Mt. McAbee Overlook at Big Basin

Lush old growth redwood forests and cascading waterfalls entice thousands of visitors each month to Big Basin, California’s oldest state park. Most hikers head straight for the Berry Creek Falls loop, and ignore the other 80 miles of trails in the park. This strenuous 9-mile loop to the Mt. McAbee Overlook allows you escape the crowds while admiring Big Basin’s diverse beauty.

For the first half of the hike you will walk along Kelly Creek as you follow the popular Skyline to the Sea trail. This is the most popular trail in Big Basin, but you’ll be so enchanted by the old growth redwoods that you might not notice the crowds. You will be treated to a scenic waterfall before starting your climb up a series of steep switchbacks. As you gain elevation you’ll leave the redwoods behind and enter a thick grove of Oak trees. When you reach the Mt. McAbee Overlook you’ll be high above the treeline and the views will stretch to Waddell Beach and the Pacific Ocean. Take a breather and enjoy the scenery before heading back down the mountain and into the redwoods.

Getting to Big Basin can be a challenge; visitors must first brave the narrow windy roads that traverse the Santa Cruz mountains. Parking can also be difficult, so plan to arrive to the park before 9am or after 2pm (in summer months). If you arrive to the park and there isn’t a ranger manning the parking lot check-in booth, try to find a short-term parking space while you pay the entry fee at the park headquarters. On busy weekends the nearest parking space can be a mile away from park headquarters, and if you don’t pay in advance you’ve just added a 2-mile round-trip walk to pay your entrance fee.

If you’re a fan of Big Basin State Park check out my Skyline to the Sea trail sticker!

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The Trailhead

To find the trailhead from the Park Headquarters look for signs directing you to the amphitheater. You should see signs for the Skyline to the Sea trail near the amphitheater.

The Route

Start your hike on the Skyline to the Sea trail before veering off on the Dool Trail. Stay on the Dool Trail briefly before taking the Sunset Trail to the Sunset Connector Trail. This will lead you back to the Skyline to the Sea trail. You’ll walk along Waddell Creek before starting your ascent up the Howard King Trail. Before reaching the overlook, the Howard King Trail will briefly meet with Hinh Hammond Road. If the climb has depleted all of your energy, and you need a slightly shorter path, follow the Hinh Hammond Road back to the park headquarters. Otherwise stay on the Howard King Trail and return to park headquarters. See the park brochure for a complete map of all the trails.

Other Details

Trail Safety

Like all outdoor pursuits, hiking can be dangerous. It is up to you to assess your fitness level and education yourself about any potential dangers. While I try to regularly update these hiking guides, you should always research trail conditions before heading out.

Being prepared means arriving at the trailhead with water and some basic provisions. Each and every time I hit the trail I bring a backpack with more water than I think I need, a small first aid kit, and a snack. I also share my itinerary and plans with friends or family and I carry an InReach so I can summon help if needed. If you want to know what I carry in my pack during day hikes check out my blog post about essential gear for day hikers.

Stay safe, enjoy the trail, and soak up the magic of nature!

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