Berry Creek Falls: Big Basin’s Bucket List Hike

Berry Creek Falls

When a magical waterfall in the mountains is only a couple hours hike from the beach, we like to call that a Santa Cruz Life moment.

But how about three waterfalls, all within a mile of each other?

That’s what we call a bucket list item and we want to help you cross it off your list.

Here are some tips to reach Berry Creek Falls and more at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, starting from the ocean.

Your adventure begins with a drive up Highway 1, north of Santa Cruz.

Waddell Beach

If you’ve heard about the famed Skyline to the Sea Trail, you’ll be happy to know you can experience the lower 6-mile portion of it with a huge payoff at the top: the nearly 70-foot tall Berry Creek Falls.

First, park your car at Waddell Beach, either in the lot or along the road, and cross the highway to the gated entrance of Big Basin, also known as Rancho del Oso.

Skyline to Sea trail

After passing the ranger station (plus the only bathroom on this hike) and farm fields tended by Route 1 Farms, the wide paved road will soon give way to a creekside trail shaded by groves of Monterey Pine, mixed evergreen, and coastal redwood forest.

The trail’s long stretches of mostly flat, gentle grade are occasionally broken up by strenuous but brief climbs. Also adding character to the trail are a number of bridges crossing Waddell and Berry creeks.

Berry Creek Falls bridge

Skyline to the Sea attracts a variety of outdoorsy people. For the first 5 miles of this hike, you have the option to hike, bike, or ride a horse. Walk-in camping and horse camp reservations are also available.

Skyline to the sea trail on horseback

As you get closer to Berry Creek Falls, bikers will have to lock up their bikes (a bike rack is provided) as only hikers can continue on the narrow, steeper trail to the falls. Please note, you’ll have to leave Fido at home, but here are some other places to take your dog in Santa Cruz County.

The Moment You’ve Been Waiting For: Berry Creek Falls

Your first glimpse of Berry Creek Falls is one of relief—you made it!—and awe. In these times of drought, running water that is more than a trickle is an exciting sight to behold. We can only imagine what this looks like after a good rain.

Berry Creek Falls

A viewing platform with benches invites rest and photo opportunities, while you soak up this mossy, fern-y, redwood-y wonder of Santa Cruz County.

But Wait, There’s More

You’ve come this far, so why not continue another 20 minutes or so to take in Silver Falls and Golden Cascade?
Silver Falls

Golden Cascade

Though it gets quite steep, you won’t regret this otherworldly section of the hike. You’ll conjure up images of Indiana Jones meets The Hobbit as you ascend wooden and rocky stairways surrounded by lush green forest.

Rock staircase

The excitement and adrenaline rush may be enough to keep you fueled, but hopefully you also packed water and snacks.

Once you get your fill of glorious cascading H2O it’s time to retrace your steps. After such stunning sights, the way back may feel a little long and tedious but that’s when you remember where your journey began.

Waddell Beach Windsurfers

Start dreaming about those ocean views at Waddell, because when the beach is only a couple hours hike from a magical waterfall, that’s Santa Cruz Life.

My #SantaCruzLife Reader Tip

Taking bicycles from the gates of Rancho del Oso to the Berry Creek Falls is a ride that most people can manage. You may have to walk your bike at one section if you are not an experienced rider just before you cross the river. It seems like it is mostly flat, but you realize it wasn’t on the downhill joy ride back to the gates. Then you can reward yourself at the Whale City Bakery and restaurant. –Velia Anderson, Anderson Design and Purchasing

Looking for another unique hike in Santa Cruz County? Try the Santa Cruz Sandhills: The Henry Cowell Trail Less Traveled.

About Christine Candelaria

Christine Candelaria is a local mom of four who enjoys sharing her Santa Cruz adventures. You can follow her #santacruzlife on Instagram at @theaumsmama.