Campground Connector Trail – Redwood Trail – Sunset Trail – Berry Creek Falls Trail – Skyline to the Sea Trail – Bubbs Creek Trail – Pine Mountain Trail.
Distance: Berry Creek Falls Loop – 12 Miles
Pine Mountain – 5.2 Miles
Elevation Gained: 700′, 1,200′
Difficulty: Strenuous, Moderate
Time: 6:15 (Berry Creek), 3:12 (Pine Mountain)
– Great trees, great waterfalls, great views
– Absolutely none
Berry Creek Falls Loop
On day 2 of my backpacking trip in Big Basin, I set out at dawn to take the Berry Creek Falls Loop. I had passed Berry Creek Falls the morning prior when I was packing in, but I spent no time there, knowing that I would come back the next day and explore the area more thoroughly.
Berry Creek Falls lies just above the junction of Berry Creek and Kelly Creek. After this junction, a main fork of Waddell Creek is formed, and it is through this area where most of the water that drains the western portion of Big Basin flows. As a result of so much water being present, the vegetation, which is already dense throughout the park, is especially rich and vibrant, making this portion the most beautiful stretch in all of the hiking I did throughout the entire week.
The trip begins at the visitor center and quickly joins the Sunset Trail. The sunset trail climbs the same dividing ridge that the Skyline to the Sea Trail has to cross, but the Sunset Trail remains upon higher ground along a ridge, whereas Skyline follows the creek up the bottom of a broad canyon. The resulting vegetation change is subtle for the most part, with one notable exception occurring above the first waterfall.
I walked along the Sunset Trail with the morning light shining through the trees. Light in the forest during this time is especially beautiful. Moss lights up as the sunlight backlights it. Dust motes catch in rays that filter down from between the redwoods and firs. Carpets of wildflowers slumber, but occasionally awake in sporadic patches of sunlight. Birds sing high in the trees, and the woods themselves seem to be stretching and yawning from a deep slumber.
All of this beauty continues until you climb a particularly sharp ridge. On the other side of this ridge, you come to a clearing where the vegetation changes dramatically. Firs and ferns give way to pines and manzanita. This sunny, open pocket is a welcome respite from the omnipresent shade and deep gloom of the redwood forest. It’s not that the darkness is unpleasant. It’s just that when you’ve been beneath it for a full day and morning of hiking, a little sunshine can feel really good.
After this patch, the trail begins to descend, and the sound of rushing water becomes audible. It’s not too long before the trail emerges at the top of a waterfall. This is not Berry Creek Falls, but rather Golden Cascade Falls. On its own, this waterfall would be impressive, but it is the first, and slightest, of three falls that grace this brief stretch of trail.
The second fall is Silver Falls, which is higher and slightly more impressive than the first. It’s also worth noting that the scenery on this stretch is nothing short of magical. This stretch of trail isn’t much more than a mile, and yet it is one of the slowest miles I have ever walked.
After much creek-side ambling and water-fall viewing, I came to the top of Berry Creek Falls, a 70-foot cataract in the heart of the forest. The first view is from up-close, and it is pretty impressive. However, the waterfall is much more comely from afar. There’s a bench on the Skyline Trail upon which you can sit and take in the scene, which is presented in the video above.
After this, it’s a leisurely trip along Skyline, up and over the ridge, and then back to the camp. Without a pack, this trail is every bit as gorgeous as anything in the park as it passes through extremely damp sections of forest into dryer sections of the forest that more closely resemble the Sequoia groves in the Sierras. On the east side of the ridge, the Redwood Trail offers an up close glimpse at some of the biggest trees in the area on a well-groomed but popular loop trail. I walked this trail numerous times not so much because it was so pretty but because there was a water fountain that saved me from having to pump water out of a creek.
Finally, I ended up back at camp for a nap that would rest my body for a ascent of Pine Mountain.
Pine Mountain is a 2,200′ promontory that broods over the deep redwood forests below. The climate here is dryer, and, as a result, the mountain is covered with pines that grow so small that they almost achieve chaparral proportions. The trees here seldom grow over twenty feet, and as a result, there are more views to be had than at any other portion of the park.
Pine Mountain itself is closed to hikers, but Buzzard’s Roost, a large rock that looks ideal for perching, is a pleasant place to stop and take in views of Big Basin and the distant ocean. Aside from the patch on Sunset Trail, this is really the only place to get out of the gloom of the redwood forest. It’s a bit of work to get there (1,200′ of gain), but it is well worth the climb.
Additionally, it’s the only place to get cell phone reception in the entire park. This should not matter at all, but since I wanted to talk to Kelly since I missed her, but also to coordinate pick up times for her flight at San Francisco, it’s a nice spot to rejoin the rest of civilization if only for a few minutes.
And when you’re in a place like Big Basin, a few minutes of the outside world is all you need.