Permit - Call 831-338-8861 for permits. This is a popular trail so call ahead and have some backup dates. Campsites are $15 per night with an $8 transaction fee.
Mileage - 25-33 miles depending on route, and who you believe. We did an estimated 7 miles the first day (Saratoga Gap to Waterman Gap), 10 miles the second day (Waterman Gap to Jay Camp/Big Basin Headquarters), and 12 miles the third day (Jay Camp/Big Basin Headquarters to Waddell Beach). My GPS acted up some, so was only able to accurately record day 1, bad gps!
Camps/Water - There is potable water/trash cans and bathrooms at Waterman Gap Trail Camp, Jay Camp/Big Basin Headquarters and at the ranger station north of Waddell Beach. The sites at Waterman Gap have no improvements (hang food from critters). Jay Camp has food lockers and a couple tables - consider reserving a car camping site at Big Basin instead, so you have more space and a table/fire ring. If you want to shorten your last day you can stay at Twin Redwoods. There is no bathroom an no water at the Saratoga Gap parking lot.
Hazards - Poison Oak, Mountain Lions, and pesky raccoons (although we only saw them at Jay camp)
We got an early start and headed down the trail. This day is a little tougher as there are more miles to hike and some of the mileage has you going up, instead of yesterday's mainly down. There are no reliable water sources on this 9.5 mile leg, so fill up at Waterman Gap before you leave. The hike is mainly covered but does have a few open sections. Here is Jenn "filling up" while we all worked hard packing up.
There are quite a few roadway crossings, driveway crossings and trail junctions in this next section. Be smarter than us and do a few map checks to keep track of where you are, so you are not surprised to find yourself on a wrong trail. You quickly climb after leaving camp and then cross Highway 9 again (and a short while later cross the highway again, now called highway 236).
There is a junction with Saratoga Toll Road Trail. As I mentioned earlier, all junctions are well marked so just take a moment to read your options before traveling on.
You will cross 236 and now stay on the north side of the highway for a while There are some neat trees in this next section.
Here is one of the banana - nah-nah-nah-nah - banana slugs we saw, and Jenn sang about.
The trail is just gorgeous through here, always another neat tree (or stump) to see.
Here we are crossing 236 again.
You hike down to Boulder Creek now, and if you are paying attention, you will see that the signpost on your right says "To Highway". That is the way you want to go, not over the bridge and onto East Ridge Horse Trail. It was a neat trail though, but not very well maintained. This was our first clue that we were doing something wrong. Luckily Leo suggested that we review the map, which brought more questions up. We decided to review the pictures of the last junction and confirmed our suspicion that we had made an error. Above the "To Highway" are the words "Skyline to the Sea Trail". We hadn't gone too far down the wrong trail, so headed back down to that junction and up to the highway for another crossing. Here is the sign post that you need to notice.
I did get a couple cool shots on that side trail though.
We decided that we should stop for a lunch break here. There was a nice flat spot on the other side of the highway where we had a nice lunch and rested our tired feet. I took the opportunity to switch my socks. If you have a long hiking day and suffer from blisters/sore feet "they" say switching into a dry pair of hiking socks can help. It did seem to work for me.
The trail leaves the highway now and climbs some more to the North China Grade Road junction.
The next section is more open and has more of the Castle Rock feel to it. There are a couple sections of open rock too.
We headed mainly down now Opal Creek where the familiar Redwoods would shade us again. Once we got down to the creek we started to notice more hikers. It was a Sunday, so we expected to see some. Big Basin is popular during the summer, even on the weekdays.
The trail follows the creek now all the way to Big Basin. There are some trickier section once you are close to the "North Escape Road". If you took this road you would also get to Big Basin. The trail is nice though and if you follow the signs you will be just fine.
There are a couple times when you think you are almost there and what the heck is this trail doing, just trust the trail, it will get you to the store. We did run into a couple backpackers that just took the road, they seemed to make it to the store just fine too. Here are the jokers I hiked with on this trip :-).
Here is one of the section where the trail is almost on the "North Escape Road".
Jay Camp is still a little ways from the store and the ranger stations across the road from the store. You can follow the trail on the east side of the road to get to camp (you can do this on the way in if you look for Sequoia Trail). We decided to head to camp as one group had passed us already, so we wanted to get the second best site for the night. Jay camp has 6 sites as well. We grabbed #4 as it had a table, think site #1 might have as well. Sites #7 and #8 are for bikes only, and have the sweetest setups of all the sites... They each have tables and fire rings. Next time I think reserving a regular campsite will be the plan. Here is a shot looking back at where the trail dumps you off headed toward the store and HQ.
We setup camp and headed back to the store to have some cold beverages and tasty snacks. The store had no AC and it had to be close to 90 degrees in there. We quickly bought some snacks/beverages and got out before we melted. Big Basin is crowded, but as it was approaching dinnertime, the crowds were headed home, or back to camp. Here is a shot of the sign at Jay camp.
Here is Zakk at the store with me. The cooked food ends at 4 pm, but they had enough snacks for us.
We decided to partake in the shower facility adjacent to Jay camp before dinner. A quarter bought you 2 minutes of powerful hot water. It felt good to get some of the last two days grime off. Sadly the mosquitoes were out so I had to Deet-up the my hands/face after the shower. I was determined to get through this trip with 2 bites or less (and I already had 2!).Camp was quiet that night after the large group at site 6 hit the sack. We chatted for a while but headed to bed at a decent hour, as we had another long hike the next day to Waddell Beach. That night Jenn and Zakk had a racoon checking to see if they had emptied their packs of food. Lucky for them they had put all the food (and anything food like) into the nice food locker at camp. If your group is small enough you can fit your whole packs in the locker. I did not take any pictures of Jay camp that evening. Here is one that I grabbed the next morning after we had already broke camp (well almost all packed up, the yellow rope is ours). The food locker is as big as it looks in real life.