Cold weather doesn't mean an end to the camping season. There still are plenty of places where the temperature is tolerable, even at night.
Close to home, Big Basin Redwoods State Park is one of these places. Best of all, you can rent cozy tent cabins with wood stoves to take the edge off the nighttime cold. I had a great trip there last weekend and can't recommend it enough for an easy winter weekend vacation among the tallest Christmas trees on the planet.
Big Basin is one of California's oldest and best-loved state parks. Unlike many redwood parks, most of the trees at Big Basin are old growth --
including huge specimens such as the Father of the Forest Tree.
Located on Highway 236 -- north of Santa Cruz, south of San Francisco and west of San Jose -- Big Basin can be a busy place on weekends in the summer, late spring, and early fall. The late fall, winter, and early spring see far fewer visitors and are some of the best times to see the park's magnificent waterfalls. Daytime winter temperatures average between the upper 50s and lower 60s, and nighttime temperatures rarely drop below the upper 30s. As long as you watch the weather and pick a weekend with a clear forecast, you can have an excellent trip and enjoy the park in near solitude.
Big Basin is surprisingly accessible. The park's signature "easy trail" -- the .7-mile "Redwood Loop" -- can accommodate strollers and wheelchairs. It includes some of the park's largest trees.
The trail that really "wowed" me was the loop that connects Berry Creek Falls, Silver Falls, and the Golden Cascades. Hit this trail after a recent storm and you'll see gorgeous falls of a magnitude you just wouldn't expect outside of a larger mountain range.
By starting at the Park Headquarters and following the Skyline to the Sea Trail to the Berry Creek Falls Trail, then returning via the Sunset Trail, you'll enjoy a stunning loop with three impressive waterfalls, huge old growth redwoods, and some nice views over the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Silver Falls -- the middle falls on the hike -- is Big Basin's equivalent of Yosemite's Mist Trail -- you climb a trail that clings to the side of the waterfall. The total mileage is between 10 and 12 miles -- I've seen several conflicting estimates. It took us about 6½ hours at a moderate pace with many stops to enjoy the views and a quick stop to eat lunch.
The more time you have, the more you can stop and enjoy. With several significant elevation gains, I'd rate the trail moderately strenuous to strenuous. The most recent storms knocked down some trees, but there wasn't anything that was too difficult to get around. A bridge over West Waddell Creek is out and we had to pick our way across on rocks and trees, but we made it.
For current conditions you can always check with the visitor center by calling (831) 338-8860. If you don't want to make the crossing, you can access all three falls via the Sunset Trail, turning around when you reach your final destination at Berry Creek Falls.
It's not hard to get a campsite this time of year and there are plenty of tent cabins available. Each tent has a table, a wood stove, and two
double-sized sleeping platforms with mattresses -- a comfortable retreat for up to four people. The tent cabins are located beneath some massive redwoods and offer more privacy than the average state park campground.
All cabins and sites are adjacent to restrooms with flush toilets and warm showers. Some cabins are handicapped-accessible. We had a great time staying in a tent cabin last weekend, and I highly recommend it as a winter adventure. For more information, go to http://www.bigbasintentcabins.com/ or call (831) 338-4745. Regular campsites are $35/night.
Adam Blauert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org