The Skyline-to-the Sea Trail is a must do for outdoor enthusiasts living in the San Francisco Bay Area. People are enticed by the thought of starting at the top of a mountain amongst towering redwoods and ending up at a beautiful wind blown beach. Berry Creek Falls, one of the larger waterfalls in the area only adds to the allure of the trail. The trail in its entirety is a multi-day backpacking trek that starts at Castle Rock State Park. However if you are mainly interested in seeing Berry Creek Falls there are three different options that make it possible to reach the falls as a day hike…
Option 1: One Way from Big Basin to Waddell Creek Beach
This is the classic journey. You start at the Visitor Center in Big Basin State Park and you walk the approximate 13 miles to the sea. You would assume that since you’re starting at the top of a mountain and walking to sea level you would be doing a lot of steep downhill. However, there are sections of uphill and even many of the downhill parts are relatively gradual. Pros: Seeing the entire trail. Cons: Since you’re doing a one-way journey, transportation logistics are complicated and time consuming. Easiest option is to get someone to drive you to the trailhead in Big Basin (about a 50-60 minute drive from Santa Cruz) and pick you up at Waddell Creek Beach (about a 40 minute drive from Santa Cruz).
Option 2: There and Back from Big Basin
This is the hardest on your body option. If you enjoy lots of elevation change and want to feel like you’ve really earned your post-hike burger this is the option for you. Park at Big Basin State Park and hike the 10.5 miles roundtrip to Berry Creek Falls. Since this is basically downhill you will be doing a significant amount of uphill on your return journey. Along the way you will be in dense redwood tree forest and follow a creek for part of the way. In the winter it can be dark and slippery. Pros: Easy for transportation. Cons: Strenuous hike. Seeing the same scenery on the return journey back to your car.
Option 3: Bike/Hike from Waddell Creek
If you have kids, are pressed for time, or simply don’t feel like spending 4-6 hours walking, this is the best option. There’s a very scenic fire road that winds through the valley and into the redwoods that is open to bikers. It’s best if you have a mountain bike but I did it on my “hybrid” with a toddler bike seat attached and didn’t have too much trouble. After riding for 5-6 miles you will come to a large trail map kiosk and a bike rack, lock up your bike and hike the remaining .5 miles along a single track trail until you get to the turn off for Berry Creek Falls. From there it’s a quick five minute walk to the falls. If you have the gear and a sense of adventure this is an excellent way to get small children to an impressive waterfall. Pros: Easier way to access Berry Creek Falls. Cons: Need to transport bikes.
- Hiking poles help with muddy conditions
- Bring layers. Especially in the winter it can be chilly in the redwoods
- Most people turn around after seeing Berry Creek Falls but if you continue on the trail there are more waterfalls further up (this adds 2 miles to the total trip length)
- There isn’t cell phone reception in Big Basin State Park and coverage at Waddell Creek can be iffy so plan pick up times before setting out on the trail.
- Spring and early summer is when the waterfalls are the fullest and the wildflowers are blooming.