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Big Basin State Park

We have been to Big Basin several times, and we try to find something different each time. Bikes are only allowed on the fireroads, so the rides are not too technically challenging. There are some good hills to climb and some of the scenery is spectacular. We have ridden in Big Basin year round, though we do wait a while after heavy rains. There is a lot more than views and trees to see at Big Basin. A sharp eye will find lots of interesting animals, mushrooms and a wide assortment of plant life here, to is definitely a good idea to make a few stops to enjoy some of these things.

Park: Big Basin State Parks
Date: Multiple Rides
Distance: Various
Ride Time: Various
Total Ascent: Various (1743 to 5519)
Map: Detailed trail map
Overall Rating: 6

Big Basin State Park contains 18,000 acres. Big Basin is the largest stand of ancient redwoods south of San Francisco and was the first state park established in California.

We almost always start at the park headquarters. This is the nexus of a variety of trails, it is easy to get to, and we don't have to end up parking the car in some isolated place. There is a parking fee. Depending on the time of year and the time of day, there is also a small store there that can provide a cold drink and a snack...just right after a summer ride.

Near the park headquarters is the Redwood Trail. This is not a bike riding trail, but it goes past the oldest and largest trees in the park. Naturally, we had to stop and see the big trees. If you have not seen these trees, it is hard to imagine how large and how old they are. This is a very easy trail, easily accessible to everyone from the very youngest to the oldest. Since it is so close to the south bay area, this is a nice "nature visit" for out of the area visitors.

The main road into the center of the park is Gazos Creek. This road is frequently used to get to the center of the park or to return. The first main branch off of Gazos Creek is Middle Ridge Road. We have learned that you don't really want to ride any trail that has "Ridge" in the name because it is always steep up, steep down, repeat. That was a pretty good description of Middle Ridge too. However, unlike some roads there are actually small downhills to allow you to breathe and pick up some speed before the next climb starts. Middle Ridge Road ends at Johansen Road. This is a nice ride through the forest, ending at Sand Point, a junction of Johansen, Whitehouse Canyon, and the upper and lower parts of Gazos Creek.

One of the routes we frequently ride goes up North Escape Road, up China Grade road, and then the Butano Fire Road or Olmos Fire Road to the coast. Butano Fire Road crosses a small amount of private property (tree farms) and then enters the nearby Butano State Park. This is basically a long downhill ride to the coast. There was quite a variety of micro-climates along the way, ranging from dense redwood forests to open rocky areas with manzanita. There is an abandoned airstrip along the way where we have talked with two other mountain bikers. Butano Fire Road ends at Cloverdale Road. Olmos Fire Road is an alternative way down that has several intervening hills that also takes you out to Cloverdale Road. Turning left (south), you can continued out to the coast, arriving at Gazos Beach. This is a nice small beach that is not too crowded and offers several nice views including the Pigeon Point lighthouse. After a few quick pictures, you can treat yourself to lunch at the local roadside diner or grab a drink or snack in the gas station.

Going back up Cloverdale Road, turning right onto Gazos Creek Road. This paved road gently climbs along the banks of Gazos Creek through redwood forests. At the end of the paved section is a gate blocking cars and then a fireroad continues onward. As you continue, the grade gets steeper and steeper. The gently bubbling creek became a series of small waterfalls, and the road became alternating sections of dirt and broken rock over soaked dirt. This 2 mile section averaged a 12% grade, with short sections reaching 20%. This was a real lung buster. The creek was beautiful, but your main focus will be on burning legs and heavy breathing. Sand Point is a great spot to take a break after this climb.

The Middle Ridge/Butano/Cloverdale/Gazos loop can be ridden in either direction. Climbing Middle Ridge or Butano is pretty tough, so there is conservation of pain regardless of the direction you go.

Whitehouse Canyon is another fire road that heads out of the forest surrounding Gazos Creek and into a more barren area. This area, set on stone and chalk, is a noticeable difference in vegetation and temperature, which is many degrees higher than Sand Point. This is the hottest trail in the park. Whitehouse Canyon becomes Chalks Road as it heads out to Chalk Mountain.

The climb to the top of Chalk Mountain is the kind of steep ride where you struggle to make it up and then realize how steep it really was on the way down. After several ups and downs, the climb to the summit is about a half mile at an average grade of 18%. This is especially tough in the summer when the steepest parts are in full sun. Getting to the top makes it all worthwhile. There is a "hidden" picnic table at the top (double back on the left side going back out to the point) that is a great place to take a break and drink in the view. From the picnic table at the 1609 foot summit, we can look down the mountain side into a green plain that ends in the blue waters of the Pacific. This is actually Año Nuevo State Park, a great place to see elephant seals around New Years' Day (año nuevo). You can also see quite a way north and south and to the west is a nice view of the mountains (we usually go there first, so we get a good sense of how far we have already gone). There is another nearby peak directly to the west. The roads between here and the coast are marked as private property, so we have not ridden the short distance to the coast from Chalk Mountain.

If you still need more climbing after all of this, ride up Johansen Road to Middle Ridge. This is another pretty good climb starting at Sand Point. It is a lot more fun going down, but if you deserve a full helping of punishment, this should top off your day.

There are some other trails that we have "visited" when the park was not crowded. At the top of China Grade road is the Hollow Tree Trail. You have to look pretty closely to find the trailhead as the terrain and the trees obscure it. This is a nice single track that winds along the hillside and past the abandoned Johansen Shingle mill and then joins Johansen Road at the top of Middle Ridge. This is a nice ride, but be careful not to disturb hikers or rangers.

Near the bottom of Middle Ridge Road and on the opposite side is an entrance to the Sunset Trail. This is another fun singletrack that crosses both West Waddell Creek and Berry Creek before heading up to the Sunset campground. Most of this trail is an easy ride, but there are a couple of sections that are extremely steep and get very wet in the winter. In the interests of our own stamina and trail preservation, we chose to push up the worst sections.

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