The big trees can be hazardous…

I spent so much time looking up instead of at the trail beneath my feet that I stumbled at least 15 times on the ten miles of trails we hiked through Big Basin Redwoods State Park. But you can’t help yourself.

As the trails put you within inches of the roots of these massive columns of Sequoia sempervirens, you cannot resist the urge to look up and see, well, where the top is.

In some cases, it’s 300 feet up in the air. The whole place is seriously vertical.

The park is a little more than 2 hours from the ranch, and wanting an early start we decided to camp out at the Quality Inn in Ben Lomond, which I had stayed at many times when I was working at UC Santa Cruz. It’s a great setting with huge redwoods looming over the entire place.

It’s also within walking distance of the Ben Lomond Market, which is a small town market with big time style. We bought our dinners at the deli, which I have enjoyed dozens of times before. There’s also some small art shops across the street.

We’ve also had a delightful dinner at Ristorante Casa Nostra, an Italian restaurant in Ben Lomond, but it was closed for the 4th of July holiday this trip. We started the next morning with a training meal of coffee and muffins from the Ben Lomond Baking Company, then headed up to the state park.

We checked in at the park office, paid the entrance fee, took a quick look at the museum they have there, then headed for the trail. Susie took the time to fill out a form that explained where we expected to go and when we left.

This would remain in our car in case we didn’t make it back by dark.  Smart idea, especially when you consider how quickly one can get into serious trouble on even the most modest of trail hikes.

We opted for a loop that took us to the Berry Creek Falls.

This is my second trip here and what I have learned is that you need to pay attention to the trail signs and make sure you are where you think you are. Many of the trails cross and converge near the Visitor’s Center, and it’s real easy to end up on the wrong trail, which I have done.

Susie and I made sure we were on the ‘Skyline to the Sea’ trail which would take us to the falls. We then returned on the ‘Howard King Trail’ back to the car.

As the ‘Skyline’ trail winds its way through the forest, you’re able to get real close, and in some cases, stand inside these massive columns that seem to touch the sky.  It’s only then do you really begin to appreciate the shear magnitude of these natural wonders.  That experience is tempered knowing that only 2 to 5 percent of the original redwood forest, found only along the coasts of California and Oregon, has escaped logging.

Nonetheless, the trail is a memorable one and certainly worth the effort.

About the effort. As the trail winds its way downhill, I’m always thinking downhill is nice, but sooner or later we’re going to have to climb back out. And after a stop at the falls, we began our ‘climb back out’ on the Howard King Trail, which is the other half of the loop.

I think the whole loop was about 10 miles; not sure because the GPS on the iPhone died. And if it wasn’t 10 miles, it sure felt like it.

Unless you’re a trail running masochist, I would recommend getting to Berry Creek Falls in the opposite direction if you want to do a loop: Start on the Howard King Trail, get to the falls, then return on the Skyline to the Sea Trail. This is because the Howard King Trail has some sobering grade changes in the form of switchbacks that let you experience ‘strenuous’ first hand and are simply better traversed going downhill. Again, unless you’re into that kind of thing.

Of course, you’ll climb back out to the same elevation on the way back from the falls, but the Skyline to the Sea Trail makes that task easier with milder trail inclines.

Either way, the forest changes its complexion along the way, from deep redwood stands to open chaparral along the ridge tops, where you can see the ocean miles away. You’ll also walk along cool and damp stream beds on your way to the viewing deck at Berry Creek Falls.

There are other spots to get yourself into the big trees near Monterey (Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park) but for a real deep, hiking-among-the-redwoods experience, make the time to spend the day at Big Basin.

Kid factor: (+) A great natural day outdoors, or more if you’re camping. Hiking among the big trees, clear trails that are largely in the shade, and trees that you can climb into.  Visitor’s center has a nice museum; Berry Creek Falls is a rewarding payoff to a few hours of hiking. (-) As I write almost every time, please know what poison oak looks like, and keep an eye out for rattlesnakes; fallen logs are great places to hide if you’re snake. The Howard King Trail can be a fairly steep going uphill, so you might consider using that trail going downhill to the falls, our just using the Skyway to the Sea trail both ways.

Always bring the fluids you think you’ll need, then add some more.

Fitness factor:  Learn how to read a topo map so you don’t have any surprise inclines and switchbacks that leave you thinking it might be easier to go back the way you came.  These trails (Skyway to Sea, Howard King) are labeled ‘strenuous’ for a reason, but the experience in the woods is worthwhile. Hiking sticks will be helpful.

Photo factor:  Shooting in these woods is always a challenge if you’re doing something more that selfies with your phone.  First of all, it’s a really vertical experience. The trees go from your feet to the sky, which I suppose is true in any forest.  But the Redwoods are these long, tall dark wooden columns that support the canopy way, way over your head. Lay on the ground with a wide angle lens and shoot straight up. But that brings up the next problem.

The dynamic range in these shots runs from a very bright foggy sky to very dark shadows of red bark. To say you should think HDR is an understatement. For a serious set of shots in these woods, a tripod is obvious along with a very wide range of brackets. Start with an exposure for the sky breaking through the canopy, forgetting the shadows below. Then work your way through the f-stops until you get a clean exposure of the bark, which means been able to see the red tones in the wood. In this way you’ve got something to work with in post production