Classic hike to Berry Creek Falls
The hike to Berry Creek Falls is the classic hike in spectacular Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Most guide books have a Berry Creek Falls loop hike that includes a stretch north of the Skyline to the Sea Trail, but this version has a southern leg on the high ridgeline of Mt. McAbee instead.
The park is quite crowded on summer weekends so either put up with the crowds or plan an off-season visit or a weekday. There was a $10 fee to park as of December 31, 2011.
Head west across the wide bridge across Big Basin Hwy (Hwy 236) from the park HQ following the signs to the Skyline to the Sea Trail. The connector trail you're on is wide, flat, smooth, and frequently crowded. Turn left onto the Skyline to the Sea Trail and begin a decent 3/4-mile ascent of 400' to a 5-way junction at a small saddle. The Howard King Trail branches off to the right, and that's your return route from Berry Creek Falls. Continue on the Skyline to the Sea Trail as it descends into the Kelly Creek drainage for 0.2 mile to its junction with the Sunset Trail which can be used to form the northern leg of a loop to Berry Creek Falls.
Continue on Skyline to the Sea as it heads inexorably down the deep and dark canyon. Kelly Creek flows into West Waddell Creek 1.8 miles below the junction. The entire hike so far has been in a deep redwood forest with a few Douglas firs mixed in. The vast majority of the redwoods are second-growth, but there are still a few old-growth giants. Redwoods have the rare ability to regenerate themselves from stumps, and even sprout trunks from roots and fallen trees. This area was extensively logged in the late 19th Century, but was spared from complete destruction because of the park's creation in 1902. The vast majority of the Bay Area's redwood forests were not allowed to regrow due to urbanization and intensive agriculture.
Timms Creek Trail heads north from the Skyline to the Sea Trail at the creeks' confluence, and it's only 0.9 mile further down Skyline to the Sea to Berry Creek Falls. You will most likely see several banana slugs on this hike, and be careful not to step on them. There is an observation platform on the right as soon as you get to the general vicinity to the falls, but there's a better platform right in front of the falls about 1/10 mile up the Berry Creek Falls Trail which heads north from its junction with the Skyline to the Sea Trail. Enjoy the close up view of the falls then return to the Skyline to the Sea Trail. Go 0.3 mile past the junction to the Howard King Trail. The hike has been pretty easy to this point, but it's about to get a lot more difficult.
The Howard King Trail heads south from the Skyline to the Sea Trail and West Waddell Creek, and ascends 1200' over 1.7 miles to the spine of the ridge that forms McAbee Mountain where it joins Hihn Hammond fire road. Go left at the road for 0.5 mile where the Howard King Trail branches off to the right. You can remain on the road or take the single track Howard King Trail. We stayed on the King Trail to see this hike's best long distance views. The ocean beyond Ano Nuevo is visible, and fog frequently rolls up the canyons from the coast to provide a great vista. Ano Nuevo is the winter home for hundreds of elephant seals who haul out to fight, breed, and delight tourists. Male elephant seals can grow to be 16-feet-long and weigh 6,000 lbs. These animals can dive to depths of up to a mile while hunting squid and whatever else they eat.
The Howard King Trail winds 1.2 mile before rejoining Hihn Hammond fire road and crossing it to meander along its north side (briefly rejoining it) for another 0.8 mile. The trail briefly rejoins the road again for a few hundred yards then branches off to the left for 0.4 mile to the 5-way junction mentioned previously. Return to the trailhead via the Skyline to the Sea Trail
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.