Just miles from San Francisco, this mostly-downhill trail offers honeycombed sandstone formations, old-growth forests, and ocean waves—and with only 2,500 feet of elevation loss in its 34 miles, a shuttle hike makes for an easy escape. From Castle Rock State Park, take the Saratoga Gap Trail through hardwood forest to an observation deck over Castle Rock Falls, then turn on the Travertine Springs Trail to join Skyline-to-the-Sea. Spend the first night at Waterman Gap, 9.5 miles in.
On day two, descend 11.6 miles to shady Jay camp in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Day three is the trail’s best—the final 13.3-mile hike features massive redwoods, mossy boulders, lush ferns, gurgling streams, and plenty of the park’s famous banana slugs. Another highlight is Berry Creek Falls, a boisterous 70-foot cascade over golden sandstone bluffs. Hike out along Waddell Creek, where bright spring wildflowers line your path to the Pacific.
INFO: Campsite reservations required; $10/night per night plus $5 reservation fee. Map: Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Map (Sempervirens Fund). (831) 338-8861; bigbasin.org
-Hike provided by Ann Marie Brown, author of 101 Great Hikes of the San Francisco Bay Area and California Waterfalls (Avalon Travel Publishing)