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Backpacker Magazine – January 2012

Readers' Choice 2012: Skyline-To-The-Sea Trail, Castle Rock Sp, Ca

Hike through a towering redwood forest on this easy-access overnighter.

by: Katherine Rea

Berry Creek Falls in Big Basin Redwoods State Park (Hank Christensen)
Berry Creek Falls in Big Basin Redwoods State Park (Hank Christensen)

When I first started daydreaming about where I’d want to go as BACKPACKER field scout, my mind immediately went to the Sierra and other big-trip destinations. But what I really wanted to do, I soon realized, was share a local trail that showcases my home in northern California. And I knew just the route. I grew up at the foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains in Saratoga, and I live minutes away from Castle Rock State Park and the trailhead for this 29.5-mile point-to-point. Yet I’ve never hiked it—funny how easy it is to ignore what’s right out your door.

The Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail connects Castle Rock and Big Basin Redwoods State Park, home to an 18,000-acre redwood forest. It’s mostly downhill, leading through the wildlife-packed Santa Cruz Mountains, all the way to Waddell Beach, a wide, sandy cove popular with wind and kite surfers. It works best spread over three days.

The first third of the route is a little close to the road for my taste—I could hear traffic—but soon enough you’ll get views of the rolling San Lorenzo Valley before dipping into a mix of grasses, dense hardwoods, then Jurassic Park-like ferns on the floor of redwood forests at mile 20. Pack a bear canister—the campsite raccoons are clever.

Add a 2.7-mile detour on day three to explore the prettiest waterfalls: Berry Creek, Silver, and Golden. You could hit just the highlights by starting at Big Basin headquarters and trekking eight miles to Waddell Beach. But when I go again, I’ll keep the same itinerary. Backpacking and camping this good should be savored.

Map Big Basin and Castle Rock Trail Maps ($5 each, 831-335-3174)

Contact
Reserve sites two month prior ($15, 831-338-8861)

Trip ID
1378034


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Ryan Commons
Mar 14, 2012

A complete 7 minute video covering the entire trail and a detailed trip planning guide are available on Walkifornia: http://www.walkifornia.com/2012/01/skyline-to-sea-trail-castle-rock-big.html

Luke
Jan 26, 2012

Go ultralight and do it all in one day, park a car at Waddell Beach or camp at either Twin Redwoods Trail Camp or Alder Trail Camp and return the next day. You can't park in the Caltrans lot at Saratoga Gap overnight and you can't enter the Castle Rock parking lot until it opens at 8am. If you want to start earlier there are a few spots right along Skyline Blvd which do not have no-parking signs. You should be safe there, just make sure you're parked well off the pavement.

The worst part about this trail is that during the weekend areas around Big Basin Headquarters are packed with tourists with absolutely no trail etiquette.

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