Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Pacific Coast Highway Travel visits the Big Basin Redwoods State Park, which is open again after the 2020 fire, and is the oldest state park in California.

A devastating fire in 2020 closed the park but it partially opened again in summer 2022 and is ready for visitors once more.

Big Basin Redwoods State ParkBig Basin Redwoods State Park

The Oldest State Park in California

Big Basin Redwoods State Park was established in 1902, which makes it the oldest state park in California. The oldest state park in the USA, by the way, is Niagara State Park in New York, which was established in 1885.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park - the Redwoods

Though there's much else to enjoy, it is of course the giant redwoods that bring people to the park. The trees are quite simple awesome. Some are from 1000-1800 years old, which is why 2020's fire was so devastating. Fortunately, although the fire swept through 97% of the park's area, most of the old-growth trees survived. It took more than a fire to destroy these huge beauties, some of which are thought to date back to the time of the Roman Empire.

Woman Standing on a Fallen Giant RedwoodWoman Standing on a Fallen Giant Redwood

The redwoods grow up to 50 feet (15m) in circumference, and up to 378 feet (115m) tall. They're on a scale that is hard to imagine. The only way to understand just how big they are is to see them, and even then it's hard to believe what you're seeing. To say they make you feel small and insignificant is an understatement.

Boulder Creek in Big Basin Redwoods State ParkBoulder Creek in Big Basin Redwoods State Park

How Big is Big Basin Redwoods State Park?

Big Basin Redwoods State Park covers an area of 18,000 acres (73 sq kms). Of this, 10,800 acres (44 sq kms) is old-growth forest. There are also 81 miles (130 km) of hiking trails, a hiker's dream. One of the most popular is the Redwood Loop Trail, a flat path of only 0.6 miles (1 km), which nevertheless allows the visitor to see some of the largest and oldest redwoods in the park.

How Long to Spend in Big Basins Redwood State Park?

That's easy. As long as you can spare. You'll certainly want to spend all day there, given the diversion it takes out of your Pacific Coast Highway road trip. If you like hiking then we'd recommend a couple of days. You could spend a night in one of several places along Highway 9, between Santa Cruz and the park, then you've only got a drive of maybe 30 minutes to and from the park entrance.

Boulder Creek in Big Basin Redwoods State Park

What to See and Do in Big Basin Redwoods State Park?

As well as the hiking trails, there are biking and horse-riding opportunities too. If you arrive at the park on foot, by bike, or on horseback, you don't have to pay any fee to go in. There are waterfalls and canyons to see, and abundant wildlife, recovering after the fire.

Watch out for deer, coyotes, squirrels, foxes, bobcats, raccoons, and chipmunks. There are cougar here but it's highly unlikely you'll see one. There are no bears in the park, although the last known human to die after being attacked by a grizzly in California was here in Big Basin back in 1875.

Sharp-Shinned_Hawk.jpgSharp-Shinned Hawk

There are plenty of birds to watch for too, including jays, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, flycatchers, and sharp-shinned hawks. There are Pacific rattlesnakes in the park but you would be highly unlikely to encounter one if walking the redwood groves as it's simply not their kind of habitat. They keep themselves to the high, dry chaparral terrain.

Boulder Creek in Big Basin Redwoods State ParkThe Night Sky
Boulder Creek in Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Getting to Big Basin Redwoods State Park

The park is about an hour's drive north of Santa Cruz. If you're driving the Pacific Coast Highway it will mean a diversion inland, and then returning to the coast. In distance it's only about 25 miles (40 kms) but the roads are slow, climbing, and winding.

The Route from Santa Cruz to Big Basin Redwoods State ParkThe Route from Santa Cruz to Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Map (c) Google Maps

Check out the details on the official website. No over-sized vehicles are allowed, there's no cell phone service in the park so don't even consider Uber, and you will also need to book your parking spot in advance as space is currently limited.

You can also take the bus from Santa Cruz to the park entrance during the summer months. Check this page.

San Francisco to Big Basin Redwoods State Park

If you're flying into San Francisco International Airport, then the state park is only a 90-minute drive away. If you arrive early enough in the day, then it's a terrific drive to head from the airport to the park, spend a few hours there, and then drop down into Santa Cruz.

To do this means forfeiting the coastal drive, but hey - you're coming back anyway, right? So do that next time.

Rancho del Oso

If time doesn't permit you to make the detour to Big Basin, then the park does have a small part of it which is on the coast, 17 miles (27km) north from Santa Cruz. This is Rancho del Oso, and is worth a stop even if you have visited the main part of the park. 

It's right off the Pacific Coast Highway, opposite Waddell Beach. It doesn't have a huge sign, and you can't see it anyway if coming from the south, so keep your eyes peeled and your speed down.

The Route from Santa Cruz to Rancho del OsoThe Route from Santa Cruz to Rancho del Oso
Map (c) Google Maps

Rancho del Oso became part of the main park in the 1970s. It also has redwood groves, along with pine forests, creeks, waterfalls, marches, and hiking trails that range from 1 mile (1.6 km) to 13 miles (21 km). You can learn more here.

Rancho del Oso on YouTube

This is a fairly recent video of Rancho del Oso, since it re-opened after the fire. Like the main park, it's not yet fully back to normal, but it's still got plenty to offer.

More Information

For more information on Big Basin Redwoods State Park visit its page on the website of the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

Where to Stay Near Big Basin Redwoods State Park

As we said above, you could stay in one of several places along Highway 9, that takes you from Santa Cruz to the park entrance. This could halve the driving time between the two places. On the other hand, Santa Cruz itself gives you much more choice of places to stay and places to eat, and it only an hour from the park. Given the chance, we'd tag on an extra night in Santa Cruz and allow a full day for a visit to the park.

Normally there is camping in the park but with the new openings with restricted facilities, the campsites are currently closed.

Where to Stay in Santa Cruz


Other Wildlife Pages

  • Pacific Coast Highway Travel recommends some of the top wildlife spots along the California coast.

    Top Wildlife Spots on the California Coast

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel recommends some of the top wildlife spots along the California coast.

  • San Diego whale watching tours like this from Hornblower Cruises let visitors get up close to see gray whales, dolphins, sea lions and other wildlife.

    San Diego Whale Watching

    San Diego whale watching tours like this from Hornblower Cruises let visitors get up close to see gray whales, dolphins, sea lions and other wildlife.

  • The Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row is one of the top sights in Monterey and along the whole Pacific Coast Highway.

    Monterey Bay Aquarium

    The Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row is one of the top sights in Monterey and along the whole Pacific Coast Highway.

  • Whale watching coupons offering a big discount are available now in Newport Beach for cheap whale watching cruises with Newport Landing Whale Watching.

    Whale Watching Coupons in Newport Beach

    Whale watching coupons offering a big discount are available now in Newport Beach for cheap whale watching cruises with Newport Landing Whale Watching.

  • The Florence Sea Lion Caves are one of the best wildlife attractions along the Pacific Coast Highway, north of Florence and south of Yachats.

    Florence Sea Lion Caves

    The Florence Sea Lion Caves are one of the best wildlife attractions along the Pacific Coast Highway, north of Florence and south of Yachats.

  • Whale watching trips and tours in San Diego are one of the California city's best activities but you can watch the whales from the San Diego shoreline too.

    Whale Watching from the San Diego Shoreline

    Whale watching trips and tours in San Diego are one of the California city's best activities but you can watch the whales from the San Diego shoreline too.

  • A walk around the Point Lobos State Reserve near Monterey and Carmel provides lots of photo opportunities, especially of the Harbor Seal Birthing Area.

    Point Lobos State Reserve near Carmel and Monterey, with photos

    A walk around the Point Lobos State Reserve near Monterey and Carmel provides lots of photo opportunities, especially of the Harbor Seal Birthing Area.

  • San Diego Zoo Safari Park is a partner of San Diego Zoo and offers the chance to see wildlife in its natural habitat with a wide range of safaris on offer.

    San Diego Zoo Safari Park

    San Diego Zoo Safari Park is a partner of San Diego Zoo and offers the chance to see wildlife in its natural habitat with a wide range of safaris on offer.

  • Piedras Blancas Elephant Seals Beach is near Hearst Castle, San Simeon and Cambria and is one of the best things to do when driving the Pacific Coast Highway.

    Piedras Blancas Elephant Seals Beach

    Piedras Blancas Elephant Seals Beach is near Hearst Castle, San Simeon and Cambria and is one of the best things to do when driving the Pacific Coast Highway.

  • The La Jolla Aquarium, officially known as the Birch Aquarium at Scripps overlooks the Pacific Ocean, with sea creatures from seahorses to sharks.

    La Jolla Aquarium

    The La Jolla Aquarium, officially known as the Birch Aquarium at Scripps overlooks the Pacific Ocean, with sea creatures from seahorses to sharks.

  • Whale watching in California is one of the most popular things to do along the Pacific Coast Highway, in places like San Diego, San Francisco and many more.

    Whale Watching in California

    Whale watching in California is one of the most popular things to do along the Pacific Coast Highway, in places like San Diego, San Francisco and many more.

  • The Pacific Coast Highway wildlife on and off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington is one of the highlights of any trip.

    Pacific Coast Highway Wildlife

    The Pacific Coast Highway wildlife on and off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington is one of the highlights of any trip.

  • Seeing a humpback whale in the Pacific Ocean off the coasts of California,Washington or Oregon is often the highlight of a whale-watching tour.

    Humpback Whale

    Seeing a humpback whale in the Pacific Ocean off the coasts of California,Washington or Oregon is often the highlight of a whale-watching tour.

  • SeaWorld in San Diego is the original marine theme park, featuring killer whales, dolphins, shark encounters, manatee rescue, and Journey to Atlantis.

    SeaWorld San Diego

    SeaWorld in San Diego is the original marine theme park, featuring killer whales, dolphins, shark encounters, manatee rescue, and Journey to Atlantis.

  • Santa Barbara whale watching cruises in southern California can be booked through Condor Express, with whale watching trips leaving from the harbor.

    Santa Barbara Whale Watching

    Santa Barbara whale watching cruises in southern California can be booked through Condor Express, with whale watching trips leaving from the harbor.



Recent Articles

  1. Touring Alcatraz

    Jan 30, 23 04:51 PM

    alcatraz-island-pixabay.jpg
    Touring Alcatraz, the former island prison, is one of the best things to do in San Francisco and attracts over 1.5 million visitors a year.

    Read More

  2. Pacific Coast Highway Reopens Wednesday Morning After Flooding

    Jan 26, 23 12:20 PM

    The Tuesday closure was caused by flooding and prompted safety officials to shut down both sides of the highway in Huntington Beach.

    Read More

  3. San Diego Zoo

    Jan 23, 23 06:19 PM

    san-diego-zoo-pixabay-gorilla.jpg
    San Diego Zoo is in Balboa Park, San Diego, California has been called the best zoo in the world and is the most visited zoo in the United States.

    Read More