Located in between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay on Hwy 1, Rancho Del Oso at Big Basin State Park is home to one of our favorite short hikes — around 1 ½ hours.
One of Our Favorite Short Hikes: Rancho Del Oso ─ Big Basin Redwoods State Park & Beach
Big Basin State Park has two primary entrances. The main entrance is located in the Santa Cruz Mountains about 9 miles north of the town of Boulder Creek on State Hwy 236. The second entrance – Rancho Del Oso – is part of Big Basin’s coastal unit and is the featured location for this article.
The Rancho Del Oso entrance to the park is located about midway between Santa Cruz (20 miles north) and Half Moon Bay (25 miles south). The coastal drive along Hwy. 1 is absolutely spectacular with sweeping ocean views, rugged coastline, and beautiful beaches.
Once you get to Big Basin, there are two parking areas — one that is situated along side the highway (free) and the other is in the designated parking area of Big Basin State Beach (around $6). Since we are frugal, we generally take advantage of the parking area along side the highway. (FYI, there is also bus service from Santa Cruz.)
Before hiking in the park, study the park maps and talk with the Park Rangers to learn more about the trails. The park has over 80 miles of trails and they vary greatly in difficulty and length. Also, be sure to dress appropriately for the current weather conditions and take plenty of water and food with you.
Since our idea of extreme sports is to take a leisurely stroll along West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz to watch the sunset, I will only focus on one of our favorite short hikes that takes around 1½ hours to complete.
From the Rancho Del Oso entrance of Big Basin State Park, you’ll walk east along a paved road that borders the Theodore J. Hoover Natural Preserve for about 15 minutes or so.
Just a short walk past a small ranger station, you’ll see a sign that lists a number of trails with the approximate mileage. The trail for our favorite short hike starts here and the round trip is about 2.6 miles long.
The start of the trail has a moderate incline so some effort is required to make the grade. I’m in moderate shape and have no difficulty making the trek. Also, you’ll be glad to note that the trail quickly levels out and the bulk of the hike is flat or slightly down hill.
What makes the hike so enjoyable is the wide variety of environments from lush canyons to sparse chaparral-covered slopes to a recovering Redwood Forest with mixed conifer and oaks.
At the mid point in the hike, you will come to a sign that once again lists the various trails. From here you can either turn around and retrace your steps back to the starting point, or do what we typically do and follow the trail to the right — crossing over Waddle Creek via a seasonal foot bridge and then cutting through several primitive campgrounds — to the main park road. (Please note that Waddle Creek is a perfect place to sit and take a breather, but don’t drink the creek water. For safety, be sure to take your own bottled water.)
If you do decide to travel along the main road, please remember that it is frequently used by joggers, bike riders and equestrians, so be careful as you make your way back to the entrance and parking lot. Along the road you’ll also come across some beautiful stands of Redwoods, primitive campsites, and small farms.
When you make it back to the parking area, you may be lucky and see wind surfers hitting the waves along the State Beach. The almost constant winds along the beach makes it ideal for kite surfing.
More Background About The Park
Established in 1902, Big Basin is California’s oldest State Park. Home to the largest continuous stand of Ancient Coast Redwoods south of San Francisco, the park consists of Old Growth and recovering Redwood Forest, with mixed conifer, oaks, chaparral, and riparian habitats. Elevations in the park vary from sea level to over 2,000 feet. The climate ranges from foggy and damp near the ocean to sunny, warm ridge tops.
As mentioned above, the park has over 80 miles of trails. Some of these trails link Big Basin to Castle Rock State Park and the eastern reaches of the Santa Cruz range. Be sure and pick up a map at park headquarters before your hike and take a look at the multimedia kiosk in the Sempervirens Room (next to park headquarters). There you will find great information, photos, and video of some of the most popular trails.
The park has a surprising number of waterfalls, a wide variety of environments (from lush canyon bottoms to sparse chaparral-covered slopes, many animals (deer, raccoons, an occasional bobcat) and lots of bird life — including Steller’s jays, egrets, herons and California woodpeckers.
Dogs are permitted in the campsites, picnic areas, and on paved roads only. They must be on a leash and attended at all times. Dogs ARE NOT permitted on any of the trails.
Location – Directions
You can access the park from two primary entrances. The main entrance – where the Park’s Headquarters is located – is in the Santa Cruz Mountains about 9 miles north of the town of Boulder Creek on State Hwy 236. Please note that all roads into Big Basin are curvy. This entrance is about 65 miles south of San Francisco. From Santa Cruz travel approx 25 miles northwest via Highways 9 and 236 to reach Park Headquarters.
The second entrance is Rancho Del Oso — the coastal unit of Big Basin. It is accessible on State Route 1, about 20 miles north of the city of Santa Cruz or 25 miles south of Half Moon Bay.
Winter: Cold, overcast and rainy. Big Basin receives the majority of its average 48 inches of rain. December through March average temperatures range from highs in the 50’s to lows in the 20’s.
Spring: Cool with showers and morning and evening fog. Average daytime highs in the 60’s, lows in the 30’s to 40’s.
Summer: Warm with cool nights. Morning fog in early Summer. Average highs 75 to 95, lows 40’s to 50’s.
Fall: Warm day to cold nights. Occasional early storms with rain. Average highs 75 to 60’s, lows 50’s to 30. Maybe the best weather of the year!
Please note that the beach/ocean side of the park is windy most of the time so be prepared.
For more information on Big Basin State Park and Beach, please visit the State’s official web site at http://www.parks.ca.gov