Read on if you like: redwood hikes, Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, Berry Creek Falls, biking in Santa Cruz, Waddell Creek
12 miles RT; 600 ft elevation gain; 4-5 hours; moderate to strenuous
Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail from Waddell Beach to Berry Creek Falls Trail
Whether you call it Waddell Creek, the Waddell Valley or Rancho del Oso, this gorgeous, verdant section of Big Basin Redwoods State Park has a huge fan base. The valley's varied terrain—which includes coastal marsh, Monterey pine forest, oak woodland, riparian corridor and redwood forest—is traversed by a (mostly) gently graded fire road (the lower half of the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail), making for highly accessible hiking, biking and horseback riding.
Heading from the beach inland, the route follows Waddell Creek for the first 3 miles. In the first quarter-mile, which is paved, you'll pass a freshwater marsh on the right and a Monterey pine forest on a mountain to the left, then arrive at the Rancho del Oso unit headquarters, where you'll see a horse camp and parking for Skyline-to-the-Sea overnight hikers. From that point on the trail is basically fire road; hikers can also take the more scenic Skyline-to-the-Sea Bypass Trail starting at the gate just past HQ, which offers a bit of elevation gain up the side of the valley and perspective on the scene below before letting out near the Alder and Twin Redwoods camps. Back on Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, past an inholding and farmland (the source of some of Route 1's famous organic produce), the valley narrows, and the road runs right between the Waddell Creek corridor and forested hillside. There are some very large redwoods along this road, including the old-growth "Eagle Tree," marked #11 on the Self-Guided Tour (brochures available at the Bypass trailhead, just past HQ). You'll pass the Alder and Twin Redwoods backcountry trail camps within 1.2 miles of the parking area. These are operational May 1–Nov. 1; you can start making reservations in early March at 831.338.8861.
About three miles in you'll cross a nice, sturdy bridge over East Waddell Creek, then pick up the trail again as it follows West Waddell Creek. The road narrows a little—down to single-track in many places—and the scenery grows a bit wilder. The road dips and rises in a few places and generally starts gaining elevation, often via short steep climbs that level out. All but the last half-mile of the 6-mile trip to Berry Creek Falls is bike-accessible, so many people ride to that point and lock up their bikes at the rack for the final climb to the falls, which you'll find after making a smidgen of a jaunt up Berry Creek Falls Trail. Hikers (probably footsore by this point) and cyclists (likely fresher) are deposited on a viewing platform before 60-foot Berry Creek Falls: the payoff. You can extend your journey another mile each way by continuing on Berry Creeek Falls Trail up to Silver Falls and Golden Cascade Falls.
Two seasonal bridges on the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail make creek crossings easy throughout late spring, summer and much of the fall. Starting in November or December, however (depending on the onset of the rains), the bridges come down. That doesn't mean the route is impassable—just that you should exercise caution and not attempt to cross the creek when it's full or fast-moving.
Parking Day parking is allowed in the Waddell Beach parking lot, just across Highway 1 from the park entrance.
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