With decent camping, great hikes, lots of kids and too small campsites - Big Basin Redwoods State Park is a good campground for taking a family, but don't expect any peace and quiet!
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This year my family picked Big Basin campground for our yearly camping trip. Located in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Big Basin is just close enough to civilization, 23 miles from Santa Cruz and 29 from San Jose, to be easy to get to, or to allow a quick escape.
It was our first time camping with our newborn - and we were a bit apprehensive about it. We arrived to find that we had been pre-assigned a campsite. Be sure to tell the rangers that you'd like to look for another site. When we saw that our site was on an inside corner, with the tent pitch right next to the road, we knew we would have to find a better one. We drove around the two main campgrounds - Blooms and Sempervirens until we found a lovely large site - not too far from the wonderful hot showers. We rushed back to the ranger station to secure it.
In our drive around, we discovered that many of the campsites were on the inside loops, bunched up and just not very nice. There were some good sites, all on the outside, but not enough to guarantee a good one on a busy weekend. Later in our stay, we took a hike through the walk-in sites and found them to be far superior to the drive-ins. The walk-ins were between 50 and 200 yards from parking, and close enough to be easy to get to. They were still a bit close together, but isolated from the busy hustle-bustle of the other sites.
We have two children, a four-month-old baby and eight-year-old son. Our site was just isolated enough for our baby to catch her naps, mostly undisturbed. It's obvious that Big Basin is a favorite of families - there were children of all ages at almost every campsite. This thrilled our son - who spent much of his time playing with the neighbors.
Each site is well maintained, with a picnic table, firepit and small storage locker. The lockers are not useful for food, as there is a rather large population of hungry, curious and dexterous raccoon's living in the trees all around. I caught many of the little thieves in the light of my flashlight on my late night potty runs.
One of the reasons for Big Basin's popularity, are the ancient giant redwood trees - some over 300 feet tall. The largest are an easy ten-minute hike from the ranger station. There are many other hikes throughout the park and with over 16,000 acres to explore as well as many different levels of difficulty, there are hikes available for all. If you're interested in a more in-depth review of the hiking at Big Basin, check out member ID: jsquarejj's review.
Boulder Creek is the nearest town for re-supplying (chocolate and graham crackers for you-know-what's, beer - try the Big Trees Brewing Co. Ale, toilet paper, and anything you might need). It's a cute little mountain town with a fantastic organic grocery store. Boulder Creek Brewery is the local pub and grub. Don't go there for the food - there was nothing special about the menu. The micro-brewed beer however, was okay.
Santa Cruz makes a great, slightly eclectic, day trip - most certainly if you have children. The beach boardwalk is particularly fun for the kids, and for the kid in you! The boardwalk has some fun roller coasters, a full video arcade, rides for the little kids, and the usual collection of expensive win-cheap-stuffed-animal stalls. The day-passes are quite expensive. At almost $30 per person, you might be better off saving that money for a good meal out.
All in all, my family and I had a good time at Big Basin. Use the walk-in sites if you want a little more seclusion, try and pick your own campsite, spend a day in Santa Cruz, and enjoy the wonderful scenery.
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