History, Adventure Await at Big Basin Redwoods

"Father of the Forest" tree with sign in front
Photo: mindgrow [CC by SA-2.0]/Flickr

California is rich with iconic natural features. Gold, earthquake fault lines and dramatic coasts are examples. But the massive, ancient redwood trees that can be found in certain parts of the state never fail to capture the imagination. The oldest state park in California, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, is home to a large stand of these giant old-growth redwoods, including the "Father of the Forest" shown here.

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Altitude adjustment


Big Basin Redwoods State Park is near Santa Cruz, Calif., and sits adjacent to Año Nuevo State Park, which runs all the way to the coast, and Butano State Park, which also boasts a redwood forest as well as several other microclimates at higher elevations. Big Basin Redwoods State Park also changes as one travels up the hillsides, shifting from redwoods to more drought-tolerant tree species and chaparral.

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Old-growth forest treasure


Big Basin Redwoods State Park was established in 1902, making it California's oldest state park. Over the years and with the help of dedicated conservationists, the park's boundaries have spread from the original 3,800 acres to more than 18,000 acres. Included in this is 10,800 acres of old-growth forest. This is an incredible treasure, as there are few old-growth forests left, and very few of the ancient giants that so capture our wonder and imaginations.

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Echoes of the past


The trees at Big Basin give visitors amazing perspective on the meaning of time to these long-lived giants. The rings of one felled tree date back over 1,400 years to when it sprouted in 544 AD. Major events in history are marked on the tree, showing how it was growing quietly through the rise and fall of civilizations.

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Fungi in the forest


Redwood forests are known for the diversity of life they hold, and especially important is the symbiotic relationship of trees and fungi. Visitors to Big Basin Redwoods State Park can't help but notice that a wide variety of mushrooms can be found thriving on the forest floor among roots and fallen logs. Fungi play important roles in redwood forests, helping to break down debris and turn it in to rich soil.

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Newts, frogs, bobcats


Big Basin Redwoods State Park is home to many unusual creatures, including the rough-skinned newt. This species produces a particularly potent neurotoxin, which helps keep predators away. It is one of the many crawly critters that visitors may spot along trails. Also living here is the banana slug, the Pacific tree frog and the arboreal salamander. Other inhabitants of the fuzzier variety include black bears, black-tailed deer, gray squirrels, raccoons, bobcats and other common mammal species.

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More than redwoods


Redwoods are not the only tree species in the forest. As visitors hike up in elevation, they will notice the forest thinning and giving way to species like coast Douglas fir, Pacific madrone, Pacific wax myrtle, and even higher up there is buckeye (shown here), manzanita and ceanothus among many other drought-tolerant species.

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Wildflower power


Wildflowers are common in the spring, and species include redwood sorrel, trillium, star lily and mountain iris. Like the tree species, flower species shift as one moves from the forest floor up into the surrounding hillsides.

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Among the giants


Big Basin boasts over 81 miles of trails that take hikers through old-growth forest, past waterfalls, into canyon bottoms and up to chaparral hillsides, and there is even a trail — the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail — that will take hikers all the way out to Waddell Beach and a freshwater marsh. The variety of microclimates and wildlife will keep visitors on their toes. But of course the real draw is being among the giants of the forest.

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Choose your adventure


Big Basin Redwoods State Park offers not only fantastic hiking, but also guided walks, campfire programs, history talks, geology and birding hikes, and yes, camping too. There is something for everyone no matter your age or interests.

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Roads for exploration


In addition to hiking trails, Big Basin has mountain bike and equestrian trails. While dogs are not allowed on trails, they are allowed on paved roads, which are just as scenic and serene. These roads also offer a greater level of accessibility to those who might not be able to take on the more rugged hiking trails.

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Time capsule

Ferdinand Harmsen/Flickr.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park is filled with visual history going back millennia, and as California's oldest state park, that history has been preserved and protected for generations. But when it comes to calendars there is only one date you need to worry about right now: the date you plan on visiting this treasure of the California state parks system.