In 1902, the California state park system was born with the establishment of California Redwood Park (now called Big Basin State Park) in Santa Cruz County. California preserved many more redwood parks during the 20th century, but the redwoods at Big Basin remain the gems of the park system.
Three of my favorite trails, ideal for a first visit to the park, explore the heart of Big Basin.
Redwood Nature Trail: For good reason, Redwood Nature Trail (0.6 mile round trip) is the most popular path in the Santa Cruz Mountains: It's an easy tour of some of the tallest, most intriguing redwoods in California.
Even the most experienced hikers can't help but feel awed by this stand of virgin redwoods--a grove that has inspired millions of visitors since the Big Basin State Park was founded.
Individual trees are memorable too: the giant Father-of-the-Forest, the tall (329-foot-high) Mother-of-the-Forest and the Chimney Tree, which burned from the inside out after a lightening strike but still lives.
Redwood Nature Trail, keyed to an interpretive pamphlet, also explores the lush life beneath the 300-foot giants as well as forest ecology from growth to decay.
Access: Well-signed Redwood Nature Trail begins from the Big Basin State Park headquarters area.
Creeping Forest Trail: The oddly angled trees of Big Basin's Creeping Forest are believed to have been pushed into Leaning Tower of Pisa position by a 1952 landslide. Creeping Forest Trail (2 1/2-mile loop with Dool Trail) is forested with redwoods, some growing perpendicular to the ground and others tilted.
A return route on the other side of Redwood Creek uses Dool Trail, a path that honors park warden William Dool, who served from 1911 to 1928.
From park headquarters, walk west past the campfire circle and cross Opal Creek on a footbridge to the Skyline to the Sea Trail. Head right and hike along Opal Creek, past a junction with Dool Trail (your return route), then across a picnic area to signed Creeping Forest Trail.
The path ascends half a mile through the redwood forest near Gazo Creek Road. The trail swings west, then south approaching Gazo Creek Road again before intersecting Dool Trail. Turn south and hike a short mile back to the trail head.
Access: This hike begins near park headquarters.
Pine Mountain Trail: You might not need a break from the magnificent redwoods of Big Basin, but the state park offers one anyway. Pine Mountain Trail (five miles round trip with 1,100-foot elevation gain) leaves the redwoods behind as it ascends slopes of chaparral and knob cone pine.
The trail leads to Buzzard's Roost, a weathered, windblown sandstone outcropping offering a panorama of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the sea and the summit of Pine Mountain.
Cross the footbridge over Bloom Creek and begin a walk through redwoods. Passing a junction with East Ridge Trail, your path begins a moderate climb and crosses a road at three-quarters of a mile. As you climb, the vegetation changes from redwoods to tanbark oak to Douglas fir to knob cone pine to ceanothus and manzanita.
Cresting a small ridge, the route contours toward Pine Mountain and, two miles from the trail head, reaches a junction with the summit trail. To the left is Buzzard's Roost, a short (200-yard) ascent over the sandstone slope. To the right is the top of Pine Mountain, a quarter-mile climb away.
Access: The path begins by campsite No. 110 at Bloom Creek Campground.
To reach the state park from Santa Cruz, drive 12 miles north on California 9. Turn west on California 236 and proceed nine miles to Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
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Redwood Nature, Pine Mountain Trails
WHERE: Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
DISTANCE: 0.6 mile to 5 miles round trip.
HIGHLIGHTS: Heart of California's oldest state park.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Big Basin Redwoods State Park, 21600 Big Basin Way, Boulder Creek, CA 95006; tel. (408) 338-8860.