Edge to Edge part 8: Skyline to the Sea Trail from Big Basin Park HQ to Waddell Beach

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This hike, along Skyline to the Sea Trail from Big Basin Redwoods State Park Headquarters to Waddell Beach, is basically Day 3 of a popular 3-day through hike from Saratoga Gap to Waddell Beach on the Pacific Ocean. It is also the 8th – and last – segment of an 8-segment hike that I have been doing with a group of ice skating friends, from the edge of San Francisco Bay to the edge of the Pacific Ocean. We decided to call our adventure Edge to Edge.

Actually, most of the group completed the final section a year ago. Two of us couldn’t participate in that hike and had been planning for several months to do it together. A large part of the complication was arranging for rides to Big Basin and from Waddell Beach. There is a summer-season bus from/to Santa Cruz but that didn’t seem convenient, so we arranged family/friend rides. Eventually the details fell into place and we were ready to go hike!

This entire section is in Santa Cruz County, and the orange dot on the GPS track shows the starting point at Big Basin Headquarters. When we walked up to the ranger station window for a map, they knew right away that we were hiking one-way to Waddell Beach: being dropped off was the give-away clue.

GPS track

GPS track

The previous segment of our Edge to Edge hike had included a moderate climb from Waterman Gap to China Grade Rd before descending into the heart of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. This time there was a smaller climb to Middle Ridge Rd and an even smaller climb on the hikers-only trail between Alder and Horse Camp campgrounds at the lower end of Skyline to the Sea Trail. In addition, we had decided that, if we felt we had time and energy when we got to the junction with Berry Creek Falls Trail, we would take a 1-mile side trip up this trail to see two more waterfalls. Apparently Berry Creek and West Berry Creek run all year, even in a drought, so there would be water flowing over all three falls. That was a pretty good incentive!

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

This side trip added about 2.4 miles to the total hike distance, as well as about 300 feet of climbing.

At the beginning of the hike we decided to go the long way around the beautiful Redwood Trail loop near park headquarters, and this added about 0.6 mile to the total hike distance. It was a beautiful way to set the stage for the rest of the hike. The trail loops around past several exceptionally large old-growth redwoods, including Father of the Forest (estimated age: 2000 years) and Mother of the Forest (previously the tallest in Big Basin). Here a youngster is posing in front of one of the named trees, I believe Chimney Tree.

photo of old-growth redwood along Redwood Trail

Old-growth redwood along Redwood Trail

We noticed a pretty flowering shrub which turned out to be western azalea (Rhododendron occidentale). Our hike was the day after an unusual, but welcome, June rain shower, and we noticed droplets on some of the flowers and shrubs we encountered.

picture of western azalea

Western azalea

Some of the redwoods are impressively tall, as well as broad.

image of tall redwood

Tall redwood

After going most of the way around the Redwood Trail loop we were ready to set off down Skyline to the Sea Trail. Before long we started seeing violets, both yellow redwood violets (Viola sempervirens) and white two-eyed violets (Viola ocellata), the latter also known as western heart’s ease. The two dark purple splotches are the eyes.

photo of redwood violet (left) and two-eyed violet (right)

Redwood violet (left) and two-eyed violet (right)

There was also a lot of redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana) growing beneath the redwoods, almost like a carpet in places.

picture of redwood sorrel

Redwood sorrel

We saw quite a bit of Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) and hedge nettle (Stachys ajugoides) as well as some Ithuriel’s spear (Triteleia laxa). I was a bit surprised at the Ithuriel’s spear, since I tend to associate it with more open areas, i.e., a bit more sun. At one point, when we had stopped for pictures, we were overtaken by a group of young hikers, perhaps a summer camp group accompanied by counselors. They were immediately followed by another group of mostly seniors. I think both groups were doing a popular loop hike past the waterfalls and back to park headquarters. Not long after the groups passed us we arrived at Middle Ridge Rd, the highest-elevation point of the hike, about 1.6 miles from the start.

We heard one or more Swainson’s thrushes singing; the rising spiral-like song is hauntingly beautiful and always makes me feel that I am in a huge, remote forest.

Another redwood forest find was western trillium (Trillium ovatum). We saw quite a few of these distinctive 3-leafed plants among the redwoods. They were not actively blooming, but the flowering part of the plant was on a stem, and this is characteristic of the species.

image of western trillium

Western trillium

The trail is very well-maintained, but occasionally down trees have been left in place. In this case a notch was cut to facilitate hiking under the tree. I thought of it as a drive-through tree for hikers!

photo of drive-through tree for hikers

Drive-through tree for hikers

Another plant we saw frequently was Andrew’s clintonia (Clintonia andrewsiana), or red bead lily. A beautiful flower head is at the top of a tall naked (leafless) stem, with several large leaves at the base, here with fresh rain droplets.

picture of Andrew’s clintonia

Andrew’s clintonia

We also saw quite a few of these plants with small, delicate star-like blossoms. I’m pretty sure they are sugarscoop (Tiarella trifoliata var. unifoliata). I don’t know that it’s related to the flower’s name, but the blossoms reminded me of sugar granules being sprinkled onto some kind of confection.

image of sugarscoop


In this part of the park there is a network of creeks, and Skyline to the Sea Trail passes along Kelly Creek and West Waddell Creek.

Just past 5.2 miles from the trailhead we reached the junction with Berry Creek Falls Trail. First we hiked the short distance up the trail to the viewing area for Berry Creek Falls, certainly a highlight of this hike or of the popular loop hike the groups were on. There is undoubtedly more water flow in wetter years, but even with lower water flow this is a beautiful waterfall.

photo of Berry Creek Falls

Berry Creek Falls

After a short break we continued up Berry Creek Falls Trail, which climbs next to Berry Creek and West Berry Creek for about a mile before reaching Silver Falls. Along the way we passed some Pacific star flower (Lysimachia latifolia) and an as-yet unidentified caterpillar, as well as a beautiful cluster of horsetail (Equisetum).

picture of Silver Falls

Silver Falls

The trail continues to climb very steeply past Silver Falls, with steps cut into the rock and cable handrails. Shortly past the falls we reached what might be the lower part of Golden Cascade, where we turned around and returned to Skyline to the Sea Trail. While we were stopped for another short break – not because we needed another one, but because it was so beautiful and there was a bench – a Steller’s jay played hide-and-seek with us in the nearby redwood trees.

We continued down Skyline to the Sea Trail, which passes from old-growth to second-growth around Berry Creek. The forest is still beautiful. About 0.5 mile below Berry Creek there is a fairly large sign and the trail changes into a fire road. Shortly before the sign the trail crosses West Waddell Creek on what could best be described as a seasonal bridge: a couple of wide planks, easily removed if needed, spanning from each edge of the creek to a large rock in the middle. Then a more substantial bridge re-crosses the creek overlooking lush plants below.

The trail goes over a couple of small rolls, and overall the descent becomes quite gentle. Some of the down trees are decorated with colorful fungus; this is known as turkey tail (Trametes versicolor).

image of turkey tail fungus on a log

Turkey tail fungus on a log

At some point it started to rain lightly; this had been in the forecast so we were prepared, and donned light rain jackets. I also had a rain shield for my pack, which I deployed, more to try it out than for serious rain protection.

As we descended the forest gradually opened up, with small clearings and meadows near the trail. We passed clusters of forget-me-nots (Myosotis), a few globe lilies (Calochortus albus), and Fernald’s irises (Iris fernaldii). There is even a piece of equipment, apparently abandoned in place next to the trail (and, sadly, subsequently tagged by hikers). In one of the open areas we came across a few tall plants topped by stalks of white bell-shaped flowers, which I’ve been unable to identify.

photo of white bell-shaped flowers on the lower part of Skyline to the Sea Trail

White bell-shaped flowers on the lower part of Skyline to the Sea Trail

This section of trail is second-growth redwoods with some deciduous trees, and the mix gradually changes. There was a distinctive down tree, apparently suspended across the trail about 10 feet up in a configuration that I refer to as a good catch. Some investigation revealed that it was actually resting on another stump that acted as a fulcrum. Pretty amazing, but I guess the tree is not about to collapse onto the trail!

The trail passes Twin Redwoods and Alder campgrounds about 12.3 miles from the start; it would have been 9.3 miles without our side trips. Here a hikers-only trail branches away from the fire road, and there is a last climb through pretty forest habitat. We passed some wavyleaf soap plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum var. pomeridianum) and quite a few trees draped in lichen; this is a particularly impressive example.

picture of lichen-draped tree

Lichen-draped tree

Through the trees lining the trail we could see a few wisps of ocean fog in the valley to our left, through which Waddell Creek runs to the ocean. We also encountered a few examples of this pretty flower, which I think is California chicory (Rafinesquia californica), or California plumseed.

image of California chicory blossom with some buds

California chicory blossom with some buds

As we descended from the highest point of the hikers-only trail we came to another highlight of the hike: our first view (of the day) of the Pacific Ocean, the endpoint of our amazing 8-hike journey.

picture of initial view of the Pacific Ocean

Initial view of the Pacific Ocean

The ocean view was so exciting, in fact, that I almost missed a group of canyon dudleya (Dudleya cymosa) blooming on the rock face immediately next to the trail on the high side. While researching the identification I learned that dudleyas’ stems grow from one side of the succulent leaf cluster at the base, while stonecrops’ stems grow from the center.

photo of Canyon dudleya

Canyon dudleya

I had provided our ride with a radio so that we could touch bases and let her know our progress, since our arrival time was at best an estimate. We had already checked in a couple of miles back, but she called again to see how we were doing: reveling in our first ocean view and sightseeing!

After about 1.6 miles on the hikers-only trail, it rejoins the road through the Rancho Del Oso portion of Big Basin Redwoods State Park, and the view across the valley opens up. Here we could see more wisps of fog floating over the valley.

image of fog along the lower part of Skyline to the Sea Trail

Fog along the lower part of Skyline to the Sea Trail

The trail passes through Rancho Del Oso and next to the Theodore J Hoover Natural Preserve. In this area we passed a few stands of plants with tall stalks topped by these striking red flower spikes.

photo of red flower spikes

Red flower spikes

As we walked along the last half mile or so we saw 3 or 4 bunnies venture onto the trail, then scoot away back into the vegetation as soon as they detected our presence. And as we crossed CA-1 to Waddell Beach our friend was waiting, enjoying watching the waves and a couple of sail-surfers zooming around in the breeze. Of course we continued across the sandy beach to do our ceremonial finger-dip into the Pacific. It was more than a little tricky to figure out how to get my fingers wet without getting my feet even wetter, as the waves alternately ran up the beach and then retreated.

picture of ceremonial finger dip in the Pacific

Ceremonial finger dip in the Pacific

If I look a bit awkward in the picture it might be because I’d loaded up my pack with at least 5-7 extra pounds of things I wouldn’t need, as training for an upcoming hiking trip.

This particular hike had been anticipated since the first segment of our Edge to Edge journey, and it was a beautiful and enjoyable final stage of that journey. I wonder where we will go next!

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2 Responses to Edge to Edge part 8: Skyline to the Sea Trail from Big Basin Park HQ to Waddell Beach

  1. Pingback: 2015 Summary – numbers and experiences | trailhiker

  2. Pingback: Edge to Edge part 7: Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail from Waterman Gap to Big Basin Park HQ | trailhiker

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