big basin redwoods state park – sunset trail camp


A quick in and out weekend warrior excursion in Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
»jump to the pics & details

our trail
Started at the Park HQ in the lower right of the map, then followed Skyline to Sea Trail (the southern track on the map) to Berry Falls Trail (where we cut north) to Sunset Trail Camp (upper left).  6.7 miles.  On the way out, we took Sunset trail (the northern track) back to the Park HQ. 6.5 miles.

Total distance: 14.01 mi
Max elevation: 1450 ft
Min elevation: 358 ft
Total climbing: 7569 ft

the way in
My buddy Carlos and I checked out Big Basin Redwoods State Park this weekend and spent the night at the Sunset Trail Camp.  The park was pretty busy and the campsite was full. We passed quite a few folks on the way in to the campsite.  The Skyline to Sea trail goes steadily downward pretty much the entire way to the Berry Falls Trail junction.  Then, as you cut north and travel up Berry creek, it’s straight up.  That trail passes alongside some pretty great waterfalls.  One part is so steep, they installed a plastic coated rope to help pull yourself up the rocks right next to the waterfall (which I imagine can get pretty slippery and wet earlier in the season when the creek is fuller).  At the top, it cuts east a little before you hit the junction of the little spur of the Sunset Trail that takes you to the trail camp.

the campsite
It was tough finding a secluded spot to make camp at Sunset Trail Camp.  There are two groupings of sites, one at the top of the hill where you enter and one down the access road a little bit down the hill.  Initially we set up in one of the uphill sites, but when a family with several little kids moved in next door, we decided to look for another, more peaceful spot.  We found what is probably an unofficial site midway down the hill between the two groupings of sites.  Being away from both main areas, we succeeded in finding a bit of the peace we wanted.  It’s definitely close quarters and when the site is full, be prepared to rub elbows with other groups.  This little site on the path down the hill is definitely in a sweet, secluded spot.  There’s another one on the other side of the road from it, too.

We wandered down one of the many paths that lead out of the camp.  The one we took was at the end of the lower campsite.  It goes into the woods a bit before you hit a state park marker that says “Not a Through Trail.”  We pressed on a bit after that and found some great, secluded, wild areas in the redwoods.  It was very nice and all the crowds from the trail and the campsite were well out of sight and earshot.  After that we headed back down toward the creek to filter some water for dinner and the hike out.  It’s about a 10 minute walk down the hill from the campsite back to the creek.  On the way back down the trail, we noticed the extraordinary blanket of moss all over the trees in that area.  We went off trail for the last bit, opting to go straight down the (rather steep) hill instead of following the switchbacks further down.  The creek was pretty low, it being August and all, and we had to hunt a bit to find a little bit of a waterfall to pull water from.  The outline of the where the creek had run earlier in the year was caked with a thick, deep brown mud.  In fact, the area where we got water was completely dammed over with the mud and the water had made its own little tunnel through it to the other side.

the way out
On the way out the next morning, we looped around on the Sunset Trail.  This trail was less traveled than the Skyline to Sea Trail.  It also had more of a range of ups and downs than the steadily downward (or upward, had we hiked it back instead) Skyline to Sea.  It meandered through the redwoods, crossed a couple creeks and eventually came back out at the park HQ.

All in all, it was a fun trip.  I wasn’t prepared for the number of other campers and hikers we encountered, but after finding our peaceful little spot to set up camp, it was great.  Being such a quick shot down from San Francisco or San Jose, it’s more than understandable that an August weekend would be a popular time to go.  Apart from the rather lengthy reservation process, I’d choose it again for a quick trip.  However, due to how quickly the sites fill up, it would either have to be at a less busy time of year or planned in advance.

the pics

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the details
You have to call to make reservations: (831) 338-8861
Total Cost: $33 (as of August 2012).  After you make reservations, they email you your permit.  Then you have to mail an $8 check to them within the next few days.  Then, when you get there, you have to check in at the park HQ, pay $15 more for your camping permit and separately $10 to park your car.
According to the website, you can only stay 1 night in a trail campsite before either having to leave or move to another one.
No dogs allowed. Boo.

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