Hiking Berry Creek Falls | Big Basin Waterfall Hike
Big Basin Waterfall Hike| Written by Brian Callender | Photography by Julie Boyd
Berry Creek Falls is a hidden gem nestled within Big Basin Redwood State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Hiking to the falls is the most popular activity in the park, so expect crowds to be high on a summer day. The redwoods provide the ideal backdrop for this waterfall hike, as you’ll be provided with plenty of shade along the way.
If you’re looking for a great day-hike in the South Bay area, Berry Creek Falls should be on your list!
*Note: As of August 2020, the park is currently closed due to the CZU Complex Lightning Fires. Please check with the park to confirm it has re-opened before attempting this hike.*
Big Basin Waterfall Hike Details
Starting Elevation: 259 ft.
Distance: 13.58 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,375 ft.
Hike Type: Out and back, day-hike
Difficulty Level: Difficult
Permit: None required
Admission: $10 to park regular sized vehicles
Date Hiked: May 5, 2019
Big Basin Redwoods State Park: Getting There
Berry Creek Falls is located in Big Basin Redwoods State Park which is west of San Jose. There are two ways to access the park from the South Bay:
1.) Take the 17 South to the 9 South (Big Basin Way) which becomes 236 North and heads directly into Big Basin.
2.) Take the 17th South and exit Bear Creek Road (left) and continue to the 9 South before turning right onto 236 South which leads into the park.
Park near the Big Basin Redwoods State Park Headquarters and be sure to pick up a map and any trail updates from the rangers there. The trail picks up immediately across from the park headquarters and can be done as either an out and back or loop.
Big Basin Waterfall Hike: The Berry Creek Falls Trail
The hike to Berry Creek Falls is often done as a loop via the Sunset Trail and the Skyline to the Sea Trail. When we visited Big Basin Redwoods State Park, there were some detours in place due to trail closures after a very wet winter. As such, we went the wrong way a couple of times, which likely added an extra half mile or so to our hike. As mentioned above, be sure to check with park rangers for up-to-date-information on trail conditions when you visit!
After getting turned around and running into a trail closure, we realized that the correct route from the park headquarters was to take a right on the Skyline to the Sea Trail, a left on the Dool Trail, and then a left onto the Sunset Trail. Confusing? Yes. There are a bunch of little trails around the headquarters, and navigating them was a bit tricky at first. I strongly recommend using a combination of the park map and an app like All Trails to make sure you are on the right path. It takes a quick moment to check, which is much better than the time and energy you will expend if you make a wrong turn (like we did, doh!).
Now on the Sunset Trail, we made our second blunder of the day: We did the loop in the non-recommended direction. Julie and I had read that going counter-clockwise was easier, but after our earlier navigation frustrations, we forgot, and turned onto the Skyline to the Sea Trail.
The trail in this section was beautiful and easy-going. It gradually dropped down and followed Kelly Creek under a canopy of Redwood trees. Banana slugs and giants ferns were plentiful, and we enjoyed the cool air in almost perfect solitude.
Once we reached the falls, there was a nice wooden viewing platform and a couple of benches. A few other hikers were there ahead of us, but it wasn’t overly crowded. Julie spent some time capturing the falls, and we both enjoyed a snack. After having received a lot of rain this year, it was nice to see the falls flowing well.
When were were done soaking in the cool, misty air of the falls, we continued along the Berry Creek Falls Trail which ascends to another couple of smaller waterfalls: Silver Falls and Golden Falls. Note that in this section you will have to ascend a rock staircase along Silver Falls that is a bit slippery, so if you are afraid of heights, you might consider turning around here and doing this as an out-and-back hike.
Just past Golden Falls, the trail turns into the Sunset Trail, which will take you back to where you began at the park headquarters.
However, the remainder of the hike is rather boring and uneventful trekking up-and-down several ridges of exposed shrubs, and drier oak forests. I remarked to Julie that based on the amount of miles we put in completing the loop, that the payoff wasn’t worth the extra distance (there are no additional sights for the remainder of the hike). So, we would recommend doing this hike as an out-and-back so that you get to see the falls, and spend time walking among the redwoods.
Overall, this is a nice day-hike in the local, Santa Cruz Mountains. If you’re looking for a good year- round hike in the Bay Area, this is one to add to your list!
Have you been to Berry Creek Falls? Let us know in the comments!