This remarkable preserve, California’s oldest state park, is an emerald gem in the Santa Cruz Mountains. With more than 80 miles/128 km of trails winding through redwood groves and other lush habitats, Big Basin makes an appealing weekend getaway for people in the Silicon Valley, about an hour’s drive west. Moms and dads love letting the kids loose to dunk their toes in clear streams, or watching them gather up enough courage to kiss a banana slug (ask a local; it’s a belt-notch experience for many a Northern Californian).
Big Basin offers a variety of campsites, including 38 walk-in sites—a short walk lets you pitch your tent in ultimate peace and quiet. Other campsites can accommodate horses (Rancho del Oso), offer tent cabins, and some have cabins in additions to campsites (Little Basin Group Campground). Hike, mountain bike, or ride horses on designated routes. Trekkers love the 10.5-mile/17-km Skyline to the Sea Trail, which runs along Waddell Creek to the ocean and nearby Theodore J. Hoover Natural Preserve. There are also plenty of gentle, scenic rambles, such as the 4-mile/6-km Sequoia loop trail (complete with a small waterfall), and .5-mile/1-km Redwood loop trail that takes visitors to some of the park’s tallest trees. Pick up maps and hiking tips from rangers at park headquarters, and ask about guided twilight hikes and campfire programs.
Know before you go: The park has a day-use fee of $10/day for regular-size autos; campsites are $35/night, with a $10 fee for additional vehicles. Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash.