BOULDER CREEK, Calif. — If you want to sleep out in the woods but don't have a tent, consider spending a night or two at Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
That's where 36 tent cabins were erected earlier this year, the first such accommodations offered in any California state park. If the rustic lodgings prove to be popular, tent cabins may be built in other state recreation areas.
It would be difficult to select a more appealing site for this pilot project. The campsites are in the midst of a primeval forest of awe-inspiring trees: coast redwoods that soar higher than 30-story buildings.
At the turn of the century, citizens got together to save the age-old trees from covetous lumbermen and help establish California's first state park. Members of the Sempervirens Club campaigned for funds and a legislative bill that created California Redwood Park in 1902.
Since then, the 3,800-acre preserve has been expanded to more than four times its original size to protect some of the most pristine stands of redwoods on earth.
80 Miles of Trails
The park is a haven for nature lovers, who can explore by foot, horseback and bicycle. After entering the hilly park via a winding, paved road, visitors can roam along 80 miles of scenic trails.
Near the park headquarters is the popular Redwood Trail that circles past some of the largest and most interesting coast redwoods in the Big Basin area. Pay 25 cents for a self-guiding brochure to this flat, half-mile loop trail that has numbered sign posts for 11 points of interest.
At No. 6, step inside the Chimney Tree, a living redwood with a burned-out center that opens to the sky. Also stop at No. 9 to gaze up at the 329-foot Mother of the Forest, the Big Basin's tallest redwood. A neighboring tree, Father of the Forest, is estimated to be at least 2,000 years old.
During this short walk in the woods you can listen and look for the noisy Steller's jay, acorn woodpecker, Oregon junco and other birds. Also keep your eyes open for black-tailed deer and chipmunks. Raccoons often are seen between dusk and dawn.
Flora and Fauna
Camp out for a night or two to enjoy more of the park's flora and fauna. Try one of the new canvas tent cabins equipped with two double beds and foam-rubber mattresses. A lantern and wood-burning stove for heat also are provided. The cozy 12x14-foot tents have screen windows with flaps that can be closed privacy or on cool nights.
Each campsite includes a picnic table and barbecue grill. Piped-in drinking water, hot showers and flush toilets are close by. Tent cabins rent for $29 a night.
Bring your own sleeping bags or bed linens, or rent a linen package ($9) that has two sets of sheets, pillows, pillow cases and blankets. Deposits are required for rental linen and the tent lantern.
Reserve accommodations by calling Mistix toll-free at (800) 444-7275. Tent cabins will be available daily until the rainy season begins in mid or late October, then on weekends only until March or April.
No RV Hookups
Call the same number for reservations at the park's four campgrounds, where 145 family camping spots are available all year. The nightly fee is $10; no RV hookups. Hikers can bed down in primitive trail camps for $2 per person a night.
The day-use fee for picnicking or parking in Big Basin Redwoods State Park is $3 per vehicle.
Rangers and docents lead walks in the woods almost daily in summer and on special occasions during the rest of the year. Inquire at park headquarters for tour times.
At the eastern edge of the park you can mount up at Western Explorations' Big Basin Stables for a trail ride through the redwoods. The 2 1/2-hour horseback excursions leave the corral at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. every day except Monday, through October. They resume again in May.
The relaxing outing costs $35 per person. Novice to advanced riders are welcome; minimum age is 10 years. Call (408) 438-4226 for reservations. Groups of eight or more can arrange dinner or Sunday brunch rides or overnight trail trips.
A mountain bike touring company called Dusty Roads also offers guided rides through the park. The last tours of the season were on Labor Day, but they will begin again next May. Call (408) 973-9299 for a brochure of biking itineraries.
Nature Lodge Museum
Near park headquarters, be sure to visit the Nature Lodge, a museum featuring natural history exhibits. One display explains why redwoods are so resistant to fire and disease. You'll also see mounted examples of the birds and animals found in the 17,000-acre park.
Adjacent to the museum is a general store with picnic supplies and a gift shop with redwood bowls, coasters and other souvenir items. Guests staying in the tent cabins register at the gift shop. After closing hours, guests register with the host at Huckleberry Campground.
For more information about Big Basin Redwoods State Park, call (408) 338-6132.
Get to the park from Los Angeles by driving north on U.S. 101 to San Jose and exit onto California 17 south. Exit west onto California 9, an official State Scenic Highway that goes through Saratoga to join California 236.
This is a beautiful but narrow and curvy road that heads southwest into the park. (Not recommended for long RVs and vehicles with trailers.)
An alternative route is to exit U.S. 101 and pick up California 1 to Santa Cruz, then take California 9 north to Boulder Creek to join California 236, which is wider and less winding when it enters the park from the east.
Round trip from Los Angeles to Big Basin Redwoods State Park via the latter route is 784 miles.