Big Basin Redwoods State Park


falls11Big Basin Redwoods State Park
“God sent seven signs upon this land of ours
To teach, by awe, mankind His wondrous powers;
A river sweeping broadly to the sea;
A cataract that thunders ceaselessly;
A mountain peak that towers in heaven’s face;
A chasm deep-sunk toward the nether place;
A lake that all the wide horizon fills;
A pleasant vale set gem-like -in the hills;
And, worthy younger brother of all these,
The great Sequoia, king of all the trees!”

 —- Charles Elmer Jenny


Although many of the redwoods in Big Basin have seen 1500 summers or more, they have probably known human visits for less than 1000 years. The forests and basins were most likely not inhabited by native Americans but were passed through during trips to the sea or to the interior valleys. The reasons for this were significant. The Indians regarded redwood trees with a great deal of respect and religious superstition. To live among these trees would be tantamount to our taking up residence in a cathedral or synagogue. Another major deterrent to Indian setlement was that grizzly bears resided in the forested areas of Big Basin. Not wishing to risk life or limb, the Indians quite sensibly settled outside the basin areas. Evidence of the abundance of tan oak acorns and other fruits and berries, and of small game would suggest that the Indians probably visited here fairly frequently to gather food though.

It wasn’t until 1769 that Europeans “discovered” the red-woods. In October of that year, the Portola expedition which was exploring up the coast of California, first noted the redwood or “palo colorado” about forty miles south of Big Basin. These Spaniards declared them to be the “thickest, tallest, and straightest trees they had ever seen.” On October 20, 1769, the party camped at the mouth of the present-day Waddell Creek. Many of the group had been ill, but by the end of their stay, all had miraculously recovered. They named the valley “Canada de la Salud,” (Canyon of Health), and it’s now known as the Rancho del Oso section of Big Basin State Park.


s2s_bridge5smThe Santa Cruz Mountains remained relatively unchanged from the time of the Portola expedition until the building boom caused by the Gold Rush created both an increasing demand for lumber and an interest in the standing timber in the region. In 1862, William Waddell established a lumber mill at the confluence of the east and west fork of Waddell Creek in the valley once called “La Salud.” Lumbering in the area increased to the point that by 1884, there were twenty-eight sawmills in the Big Basin-San Lorenzo Valley region, cutting 34,000,000 board feet of lumber per year, plus vast quantities of shingles, shakes, posts, railroad ties and cord wood. While timber companies were working their way up to the Big Basin itself, tan oak bark strippers were already at work there. One ambitious bark stripper took as much as 2000 cords of tan bark a year out of the Basin down to the tannery in Santa Cruz. The tannin extracted from the bark was an essential ingredient in the leather tanning process. One of these bark strippers actually homesteaded inside the Big Basin. Tom Maddock moved his wife and children into the Basin in 1877 and in 1882 filed a homestead claim to the land. Maddock obtained 160 acres of virgin redwood forest for the filing fee of $7.50. From a single tree he and his 11-year old son built a cabin which the family lived in for several years with little or no regular contact with the out-side world. Maddock continued to work stripping bark, leaving his wife and oldest son to hunt, gather fish and fend off the ever-present grizzly bears. The family moved down into civilization before the Basin became a park, but the site of their cabin may still be seen.


matriarch1By 1902, California did indeed have its state park. The State purchased 2500 acres of virgin redwood from the Big Basin Lumber Company and its owner, H.L. Middleton donated an additional 1300 acres of surrounding land. A warden, J.H.B. Pilkington of Boulder Creek, was appointed and preparations were begun to open the new California Redwood Park to the public. But, before this could be accomplished, a fire broke out at a sawmill near Waterman Gap and by the time that it was extinguished ten days later, it had burned over all of the new park except the pre-sent Redwood Trail area. This was. in September, 1904, and it would take until 1911 for the park to completely recover.

In 1927, the California Legislature created the State Park System and the park was renamed Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The 1920’s , 30’s, 40’s and 50’s could be considered quiet years for Big Basin. There had been a small resort developed in the present Headquarters area, then called Governor’s Camp. The Big Basin Inn offered accommodations in nearby cabins, a restaurant, general merchandise store, photographic studio, barber shop and gas station. There were also a post office, swimming and boating areas, tennis courts and a dance floor. Campsites could be rented for 50(t per@ in-1927. During–the 1930’s, the Civilian Conservation Corps had a company assigned to Big Basin. Many of the park buildings, facilities, and trails were constructed by the CCC. The automobile became a popular means of travel during these years and visitation increased tremendously. By 1955, Big Basin State Park had grown to triple its original size encompassing 10,000 acres. These seem to have been good and comfortable times for the park. That would all change.


deer3In 1968, developers were poised on Mt. McAbee, the geographic center of the park. The land owners had offered 320 acres to the State, but unfortunately the State was financially unable to meet their terms. A development was planned whose entrance road would pass through a camp-ground and which would forever scar the park. The Sempervirens Club had become inactive, so a new group led by conservationist, Claude A. “Tony” Look and photog-rapher Howard King formed along the lines of the old Club, calling themselves the Sempervirens Fund. Their ‘May Day Campaign” was successful not only in saving the threatened section of Mt. McAbee, but in establishing a conservation group which has become instrumental in securing endangered parcels for the parks in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Through the untiring efforts of the Sempervirens Fund headquartered in Los Altos, generous donations by the Save-the-Redwoods League and matching State Funds, Big Basin Redwoods has grown to over 19,000 acres, preserving some of the most pristine virgin redwoods in the world.

Still, Califomia’s first state park is not complete. The Sempervirens Fund, working very closely with the Depart-ment of Parks and Recreation, has as its goal acquisition of the remaining privately-held parcels. Securing the complete watershed of the Big Basin will insure the park’s integrity and guarantee its preservation not only for the present, but also for tomorrow.

525 N. Big Trees Park Road,
Felton, Ca. 95018   (404) 335-3174


redwood3Big Basin Redwoods State Park, located in Santa Cruz County about 23 miles north-east of the city of Santa Cruz is not in a true basin. Formed millions of years ago by the uplifting of its circular rim and the eroding of its center by stream action, this bowl-like depression in the Santa Cruz Mountains has as its only outlets the forks of the Waddell Creek, which have cut deep gorges in the rim. The climate in the Basin is moderate with summer fog in the early morning and an occasional winter snowstorm adding interest. It is the ideal climate for redwoods.



Sequoia sempervirens is an ancient species, thought to have covered much of the Northern Hemisphere at one time, but now confined to a narrow coastal strip which ex-tends from the Monterey-San Luis Obispo county line on the south to some 14 miles north of the California-Oregon border. This strip corresponds to the coastal fog belt on whose moisture these giants depend. “Sempervirens” means ever-living and the redwoods have no major enemies except intense fire and saw-blades. One of the most impressive stands of virgin redwoods in the park is located on the Redwood Nature Trail. A descriptive guide to these trees may be obtained at park headquarters. Accompanying the redwoods in this type of community are Douglas fir, tan oak, California laurel, and wax myrtle trees. While the towering height of the redwoods, which may reach over 300 feet, shades out most understory shrubs, huckleberry, western azalea and several varieties of ferns are able to thrive in all but the most dense stands. Many varieties of wild flowers are evident in the redwoods during the spring. These include redwood sorrel, salal, wild ginger, trillium, redwood violet and milk maids. Several varieties of wild orchid, while rare, are also found in the Big Basin. In fall and early winter, the redwoods are a fungi-lover’s paradise. A unique feature of redwoods will become apparent during even a short walk among them. Craters, sometimes involving as many as 10 or 12 trees in a circle surrounding a sunken spot or stump, are one of the chief methods of reproduction of the redwoods. Like youngsters circling a fallen hero these shoots will not have the space to reach the magnitude of their predecessor, but they do provide continuation of the species and a protected area in the crater where fungi as well as small animals and birds can flourish.


s2s_trlvu4Acting as a transition between the redwood community and the chapparal of the drier, higher locations, the mixed evergreen community is composed generally of close stands whose trees may reach 100 feet. They include madrone, coast live oak, California hazel, tan oak and Douglas fir. These areas of moist forest floor and intermit-tent islands of grass support an abundant and diverse assortment of flowering plants. Ceanothus or California wild lilac, Douglas’ iris, hound’s tongue, Indian warrior, Henderson’s shooting star, and two-eyed violets are but a few of this community’s wildflower gems.


s2s_easemnttrl1Commonly found on south-facing slopes and dry, rocky ridges above the cloud layer, the chaparral community presents a stark contrast to the redwoods. The plants of the chaparral are densely-growing, non-yielding types of vegetation, mostly 3-7 feet tall. Toyon, coffeeberry, ceanothus, manzanita, chaparral pea, coyote bush and chamise are all well adapted to the drought conditions that occur there. Knob-cone pines, chinquapin, and bucheye provide the taller cover. Common chaparral wildflowers- the monkey flower, Indian paintbrush, California fuschia, bush poppy and yerba santa-add color.


This community is actually a variation of the redwood forest community. It also contains more moisture-loving plants such as elk clover, western coltsfoot, horsetail, and five-finger fern along with bigleaf maple and red alder trees. Along the lower reaches of the Waddell, where the Douglas fir forest has ended, the streamside vegetation is dominated by willow, instead of alder.


meadowtrl1Near the mouth of Waddell Creek, in the Rancho del Oso section of the park, is the Theodore J. Hoover Natural Preserve. It is a freshwater marsh and is one of the few relatively undisturbed bodies of fresh water left along the coast.

All plants are protected in Big Basin State Park and no gathering of any plant material is allowed. This is necessary to protect this area for future generations.


Mammals, Reptiles, and Amphibians: Black-tailed deer, gray squirrels, chipmunks and raccoons are probably the most common mammals that one might see. All may seem quite tame, but they are wild animals ans will respond accordingly. Less noticeable are skunks, opposum, bobcats, foxes, coyotes, and mountain lion. There are no longer any grizzly bears in the Big Basin, however.   The last sighting was in the late 1800’s.

While there are few fish in the streams, this area is alive with reptiles and amphibians. Big Basin is home to the California newt, Pacific giant salamander, Pacific tree frog, the western skink and the western toad. Western fence-lizards and alligator lizards are also residents. The rattle snake is the only poisonous snake in Big Basin and is usually found in the drier chapparel regions. California garter snakes, coast mountain kingsnakes, gopher snakes, Pacific ring-necked snakes and rubber boas would all probably be missed by visitors, because of their shyness.

All of the animals in the park are protected. Please try to disturb them as little as possible. Since their normal diet does not include processed “people food”, visitors are asked not to feed any of the animals. You may be unintentionally harming them.


Big Basin’s bird life is rich and diverse. In the redwoods, visitors will find the ever-present Stellar’s jay, the vibrant and noisy acorn woodpecker and the dark-eyed junco. Less obvious are the-brown creeper, the California quail, the flickers, and the water ouzel. Big Basin was the location of the first sighting of a nest of the marbled murrelet, a web-footed shorebird which nests 200 feet high in the redwood forest.

In the more open mixed evergreen and chapparal areas, red-tailed and sharp-shinned hawks are often visible. Turkey vultures may be seen circling the same areas. There are also a number of varieties of humming-birds as well as owls, swallows, great blue heron, doves and warblers, which are all residents of, or visitors to, the park. Many are more often heard than seen-


carcamp103Big Basin has a number of camping facilities. There are family sites, group sites, trail camps and tent cabins. AR are subject to reservations. Sequoia Group site and family campgrounds have coin operated showers available.

In addition, approximately 80 miles of hiking trails, a Visitors’ Center, a Nature Lodge and a large picnic area are located here. Also a campstore, gift shop and snack bar are open seasonally.

Boulder Creek, nine miles south on Highway 236, has the nearest automotive and other service facilities.

For further information, please contact the park headquarters staff, at:      

maincamp2Big Basin Redwoods State Park
21600 Big Basin Way
Boulder Creek, California 95006
(408) 338-8860

To make camping reservations, contact Destinet, at 1-800 4U-PARK

To make tent cabin reservations, contact Big Basin Tent Cabins, at: 1-800-874-TENT

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