Camp at Rancho del Oso and Visit the New Welcome Center

Big Basin’s Rancho del Oso is a hidden gem for fall and winter camping, hiking, and exploring one of Santa Cruz County’s beautiful North Coast beaches.

By Hilltromper Staff

Nov. 8, 2023—Rancho del Oso is the coastal gateway to Big Basin Redwoods State Park, located approximately 18 miles north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1, across from Waddell Beach. Overnight camping reopened this past summer for the first time after the CZU Fire tore through the area three years ago. The open secret is that the campground remains open this fall and winter with lots to explore, so don’t put that gear back into storage!

The Horse Camp has been rehabilitated and is open for walk-in, non-equestrian camping. There are five campsites available by reservation and one shared non-reserved bike-in site.

The campground will be open on a temporary basis in partnership with Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks and Save the Redwoods League until equestrian trail access on the coast side of the park is restored, which may not be for many years due to the extensive fire damage along the Skyline to the Sea Trail that leads deeper into Big Basin from Rancho del Oso.

Click here to get details on visiting Rancho del Oso, including how to make camping reservations.


As of October 30, 2023, the brand new Welcome Center is open! The center features a large observation deck with ocean views, interactive and virtual interpretive exhibits, and murals of the local coastal ecology. To get there, take a quarter-mile hike from Waddell Beach up the beginning portion of the Skyline to the Sea Trail. Welcome Center hours are typically Noon to 4pm on weekends, with no day use fees. Learn more about the Welcome Center.

Next to the Welcome Center, the short Marsh Trail is open for hiking through the Theodore J. Hoover Nature Preserve, with great birdwatching opportunities. Come back between May and October when the seasonal bridge is installed for a longer walk that will take you to the Rancho del Oso Nature and History Center.

The Rancho del Oso Nature and History Center, operated by the Waddell Creek Association, has a lot of engaging and educational exhibits to explore. It’s located just to the south of Waddell Beach on Canyon Road, with its own parking area. It’s also generally open Noon to 4pm on weekends.

Across from the Rancho del Oso Nature and History Center you can hike the newly expanded Hoover Trail (0.8 miles) that allows you to connect with the recovering Monterey Pine forest and enjoy sweeping views of Waddell Beach and Año Nuevo Island in the distance.

Waddell Beach is a wind-and-wave paradise for kiters and surfers looking to escape town crowds. Also a great place to chill and watch the action.

Your Mother Would Tell You To: Bring those layers so you can bundle up or take some off. The winds can whip up in the afternoons, especially closer to the beach, but it can be warmer in Rancho del Oso Valley.


Año Nuevo State Park
Just a stone’s throw north on Highway 1, this place is famous for its elephant seals.

Pie Ranch Farm Stand
Three miles north on Highway 1, this farm stand is located inside a beautiful barn full of goodies from fresh produce to baked goods and local wares.

Greyhound Rock Vista Point
Only 1.5 miles south on Highway 1, this spot is good for anything from a drive-by picnic site to a day-long beach fest.