Berry Creek Falls is located within beautiful Big Basin State Park, about thirty minutes North of Santa Cruz, California. Waddell Creek runs through the western portion of the park, meandering down to Waddell Beach. This is an easy, out-and-back loop, best done with a goal of beauty and peace in mind. This is not a place to come for downhill, but a place to appreciate the serenity of this majestic redwood forest.
Big Basin was formed as a result of plate movements along the San Andreas strike-slip fault system; specifically, the Ben Lomond and Zayante Faults shape the east-west flow of Waddell Creek. Uplift from the Ben Lomond fault has swelled the southern portion of the park, where East Waddell Creek flows. Sometimes plate movements would create dams along the creek, leading to eventual flooding downstream, hence creating the “basins” that give Big Basin its name.
Sedimentary rocks such as sandstone, siltstone, and mudstone, mostly from the Tertiary time period about 65-2 million years ago (mya), overlie a granitic basement of older rocks from about 80 mya. The continued uplift along the Ben Lomond Fault, balanced with the incessant process of erosion, create a dynamic landscape showcasing Nature’s awesome sculpting power. After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, Waddell Creek’s water flow increased, and new springs appeared from the hillsides. This is a super interesting place to visit in terms of its geology! One of the coolest highlights of this ride was seeing evidence of the Ben Lomond Fault along Waddell Creek; check out the angle of those rock layers! This section of the creek also has a few bonafide swimming holes, deep enough for jumping.
The flora and fauna go unmatched to its impressive geologic activity, with old-growth Redwoods, banana slugs, and trillium flowers galore in the Spring. Deer, mountain lion, and bobcats are among many mammals who are at home in the steep slopes of these mountains. The further you go from the parking lot, the more remote it feels. Backpacking the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, a trip I enjoyed years ago, is a fantastic three-day adventure that has made Big Basin famous, and for good reason. This part of the Santa Cruz Mountains definitely feels the wildest.
I’ve hiked, run, and biked along the Berry Creek Falls Trail many times over the 20+ years I’ve lived in Santa Cruz. It is especially breathtaking to visit in Spring, when wildflowers dance merrily in gentle zephyrs across the valley. Going up to Berry Creek Falls is about six miles from the parking lot on Highway 1, and climbs uneventful fireroad made intriguing by the beautiful scenery. Again, this is not a place to go downhill mountain biking, but a peaceful tour through the redwoods. There are a couple of fun sections along the trail that get your wheels turning, though. I recommend coming in the off-hours if you’re going for a bike ride, though. Weekends can be busy with hikers, backpackers, bicyclists, and equestrians. I did this ride in the early evening on a Summer weekday, and only saw a few people, which allowed me to harness some speed from the trails. A weekend midday in the summertime would likely be busier, and it’s always our responsibility as mountain bikers to be ready to stop and yield to others.
For the approximately last mile, no bikes are allowed. Bring a lock if you want to lock it up at the falls trailhead, or hike-a-bike with you. Berry Creek Falls has a nice overlook with benches to sit and take in the flow. While Spring certainly roars more forcefully than late Summer, it’s always nice to see a waterfall any time of year; it flows year-round, as well.
The ride back down from the falls to the beach is a nice, relaxing cross-country ride. Finishing at Waddell Beach is a wonderful reward, with views of kitesurfers taking advantage of this famously windy beach. Waddell Creek drains into the Pacific Ocean here, finishing its descent from the Santa Cruz Mountains above. If you’re up for it, take a cooling dip in the ocean after your ride!
This is such a simple yet gratifying ride, especially for the unique beauty it provides. We are lucky to live in a region where we have such places to recreate, whether on two wheels or two feet. Here is a video of the ride, but there’s nothing like seeing it for yourself!