Big Basin Redwoods State Park, CA


Moss covers many tree trunks

Tuesday, December 23

We skirt around north of San Francisco today, but there is still traffic naturally. This part of the state is highly populated.

I80 is left behind for a smaller highway, and then a smaller road, and then a smaller road – the now infamous Bear Creek Road.

Oh, Bear Creek Road.

Our directions come from the Google Maps app on my smartphone. It’s free and super handy, it can tell me the quickest way mileage wise to get about anywhere in the U.S., but it doesn’t have a setting for the smartest way. To get the most from Google Maps, you need a human who’s familiar enough with the area to point out the easiest way to get from Point A to Point B, particularly when you’re trying to navigate into an out of the way park.

Not knowing the area well enough, we blind turn onto the curvy, narrow, no-shoulder Bear Creek Road, without a sign to warn us of what’s ahead. No “trailers not recommended”, no “steep grades” or “sharp turns.”

I feel jipped! It looked like a WiFi sign from a distance.

I feel jipped! It looked like a WiFi sign from a distance.

The road immediately starts climbing. On the right hand-side is sheer rock face, off the left-hand side is a steep drop. When I say the road is curvy, I mean it might look more like a snarl of yarn when viewed from above. I’ve been towing Cas on small roads for over two years now and I’ve never towed on a road like this before. There are no grade signs along the whole 13 mile stretch, but halfway up Bertha’s engine temperature is already higher than it got towing up out of Death Valley in 100 degree heat. Then suddenly there is a line of stopped cars in front of me.

The culprit is a poor, poor flatbed truck with a piece of construction equipment chained onto it. It’s having a really bad day, getting hung up on the rock face every time it has to clear a sharp right curve. Twice more our caravan of vehicles comes to a complete stop as the edge of the flatbed grinds against the rocks and fails to make the curve. Then all of the vehicles coming the other direction have to back up so it can try to maneuver itself into the oncoming traffic lane to get clear. Finally around another corner the flatbed is pulled onto the shoulder, about half out of our lane. A man in overalls is coming down the steep driveway to meet him – I’m guessing he’s the one who needed the caterpillar, I hope he paid extra for the wear and tear the poor flatbed owner had to endure.

Redwood canopy

Redwood canopy

It's an artsy photo!

It’s an artsy photo!

Then our procession starts heading downhill, which is even more terrifying than the trip up. 20 mph curves, and I’m in 2nd gear and still having to pump the brakes the whole way down. Julie starts feeling carsick from the constant jerking motion of the brakes and all of the curves, but doesn’t say anything until afterward because she knows I can’t do anything about it, and my nerves are already on edge trying to keep us from flying off the road.

After an eternity, we arrive in Boulder City. It’s a fun little town I think, but I’m still so jangled from the drive to get there that I don’t pay much attention.

Route 9 out to our destination is still twisty, but not nearly to the same degree. Around us, the air gets thicker, the foliage gets greener, and the trees get taller, much taller. Before long we’ve made it: Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

A redwood in late afternoon light

A redwood in late afternoon light

We have reservations to camp here tonight, and tonight only. Apparently, this is the premier state park for San Francisco residents to head when they need a weekend (or holiday) away, and the whole campground is booked up for Christmas. It’s $35 a night (including entrance fee) and there are no hookups, but darn if it isn’t pretty.

The maximum length for trailers is something like 24 feet, so it’s not a place for big rigs, but there isn’t a single site that doesn’t have a large redwood around it so the view is worth it if you can fit in. RV pads are dirt, not very level, and occasionally hard to maneuver into with all the trees crowding around, but there is a dump station, the bathrooms have running hot water and coin operated showers are available.

Did I mention the trees? When we arrived around 2 pm I could have swore the sun was going down, it was just that dark because the canopy overhead was so thick. I’m not sure if this counts as a rainforest, if it isn’t, it’s the closest I’ve come so far. The ground is perpetually wet, moss grows on all the roofs, and a thick mist obscures the sun when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky coming in.

After setting up, Julie and I take the 0.6 mile Redwood trail, an easy walk through old growth forest near the visitor’s center. It’s hard to get a decent picture given the low light conditions and the sheer size of my subjects, but I try. Darkness falls quickly in the valley, but our morning view tomorrow will be spectacular, towering giants right outside the windows. It may have been a pain getting here for the short amount of time we have, but it was worth it. Our Christmas reservations should prove better on the hiking front.

Site 068H with redwoods all around. The trailer is level, the truck is pointed sharply downhill to the campground road. Not very level, but so beautiful.

Site 068H with redwoods all around. The trailer is level, the truck is pointed sharply downhill to the campground road. Not easy to get into, but so beautiful!

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  1. Angela on January 17, 2015 at 8:56 am

    Ahh the Redwoods. So beautiful and serene. Thanks for sharing! If I could live there, I would!

    • Becky on January 17, 2015 at 8:55 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it Angela. I definitely want to visit Redwood National Park someday and get a bigger taste. 🙂

  2. Donald N Wright on December 30, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    Do you have an Air conditioner on your Casita Trailer?

    • Becky on December 30, 2014 at 5:55 pm

      Yep, it’s mounted in the front under the closet.

  3. Jerry Minchey on December 29, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    7 Casita’s parked next to me. I’m in Sebastian State Park near Melbourne, FL for the next 10 days. There are 7 Casita’s parked next to. They are all from Florida and they get together from time to time just to have a good time.

    One in the group said Casita’s are RVs that have just hatched out. He said they all buy them as soon as they hatch out and keep them until they grow up to be big Class A motorhomes and then they sell them. They are a real fun-loving group.

    • Becky on December 30, 2014 at 5:55 pm

      Haha, that’s a fun way of looking at it Jerry, I bet I would get along with that group.

      Enjoy Florida!

  4. Ed @ Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets on December 29, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    Not having traveled on Bear Creek, I can tell you there are several “roads” in that general vicinity that take you west to the coast from either Highway 101 or Interstate 5. From my experience, they are ALL white-knuckler or “e-Ticket” rides. Some worse than others.

    I’m proud of you for choosing to go to the North Coast this time of the year. It CAN be treacherous at times in that area.

    My wife and I went entirely on Highway 1 from Southern California to Port Angeles, Washington…ON MOTORCYCLES. That was a dream trip.

    Happy Trails! from Apple Valley, Ca. ~ home of Roy and Dale

    • Becky on December 30, 2014 at 5:54 pm

      Luckily the weather has been pretty cooperative this trip so far.

      That sounds like it would be a great trip! I met a lot of motorcyclists working in the Badlands during the Sturgis rally in S. Dakota, was a fun few weeks if very busy.

  5. Patrick Sikes on December 29, 2014 at 7:43 am

    I love that park. I camped there with my best bud in High School’s family. That was a long time ago….. Richardson’s Grove is also spectacular place to camp!
    Patrick Sikes recently posted..A Key West New Year!My Profile

    • Becky on December 29, 2014 at 10:35 am

      So many neat sites to see! I need to start a list of CA parks, thanks for the suggestion.

  6. Dwayne on December 28, 2014 at 6:20 pm

    Hi Becky:
    Several people have mentioned Pacific Grove/Monterey. Very familar with that area, my first wife (passed away) grew up there, and her family is still there. Have spent a lot of time there.
    Very pretty, there are some nice campgrounds in the area where you could be a camphost at.

    • Becky on December 29, 2014 at 10:34 am

      I’ll keep that area in mind for next time I come through the area Dwayne, thanks.

  7. Hans Kohls on December 28, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    My folks used to live in Boulder Creek and I have some friends that still live there. I took Bear Creek road once, and that was enough. You are in a redwood rain forest, enjoy the beauty! I really like the Boulder Creek, Felton and Santa Cruz area. Hope you have some nice hikes and don’t freeze too much. You may want to try to get into New Brighton State Beach in Capitola. It will be a bit warmer and closer to the happenings of Santa Cruz. Have fun!
    Hans Kohls recently posted..RV Blogger Meetups On and Off the Trail in San DiegoMy Profile

    • Becky on December 29, 2014 at 10:33 am

      Once was enough for me too Hans, hehe. I have enjoyed my time in CA immensely so far, it’s got a lot of diversity. I’ll keep New Brighton in mind for the next trip up this way. 🙂

  8. Fireman Steve on December 28, 2014 at 7:17 am

    Hey, you are in my neck of the woods. If you plan to travel through Marin County, let me know as I would love to meet you and Julie…
    Safe travels…

    • Becky on December 29, 2014 at 10:31 am

      Already past that area now Steve I think, California counties have proven difficult to figure out. Someday though!

      • Fireman Steve on December 29, 2014 at 4:03 pm

        Oh, sorry to hear that. Sooo close
        Enjoy your travels and be safe…
        Happy New Year

  9. Jim@HiTek on December 28, 2014 at 6:10 am

    I always check at least 3 maps, one using online resources like Google mapping, and then the mapping app (Scout) I have in my 10″ Android (which I place on the dash to take advantage of the large screen) and finally using MS Streets & Trips in my main computer (where I can print out maps too) to actually plan in leisure. And if it’s a very mountainous and/or remote area I even use Google Earth to ‘fly’ the route.

    Haven’t had a problem getting my 37′ rig anywhere in years doing it that way. Like others, I don’t depend on just one GPS mapping program.
    Jim@HiTek recently posted..On to Naples…My Profile

    • Becky on December 29, 2014 at 10:30 am

      Now that’s prepared Jim! I guess I just don’t have the attention span to be that diligent, but I bet it pays off. On the other hand, this way does give me some interesting stories to write about.

  10. Jodee Gravel on December 28, 2014 at 3:50 am

    At least you had the flatbed truck to let you know it “could be worse” than towing a Casita on that road! I bet he got a pilot car for the return trip 🙂 There is a redwood grove in Felton, CA, near Santa Cruz that is one of my very favorite places on the planet. It is a different world in there with magic afoot in the ferns and moss. It is definitely chilly this time of year under those huge trees, but it is cool and “drippy” all year. I think you picked a wonderful place for Christmas. Julie’s a trooper for “holding it in” on that road!! Happy New Year to you both.
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Holiday Musings…..Room for EveryoneMy Profile

    • Becky on December 29, 2014 at 10:29 am

      I hope he did Jodee, I didn’t drive back to check, haha.

      Someday I’ll be back for more time among the redwoods, didn’t get much chance this go around but someday soon. Thanks and a Happy New Year to you too. 🙂

  11. Norm H. on December 27, 2014 at 7:50 pm

    Oh, the memories! Thanks. If you head down the coast on Highway 1 consider Sunset State Beach campground near Watsonville for an overnight or even a base camp for Monterey. Safe travels.

    • Becky on December 27, 2014 at 10:54 pm

      You’re welcome Norm. We didn’t get much of Hwy 1 this time, but I do intend to drive the whole thing someday.

  12. Greg on December 27, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    Sorry I just saw this. You drove right by my house between Boulder Creek and Big Basin!

    Bear Creek is avoided by many people who are just in cars. You did well and you are not alone in the GPS sending you over that road. I commute over it a couple of times a week, but it helps to have the right car. Everybody gets car sick.

    Also, you are correct, Big Basin is a rain forest. It has been known to get over 120 inches of rain. Almost all of it is during Winter. During the Summer, the Redwood trees suck up the water out of the fog.

    Happy Trails!

    • Becky on December 27, 2014 at 10:52 pm

      Wow, such a near miss Greg. I liked a lot of those houses on route 9, and the setting is so idyllic, it must be a fun place to live.

      I have a little bit more about Bear Creek Road on my next post where I learned the same thing, more on that soon.

  13. Judy E on December 27, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    Having lived in that area for many years, I applaud you for doing so well! Can’t wait to hear about your trip out of the park, either on down Hwy 9, or back up again!

    We once made the mistake of leaving Eureka, CA pulling a 30 foot travel trailer and making the choice to turn right on Hwy 1 to go from Leggett on down the coast to San Francisco. As we got closer to the city, the road got narrower, and curvier, and people coming around corners, upon seeing us, got terrified looks on their faces! We were very quiet on that trip, all of us in the truck! Once we stopped in SF to check out the trailer, we had to laugh, all the cabinets had come open in the trailer and everything was thrown all over. Hope that didn’t happen to you on Hwy 9!

    But really, that is a beautiful part of our country, we miss living in the big trees! (now in the Portland, OR area, which we love for different reasons!).

    Happy New Year, and safe travels!

    • Becky on December 27, 2014 at 10:45 pm

      Hwy 9 was a piece of cake compared to Bear Creek Road, never again! I’ve heard Hwy 1 was curvy but beautiful, I only got to drive 16 miles of it this trip but I plan to follow it all the way some day, 17 feet of trailer is easier to maneuver than 30 feet, yikes.

      Happy New Year to you too!

  14. Rene on December 27, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    The redwoods are beautiful! I remember going to summer camp in the area. We learned about banana slugs, edible miner’s lettuce and of course the local trees. I hope you enjoyed your stay and the abundant hiking in the area.
    Happy New Year!
    Rene recently posted..R ‘n R For UsMy Profile

    • Becky on December 27, 2014 at 10:42 pm

      Banana slugs! I saw signs about those, but sadly did not see one. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to some day. We didn’t have a lot of time, but did enjoy what we had. Happy New Year to you too!

  15. JimS on December 27, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    And I forgot to mention 17 mile drive. Totally jealous right now.

    • Becky on December 27, 2014 at 10:38 pm

      My drive was more than 17 miles, or are you saying you drove 17 miles?

      • JimS on December 28, 2014 at 11:48 am

        I should have wrote 17 Mile Drive. A scenic patch of hwy between Pacific Grove and Carmel. In case you get back there some day. Hopefully you’re taking hwy 101 down to SoCal. The stretch between Santa Barbara and Ventura is very scenic.

        • Becky on December 29, 2014 at 10:27 am

          Ooooh okay that makes more sense Jim. 🙂

  16. JimS on December 27, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    Beautiful area. Congrats on making it to the coast. If you’re still there I highly recommend Ano Nuevo state park, Pacific Grove and Carmel, and Big Sur. Hwy 1 will be a piece of cake now that you’ve tested your mettle. 🙂

    Oh, and a piece of trivia: You’re camping along the infamous San Andreas fault. I think Loma Prieta was the epicenter of the big Bay Area earthquake in ’89.

    • Rene on December 27, 2014 at 2:19 pm

      Yes, the 89 quake was centered in Loma Prieta. I was in the quake zone. Scary, scary 15 seconds!
      Rene recently posted..R ‘n R For UsMy Profile

    • Becky on December 27, 2014 at 10:37 pm

      We actually did look at Big Sur and several other parks in the area Jim, and they were all full for Christmas. I guess out here where the weather stays nicer all year round camping is a thing all year round. 🙂

      Interesting. I’m glad nothing happened while we were there. That must have been really scary Rene!

  17. Barbara on December 27, 2014 at 11:28 am

    When I was growing up, Big Basin is where we spent our vacations – tent camping for two weeks every year. It’s where my parents met – both their families spent the summers there. The mom’s would stay with the kids and the dads would come on the weekends. Probably in the 1930s and early 40s. Nice, huh? We finally stopped camping there when I was a teenager because my dad got tired of hearing all the complaining about how COLD we kids were. With all those trees there wasn’t always a lot of sunshine pouring into the campsites. AND Disneyland opened!

    I’m glad you enjoyed your short time there – you brought back memories for me. Big Basin isn’t usually one of the campgrounds I hear much about.
    Barbara recently posted..The cute, the smokey, the Christmassy and the beautifulMy Profile

    • Becky on December 27, 2014 at 10:29 pm

      What a great place to spend two weeks Barbara. I have fond memories of camping trips with my family in northern Wisconsin. Ours stopped when my brother and I got old enough to work and were expected to have summer jobs.

      I can definitely understand the cold being a problem at Big Basin even in the summer, it was chilly during our visit.

  18. Marsha on December 27, 2014 at 10:09 am

    I remember reading someone else mistook the amphitheater sign for Wi-Fi. Those type of signs were probably there long before Wi-Fi became available.

    The redwood canopy photo is breathtaking. The campground definitely looks like a rainforest. When we were at North Cascades the trees were all mossy like that.

    I’m surprised there wasn’t a pilot car for the flatbed. Dangerous road to take something that big on.

    Safe travels and looking forward to your next adventure.

    • Becky on December 27, 2014 at 10:21 pm

      Haha, probably so Marsha. Next time I’ll know.

      I haven’t been up that way yet, but I look forward to seeing it someday!

  19. Ro on December 27, 2014 at 9:43 am

    We were leaving the Boulder Creek (CA) area following the GPS the first time it took us someplace we really didn’t want to go.
    After that I have always kept a map on hand to see if the GPS was being reasonable (and honest) when we ventured into new areas.

    • Becky on December 27, 2014 at 10:13 pm

      Normally we zoom out on a route and do the same sort of check, but in this case it didn’t look bad. I know there are maps and apps out there that’ll give you road grades, I need one of those!