forests of Big Basin. Always bring a compass and be aware that darkness comes early in the forest.
Skyline to the Sea Trail to Berry Creek Falls
The Skyline to the Sea Trail takes you deep into the heart of the park, through redwood and tanoak groves, along fern-rich creeks and madrone stands, right to the foot of the falls. This 4- to 5-hour-roundtrip hike begins across the street from park headquarters (route A above).
Pick up the Skyline to the Sea Trail after crossing the bridge at Opal Creek (directly across from park headquarters). Go to the left as soon as you cross the bridge. Watch closely for the trail to continue to the right under a large fallen tree less than 1/4 mile from the bridge. Watch your head! (If you come to Hihn Hammond Road, you’ve gone too far.) Stay on Skyline to the Sea the entire way to Berry Creek Falls; the trails are well marked. Along the way, you’ll cross two bridges, one at Kelly Creek and one at West Waddell Creek. During the rainy season, the bridge at West Waddell Creek can wash out, preventing access to the falls. If the bridge is out, take the Timms Creek Trail to the Sunset Trail to reach the top of the falls (route C above). Hike down the trail to the lower falls.
Note: The Timms Creek Trail to the Sunset Trail route will add an extra half hour or so to the hike.
From the foot of Berry Creek Falls, you have three options: You can hike up to the top of the falls, double back to park headquarters via Skyline to the Sea, or continue down Skyline to the Sea to Waddell Beach. Traveling up the switchbacks along the falls is strenuous but well worth the effort, with the roar of the falls to encourage you on and ample shade even on the hottest days. At the top, you can loop back to park headquarters via the Sunset Trail, adding a little variation to your hike, or wend your way back down the falls and return the way you came.
If you decide to continue down to the coast on the Skyline to the Sea Trail, be sure you’ve allowed plenty of time. The hike (from park headquarters) takes approximately 6 to 7 hours one way. It’s a superb trail, allowing you to experience the wide range of habitats that make up Big Basin as you trek down to the beach. If you do choose to go all the way to Waddell Beach, arrange for transportation back to Big Basin ahead of time. Buses run return trips to park headquarters (via Santa Cruz) during the summer, but they are limited. Click here for bus schedules from the Santa Cruz Metro Web site.
Side note: Bus service is no longer available.
The Mystery of Berry
Berry Creek and the Berry Creek Falls were named for Tilford George Berry, a lumberman who had a cabin at the base of the lower falls. Berry was one of the earliest land speculators in the area, arriving as a homesteader in the mid-1860s. A large man, towering over 6’ tall, Berry was a loner. He lived the life of a hermit, near the banks of the creek that would later bear his name. Those who knew him said that he lived in the wilderness without even a dog or a horse to keep him company. Rather, his rifle was his companion, and he carried it with him wherever he went.
In the 1870s, Berry sold a parcel of land to Jacob Eberhardt, a Santa Cruz tanner, for $1,600. He stopped in Boulder Creek to visit his friend, Jake Perkins, before embarking on a business trip to finalize the deal. He told Jake that he had to go away for two days and asked him to hold his rifle for safe keeping.
Berry didn’t return for two or three weeks. When he did return to Boulder Creek, he was strangely unkempt. Without offering Jake an explanation, Berry took his rifle and disappeared into the woods. He was never seen again.
Twenty-five years later, a well-known Boulder Creek physician took a stroll through the chaparral 1/4 mile from where Berry picked up his rifle all those years ago. He stumbled upon a perfectly preserved skeleton with Berry’s gun leaning against it and a single bullet through its head. The doctor wired the bones together and Tilford George Berry adorned the doctor’s office for the remainder of his practice.
The skeleton has since disappeared. Its whereabouts remain as big a mystery as what happened to Berry on that final business trip—and why he ended it with a single bullet to the head.
© Copyright 2009 Jonathan and Kelly Knowles - www.bigbasin.org