Hiking and Camping
Hiking on Your Own
Berry Creek Falls
What to see Giant sequoia, Dawn redwood, Sempervirens Falls (4), Founders Monument at Slippery Rock (3), Sky Meadow, Union Creek, Blooms Creek, old growth Coast redwoods, Maddock cabin site (2), Opal Creek (1)
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.
Accessibility Easy to moderate
Route A: Sequoia Trail to Sempervirens Falls & Slippery Rock
There and back - Easy
Length 3.5 miles Time 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours Elevation Approximately +/- 200 feet
Route B: Sequoia Trail - Skyline to the Sea Trail - Loop - Moderate
Length 4.5 miles Time 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours Elevation Approximately +/- 300 feet
Route C: Sequoia Trail - Shadowbrook Trail - Loop Moderate
Length 5.5 miles Time 3 to 4 hours Elevation Approximately +/- 300 feet
On Your Own
The Sequoia Trail is one of the oldest in the park and was built perhaps as early as 1875. It has evolved over the years, reflecting the changes in the basin. The trail was originally called Roger’s Trail after an early homesteader who settled in this area. Later, the portion of the trail that connects Slippery Rock to the upper end of Opal Creek was known as Trail Beautiful. This section of the trail was cut in 1895 to accommodate the trains of pack mules that hauled over 800 cords of tanbark that year to the wagon road at Slippery Rock.
In September of 1904, a fire roared through the area destroying 50 homes, 2 mills, and burned through 1,000 acres of parkland. A redwood tree along the Sequoia Trail smoldered for 14 months until its heartwood was consumed. A testament to the hardy nature of the coast redwood--and indeed the park itself--the tree still stands.
Much of the Sequoia Trail is richly steeped in park history: It was along this trail at Slippery Rock that the park’s founders camped and passed around a hat, collecting $32 and igniting the dream that saved the redwoods and created California's now oldest state park. The Sequoia Trail is just as rich in amazing natural areas; its diverse habitats include old growth redwoods, meadowland, creeks, and a stunning waterfall. You might even spot an acorn woodpecker penthouse--if you look for it.
We offer three routes along the Sequoia Trail for you to explore. Each highlights a few special features of the trail. We leave the rest up to you.
Route A There and back - Easy - 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours
The first mile of the Sequoia Trail never strays far from paved roads, making it an ideal hike for park visitors who wish to see the beauty of a redwood forest without having to go very far. This first route begins at park headquarters and concludes at Slippery Rock, an exposed sandstone rock formation that seems to flow, glacier like, down the hill at a 30-degree angle. The route also boasts other unique sites: Founders Monument, Sempervirens Falls, and the famous Chimney Tree that smoldered for 14 months in 1904 before it blew its top, leaving a hollow but living tree in its wake.
Pick up the Sequoia Trail by heading along the sidewalk area past the parking lot on the same side of the street as park headquarters. On your left, just before the trailhead, you’ll pass the park’s sole giant redwood. This specie
of redwood tree is planted as demonstrations, and is not native to this
area. The tree is surrounded by a wire fence.
Until 1945, western scientists believed there were only two redwood species still in existence anywhere in the world-- the coast and giant redwoods. Naturally occurring only in China, and not as tall or as wide as the two other redwood species, the dawn redwood nevertheless has its own special appeal. It’s deciduous! Unlike coast redwoods and giant redwoods, the dawn redwood loses its needles every season. Big Basin’s only giant redwood lives only a few yards away from the dawn redwood. While the eight-year-old giant isn’t yet very big (at approximately five feet tall), the thick trunk affirms its destiny. Giant redwoods are only found naturally on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, and though they aren’t as tall as coast redwoods, they are broader. The famous drive-through trees are very often giant redwoods.
Continue down the sidewalk to pick up the Sequoia Trail (up and to the left of the road). The trail places you immediately in the midst of towering redwoods. The trail slopes upward and descends gently in places, but the elevation fluctuates only by about 200 feet overall, making the approximately 1 ½ -hour hike out to Slippery Rock easy for most people.
After passing the Wastahi Campground, look for the chimney tree (3/10 of a mile past the campground). The trail will open into the Anton Dolenz Memorial Grove and the Dorothy Dolenz Conservation Grove. (These groves found throughout the park are legacy groves dedicated through the Sempervirens Fund.) The trail is very close to the road here. Look for a tree on the edge of the road with an inverted V-shaped opening at the bottom. Lower your head as you step inside, and look up!
From Chimney Tree, continue up the Sequoia Trail for another 1/10 of a mile to reach Sempervirens Falls. The falls are signposted along the Sequoia Trail. Cross the road and head down a short flight of steps. Sempervirens Falls are the most accessible of the park’s five waterfalls. (The other four falls are on the Berry Creek Trail.)
Along with Slippery Rock, Sempervirens Falls have earned a secure place in Big Basin’s history. In the early years, the Sempervirens Club used this area for its camping grounds. Just a three-minute walk from Slippery Rock, the falls were easily accessible and much appreciated by Andrew Hill and his fellow campers on that historic first visit to the park in 1900. One founding member of the park claimed to have caught 93 fish in a single outing at the pool below the falls. The five-fingered ferns along the banks and cliffs of the falls provide a lush oasis within the dense redwood forest.
After visiting Sempervirens Falls, cross back over the road and continue on the Sequoia Trail for another three minutes or so to Slippery Rock. Slippery Rock is certainly an extraordinary place. The rock itself, an exposed slab of Miocene sandstone, seems to flow, glacier like, down the hill toward Founders Monument. About 200 yards long and 100 yards wide, and tilted at a 30-degree angle, the rock formation earns its name from the underwater springs that seep through the ground and flow down the rock’s smooth surface. Surrounded by coast redwoods and a variety of oaks, the rock formation is quite a stunning sight, and its illustrious history matches its natural beauty on a grand scale.
Slippery Rock emerges quite often in the early accounts of Big Basin as a prominent landmark. In 1875, Natt Day built a road up to Slippery Rock for the purpose of hauling out tanbark. The old tanbark road to Slippery Rock was the only means of entering the basin until after the park was established, except by trail. A trail was cut from Day’s own cabin near the present park headquarters up and over Slippery Rock to the tanbark camp. In the 1880s, the Sinnott family (relatives of the Maddock’s, early settlers in the basin) lived in a cabin near the base of the rock.
However, Slippery Rock’s greatest claim to fame came in May of 1900 when a group of conservationists led by Andrew P. Hill camped here and formed the Sempervirens Club to preserve the redwoods of Big Basin. The story began when Hill, a San Jose artist, received a commission from an English magazine to photograph some of the redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Hill visited the Fremont Big Trees grove, and while he was preparing to photograph the trees, the owner refused to allow him to proceed, insisting he pay for the privilege. Hill was incensed and left without the pictures.
On his way back to San Jose, Hill came to the conclusion that the redwood grove should be owned by the people. He wrote a letter to the Santa Cruz Board of Trade imploring that body to “pass a resolution recommending that Congress be petitioned to purchase the Fremont Grove.” The secretary of the Board responded by agreeing that the idea was a good one, but before any action was taken, Big Basin should be investigated as it had greater possibilities.
Within the year, Andrew Hill led the camping trip into the basin, following the old logging road to the base of Slippery Rock. There a camp was established and for three days visitors explored and photographed the area. On the last night of their stay, they organized the Sempervirens Club, named for the scientific name of the coast redwood, the tree that inspired it all. The object of the club was to work for the preservation of Big Basin as a public park and the conservation of its natural beauties. The meeting was held at the old Sinnott house, by that time abandoned.
The members of the newly formed club passed around a hat and collected $32, a modest but important start. The camping trip at Slippery Rock marked the beginning of a two-year campaign that culminated on September 20, 1902, when the Big Basin Lumber Company transferred 3,800 acres of land to the State of California for the sum of $250,000. The Sempervirens Fund continues on in the tradition of the club, purchasing privately owned land for the California State Park System.
Be sure to visit Founders Monument at the base of Slippery Rock. Erected in the 1960s, the monument commemorates this historic spot.
From Slippery Rock, head back to park headquarters on the Sequoia Trail or continue on for a longer, more rigorous hike (routes B and C below).
Continuing on Route B Loop - Moderate - 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours
Hike up the trail at Slippery Rock and cross Hwy. 236. At this point the trail becomes the Skyline to the Sea Trail. Cross North Escape Road. In just a few minutes you'll reach the historic Maddock's Cabin site. At this site once stood the home of one of Big Basin's earliest frontier families. The cabin was constructed in 1883, 17 years before the campaign to save the redwoods was begun at Slippery Rock. Today, all that remains of the Maddock's home is a rail fence and a sturdy redwood log. For a more complete picture of the Maddock's cabin and their colorful lives, click on the link above.
Dogs (on leash) - North Escape Road
While dogs are not allowed on this or any other trail in Big Basin, you can walk along the paved fire roads in the park. North Escape Road is a paved fire road that runs north, parallel to Opal Creek.
This is a fabulous route for dogs and much of it is closed to automobile traffic. Explore the deep shade of the redwood forest along Opal Creek as you and your dog experience Big Basin’s unique environment.
Continue on the Skyline to the Sea Trail.
The trail runs parallel to Opal Creek all the way back to park headquarters. The creek areas that are away from the roads are ideal for spotting wildlife. After the first rains, look for newts. You'll usually find them under logs. A newt can live under a single log eating only critters that come within tongue-striking distance for one to two years. If you're really fortunate, you might see a newt ball, a rolling "ball" of newts (consisting of one female and several males). While the wrestling newts appear to be engaged in a mating frenzy, this is actually the first step in the mating ritual.
When conditions are right, male newts emerge seeking a mate. As with many animal species, the female does the choosing. The newts roll around on top of each other in what is know as a newt ball, until the female chooses her male. The couple then slinks off alone for a rather unrewarding experience-at least by human standards. The male secretes a substance from his chin that encourages the female to lay eggs in the stream. After she has laid her eggs and moved on, the male completes the process by fertilizing the eggs. Alas, the tryst has a decidedly unromantic end!
The areas out and away from the paved roads also offer a spectacular opportunity to spot deer. The Opal Creek area is a great place to look for Mule deer. In fact, the park once had deer feeding stations where park visitors could hand feed the deer. The practice was discontinued in the 1970s when the park decided it was unsafe for both the deer and the visitors. Mule, or black tailed deer are still plentiful in the park. However, we recommend that you maintain a respectful distance. Though deer are beautiful and graceful animals, they are also very powerful.
Continue on the Skyline to the Sea Trail. When you reach Gazos Creek Road (the dirt road intersects with the trail), look for the bridge to your left. You are now minutes from park headquarters. Walk out on the bridge and look up. On the far side of the bridge stands a large Douglass fir. Look near the top of the tree and notice the small holes that multiply in number as you gaze higher. This is an active nest for a family of acorn woodpeckers.
The acorn woodpecker "penthouse" offers a rare opportunity to witness the birds and their communal lifestyle in action. Families are typically made up of two breeding males, two breeding females, and four non-breeding helpers, both male and female. Offspring produced from this communal nest may remain in the nest for several years as non-breeding helpers, during which time they help feed younger siblings. You're sure to see family members flying around the tree throughout the day.
Listen for the persistent call that sounds like laughter to some people, and keep an ear out for their Morse Code-like tapping. The tapping can mean one of two things: The birds peck holes in the tree so they can place acorns in them to feed their young (think of it as a food bank). The tapping can also be a territorial measure used to notify other acorn woodpeckers to keep away. Apparently, this particular tree is prime real estate. Many generations of acorn woodpeckers have called it home.
Continuing on Route C - Loop - Moderate - 3 to 4 hours
From Slippery Rock, head out on the Shadowbrook Trail (just past Founders Monument). The trail leads to Sky Meadow and then crosses Sempervirens Creek, the creek that feeds Sempervirens Falls. The trail then crosses Union Creek. In this area once stood the only sawmill ever built and operated in Big Basin. It began operating in 1900 but burned in the big fire of 1904.
Next, the trail passes quite close to Huckleberry Campground and the Tent Cabins at Big Basin. This area offers exceptional camping under towering redwoods. Continue on the Shadowbrook Trail all the way to park headquarters or loop back to the Sequoia Trail by crossing the brand-new bridge (crossing the bridge cuts about 1⁄2 hour from the hike). This beautiful bridge connecting the Sequoia and Shadowbrook trails over Sempervirens Creek (below) was built by the Big Basin Volunteer Trail Crew under the supervision of California State Parks engineers. You can't miss it; the trail follows the creek very closely here. Either cross the bridge and reconnect with the Sequoia Trail by hiking up the hill and crossing the paved road (follow the trail back to park headquarters, approximately 3/4 mile away), or follow along Sempervirens Creek a little further and head back to park headquarters on the Shadowbrook Trail.
The bridge connecting the Sequoia and Shadowbrook trails over Sempervirens Creek.
This beautiful bridge was built by the Big Basin Volunteer Trail Crew
under the supervision of California State Parks engineers.
© Copyright 2009 Jonathan and Kelly Knowles