Big Basin Redwoods State Park, a remarkable preserve that is also California’s oldest state park, is an emerald gem in the Santa Cruz Mountains, less than 20 miles north of Santa Cruz. With more than 80 miles 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 Redwoods State Park Fire
In the fall of 2020, the CZU Lightning Complex fires destroyed all facilities at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, including the historic visitor center and park store. Check the park’s official site for a map and the most up-to-date information regarding what’s currently closed and what’s open now.
Camping at Big Basin Redwoods State Park
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).
Things to Do at Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Hike, mountain bike, or ride horses on designated routes. Trekkers love the 10.5-mile 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 Sequoia loop trail (complete with a small waterfall), and .5-mile 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.
Places to Visit Near Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Despite its transportive back-to-nature vibe, Big Basin is hardly remote—several deserving destinations are within a 90-minute drive. Santa Cruz is a good contender to top the list; the laid-back surfing and college town offers eclectic dining, a historic, family-friendly boardwalk, whale watching, and Santa Cruz County even has its own celebrated wine country. Added bonus: the county’s green initiatives earned it a spot on The New York Times' list of 52 places to visit in the world in 2022 (it’s one of the few U.S. locations to make an appearance). For more ideas on things to do check out 5 Amazing Things to Do in Santa Cruz.
Also nearby is the internationally recognized tech hub of San Jose, which has world-class museums such as the Children’s Discovery Museum and the San Jose Museum of Art, plus a fascinating history the city does a good job of sharing with visitors, and great dining to keep you going while taking it all in.
Drive north 45 miles and you’ll be pulling into Half Moon Bay, where in addition to the free-spirited surfing culture spawned by legendary big-wave mecca Mavericks, there’s world-class luxury at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay.
Know before you go: The Big Basin State 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.