Big Basin not only has the distinction of being the first state park in Califiornia, it also houses some of the oldest trees in the state. The “Father of the Forest,” for instance, is more than 2,000 years old. This 250-foot specimen, which measures 70 feet around, was heavily photographed in the late 19th century as part of the public relations campaign to preserve Big Basin from logging, a development that led to the establishment of the California State Parks system.
The “Mother of the Forest,” at 329 feet, is even more incredible. As happens with many old redwoods, the base of the trunk has been hollowed out by forest fires, but the tree lives on thanks to its thick bark and high levels of tannic acid, both of which protect redwoods during fires. These two magnificent trees are found on the very accessible half-mile Redwood Trail.
While not every tree in Big Basin is the spectacle these two are, the park’s 18,000 acres of recovering redwood forest, which include a good number of old-growth individuals and groves, works a special kind of magic. Being surrounded by these immense trees feels like nothing else in the world. It’s hard to remember you’re only an hour’s drive away from either San Jose or Santa Cruz.
There are also lots of gorgeous waterfalls, creeks and riparian habitats to hike to and enjoy. (See Sequoia Trail and Berry Creek Falls Trail for the park’s biggest waterfalls.) Oaks, bay laurel and chaparral are found plentifully throughout the park, as are huckleberries, azaleas, ferns, manzanitas, Indian paintbrush, poppies and wild orchids.
With all this amazing flora, it’s no wonder that Big Basin remains the most visited state park in California. In fact, when it became a state park in 1902, the idea of land conservation was still a relatively obscure one. But when Andrew Hill and the rest of the Sempervirens Club (later changed to "Fund") learned that logging threatening to decimate this gorgeous forest, they took action. Today there are more than 81 miles of trails in the park with elevations that range from spectacular, wind-swept Waddell Creek Beach at sea level to skyscraping, vista-rich ridgetop trails at 2,000 feet.
Thanks to its size and diverse terrain, Big Basin sustains a multitude of critters. One is the banana slug, which you’re sure to see on your hike, especially if it’s recently rained. It’s also likely that you’ll see spot a deer in the bushes. Less visible are the frog, raccoon, coyote, rattlesnake and fox. If you’re lucky (or not so lucky), you might even see a mountain lion or bobcat.
The bird species in Big Basin are numerous and include hawks, owls, California quail, egrets, herons, acorn woodpeckers and the endangered marbled murrelet, an odd, football-shaped seabird whose preference for nesting in old-growth redwoods, Douglas firs and sitka spruces make it a quite uncommon sight in these parts.
Once upon a time, in the not-so-distant past, Big Basin was home to grizzly bears, but they vanished from California in 1922. The last known human death in California due to a grizzly encounter occurred in Big Basin in 1875, when lumber mill owner William Waddell was fatally attacked near Waddell Creek while trying to save his dog. This was one of the last grizzly bear sightings in the area.
Back to Big Basin Redwoods State Park.