Try Little Basin Campground for a local camping getaway
Local state parks make for the perfect summer staycation: they are nearby, affordable, beauteous, and, in Santa Cruz’s case, there are several to choose from. And now we can add one more valuable state park campground to our local trove—Little Basin Campground.
Formerly a retreat center for Hewlett Packard employees, the year-round campground is now part of Big Basin Redwoods State Park in Boulder Creek. Its 524-acre lot is a medley of grassy meadows and majestic coastal redwoods, checkered with 38 tent sites, 12 tent cabins, and RV sites.
It’s hard to imagine a more kid-friendly campground than this one. During my stay, little tykes on bikes and scooters cruised the paved roads that loop through the campground, reveling in their fleeting independence while their parents started campfires and barbecued nearby. Witnessing their unencumbered enjoyment, it was easy to imagine that Little Basin might become the kind of place that families return to year after year; where they’ll bump into other families who do the same, and the children will form lasting friendships defined by summer vacations spent together at this Santa Cruz Mountain campground.
United Camps Conferences and Retreats (UCCR), the organization that runs Little Basin through a public/private partnership with California State Parks, fuels this family summer camp vibe with plentiful group activities, like group campfires and nature appreciation walks. If nearby hiking trails aren’t enough to tucker the kids out, the grounds include a playground and sports courts and fields. It’s fitting that UCCR’s educational program, the Web of Life Field (WOLF) School, also operates educational camps for students at Little Basin.
The setup is also prime for group getaways and retreats: in addition to the recreational facilities, there is a group barbecue area, a rentable kitchen, a stage and amphitheater, and they accept group reservations of up to 400 people.
Alas, I did not visit Little Basin with a large group or any boisterous children. But the nascent public campground still gave me just what I needed: a peaceful, sun-drenched weekend camping with good friends. Well, pseudo-camping. Our cabin, named “Jerry’s Joint,” was a simple, spotless structure tucked away amongst towering trees. It’s incredible how much easier camping is when, instead of a tent and headlamp, you have a roof, bed and electricity. The cabin was surprisingly spacious, with a high ceiling, two large sets of bunk beds and a long wooden table. And yet we spent the majority of the time stationed around the fire pit and picnic table out front of the cabin, where the mountain summer is at its best.
The grounds have ample hiking trails to choose from, and the heart of Big Basin is only a short drive away. We opted for a 10-mile hike to Berry Creek Falls that starts from the Big Basin visitor parking lot.
Other than being long, the hike isn’t too demanding and rewards you with the sight of gorgeous natural waterfalls (which I’m happy to say were rushing with water for my visit). A worthwhile trek, certainly, but be sure to start early in the day if you want to make it back in time for Little Basin’s group campfire.
Other than the pleasant atmosphere and bounteous amenities, perhaps the most memorable thing about Little Basin was the staff, which is impressively friendly, helpful and attentive (one ranger was trying to remember every single camper’s name and, from what I could tell, was succeeding). Not to mention they all seem to genuinely love Little Basin, the place.
If you have a few days to spare before summer is over, why not support your local state parks while enjoying a relaxing outdoorsy staycation? Better yet, the campground is offering a second and/or third night of camping for half off until the end of August (good for Mondays through Wednesdays, only). Learn more at 338-3314 or littlebasin.org.