McCrary Ridge to Twin Redwoods, Big Basin
A rich mix of mountains, forest and ocean.
- Bay Area Workers’ rating: 7/10. This trek takes you through glorious redwood forests down to the beach with several remarkable vistas along the way. Come here to forest-bathe.
- Type of trip: Weekender (depart Saturday morning, return Sunday midday).
- Drive time to trailhead from San Francisco: *~1.5–2 hours *(directions to Big Basin headquarters). Here is the trail map. You’ll have to show your permits to the rangers at headquarters and then they’ll let you park at Jay parking lot.
- Difficulty and total mileage: ~23 mile loop (moderate-strenuous). Taking the advice of a park ranger, we followed Hihn Hammond Trail and connected with the McCrary Ridge Trail. McCrary then runs downhill to Twin Redwoods campground. This makes the return journey a long, gradual uphill. We really recommend returning along Skyline to Sea trail and getting a glimpse of Berry Falls. Alternatively, you can return along McCrary Ridge, but you’re missing out.
- Crowds: Light-moderate. There tend to be a lot of day hikers and car campers milling around the park headquarters and trailhead but they thin out dramatically after a mile or so into the hike.
- Temperatures: At this time (late Spring), expect 70 degrees. Go here for a current forecast.
- Permits: Must book ahead. Go here to see the calendar and to book your permit for Twin Redwoods campground.
- Fire restrictions: No fires.
- Bears/threatening wildlife: No threatening wildlife other than a few mosquitos.
- Water situation: Oodles of water everywhere on this one (once you’re off the ridge and in the canyon of Big Basin). Remember that filter and bask in the plenty.
Gear: Check out my temperate climate backpacking checklist for a recommended set of stuff to bring for this trip.
Food: We recommend bringing non-freeze-dried food. This time, we opted for sandwiches from our go-to spot, Mission Picnic, which we snarfed down on the beach while watching elephant seals bark at surfers. [You end the first half of the trek back in civilization next to Highway 1 and the beach]
Campground accommodations: As above, grab your backcountry camping permits online in advance. Twin Redwoods campground itself situated next to the stream that runs through the canyon. Camp spots are a little crowded together; you can see and hear most of the other occupants. Hint: If you can, get here early and grab spot #4. This is the best one that we found. Much more seclusion.
We left San Francisco at 11:00am in time to pick up our Sandwiches at Mission Picnic shortly after they opened and headed south on the 280.
The drive through the forest toward the trailhead is magnificently tree-laden, yet so winding that it made us a bit nauseous.
The headquarters area of Big Basin consists of a few old log-cabin style buildings constructed in the late 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. They smell pleasantly smoky and evoke a frontier feeling with their rugged simplicity.
Once we were at the park, we walked over to the ranger in the main headquarters cabin. She was super helpful and marked up our map for us in a blue pen, as well as no-go zones in red (trails which had been washed out with the big rains of winter 2017).
Then we were off on the trail. The scads of tourists melted away behind us, and we quickly found ourselves in solitude on McCrary ridge. The only sound was our feet crunching the gravel and dead leaves as we passed through magnificent groves of redwoods, which were speckled with picturesque clearings. Sunbeams shone through the canopies and illuminated copses of greenery so that they glowed brightly.
We wound up at Twin Redwoods after all this, where we dropped our packs and claimed a site by putting up our tent.
After ridding ourselves of excess weight, we continued down past the random farms and across Highway 1 to the beach, where we ate our dinner and sipped whiskey while watching the waves break on the shore.
Just before the sun set, we trekked back into the forest to the campground, where we listened podcasts until we drifted off to sleep in the tent.
The next morning we found that banana slugs had invaded! So, as we prepared our breakfast of instant apple n’ cinnamon oatmeal and coffee via Aeropress, we watched the slugs munch on dead leaves and slowly slime their way toward their mysterious objectives.
Once done with breakfast, we broke camp and headed up to Berry Falls. The hike up via Skyline to Sea turned out to be a longer, yet much gentler grade than the descent along McCrary Ridge.
Berry Falls is a small, picturesque waterfall, but surrounded by colossal Redwoods, both standing and fallen around the stream, which make it magical. We tried to imagine what it must have been like to witness one of these giants toppling over, all two hundred feet smacking down across the river and the bank beyond.
Here, we snacked on beef jerky and trail mix to prepare for our last push up the hill back to headquarters.
Some four miles later, we were back at the lodge, where we grabbed a couple of tall pints of Shönramer Gold from the fridge (their beer and wine selection is remarkable!) and kicked back at a picnic table to revel in the behemoth redwoods that surrounded us.