Sempervirens Falls

Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California, USA

About Sempervirens Falls


Hiking Distance: 3.5 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 2 hours

Date first visited: 2019-04-22
Date last visited: 2019-04-22

Waterfall Latitude: 37.18179
Waterfall Longitude: -122.21017

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Sempervirens Falls was perhaps the most family-friendly waterfall hike that I’m aware of in the Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

The reason why I say this is that it involved a fairly easy-to-moderate mostly flat hike of about 3.5 miles round trip to access.

Sempervirens_Falls_115_04222019 - Sempervirens Falls
Sempervirens Falls

And when you compare that to the more famous Berry Creek Falls, which required at least 10.8 miles round trip to reach, then it becomes understandable why I thought of the Sempervirens Falls as the family-friendly alternative.

Further adding to the family aspect of this excursion was the presence of impressive redwood trees along the Sequoia Trail, which was the primary trail that we followed to reach the 25ft Sempervirens Falls.

These coastal redwood trees are also known as Sequoia sempervirens, which are native to a swath of coastal land from southern Oregon to Central California.

However, logging during the Gold Rush and urban development reduced the population to only 5% of pre-European settlement.

Sempervirens_Falls_093_04222019 - Impressively tall redwood trees also have the taxonomic name Sequoia sempervirens
Impressively tall redwood trees also have the taxonomic name Sequoia sempervirens

The word “sempervirens” is said to mean “ever living” though I’ve also seen it translate into “evergreen”.

Like with most species classified in the taxonomic system, it’s a latin word.

The waterfall’s name also reflects the high presence of such majestic redwood trees throughout the hike.

The Sequoia part of the name refers to a 19th century inventor of the Cherokee alphabet named Sequoyah.

Sempervirens Falls Trail Description – hiking the Sequoia Trail to the waterfall

Sempervirens_Falls_012_04222019 - Julie and Tahia getting started on the Sequoia Trail en route to the Sempervirens Falls
Julie and Tahia getting started on the Sequoia Trail en route to the Sempervirens Falls

The official way for day use visitors to experience Sempervirens Falls is to start at Park Headquarters and hike along the Sequoia Trail to the falls and back.

The trail began on the south side of Park Headquarters, where we followed a fairly level trail that weaved its way between impressively tall coastal redwood trees.

Rounding out the forest population, we also noticed other tall (but not as thick) trees like Douglas fir, tanoak, and laurell trees among others.

Moreover, we saw moss and ferns, which attested to the moist coastal climate that supported such biodiversity.

Sempervirens_Falls_029_04222019 - The Sequoia Trail meandered beneath the giant coastal redwood trees throughout the hike
The Sequoia Trail meandered beneath the giant coastal redwood trees throughout the hike

The Sequoia Trail pretty much paralleled a pair of park roads as it made a U-shape on its route.

We noticed a handful of cars driving on such roads though traffic was relatively light.

At roughly 1.3 miles from Park Headquarters, we reached the Watashi Campground, which was a walk-in campground where parking spaces were assigned only to campers.

During our visit, the parking lot was gated off, and it was not to be used for day visitors anyways.

Sempervirens_Falls_066_04222019 - One of the campsites at the Watashi Campground, which the Sequoia Trail went through
One of the campsites at the Watashi Campground, which the Sequoia Trail went through

But had we been fortunate enough to camp here, our hike to Sempervirens Falls could have started from here.

Anyways, the Sequoia Trail continued another half-mile north of the Watashi Campground as the trail passed through more impressive groves of coastal redwoods.

Eventually, the trail descended towards Sky Meadow Rd (the road that paralleled most of the Sequoia Trail) before crossing it and reaching the ramp leading down to the lookout for the Sempervirens Falls.

Given the sunny weather we experienced at the falls, there was a bit of shadow cast on the area, which made photographing this quaint waterfall a bit difficult.

Sempervirens_Falls_090_04222019 - The Sequoia Trail paralleled the Sky Meadow Drive for most of the hike
The Sequoia Trail paralleled the Sky Meadow Drive for most of the hike

In my mind, the ideal weather to experience this waterfall would be during foggy or overcast days when the lighting would be even.

Sempervirens Falls Trail Description – returning to Park Headquarters

After having our fill of Sempervirens Falls, we had options.

We could have walked back the way we came on the Sequoia Trail.

In addition, we also could have extended the hike into a loop by taking the Sequoia Trail connector trail to the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail then returning to Park Headquarters from the north.

However, we ultimately decided to just walk on Sky Meadow Road back towards Hwy 236 before we got back on the Sequoia Trail near Loos Grove.

Sempervirens_Falls_127_04222019 - Walking the Sky Meadow Drive back towards Park Headquarters
Walking the Sky Meadow Drive back towards Park Headquarters

Hwy 236 was a more trafficked two-lane highway, and we didn’t feel it was safe to walk on the that road’s shoulders back to Park Headquarters.

We decided to do the return hike this way because hiking on the road was neither undulating nor muddy.

Therefore, it was much faster doing the return hike in this manner.

Overall, we did this out-and-back hike in roughly 2.5 hours, but we went at a slow pace, and we even spent a good deal of time exploring the Watashi Campground.

Sempervirens_Falls_148_04222019 - This was where Sky Meadow Drive intersected with Big Basin Way (Hwy 236). We returned to Sequoia Trail here because we didn't feel safe walking this two-lane road with the increased traffic
This was where Sky Meadow Drive intersected with Big Basin Way (Hwy 236). We returned to Sequoia Trail here because we didn’t feel safe walking this two-lane road with the increased traffic

Thus, I could see this hike taken perhaps as little as 2 hours round trip.

Sempervirens Falls Trail Description – the Cheater’s Way

While the Big Basin Redwoods Park wanted day users to do the Sequoia Trail to access Sempervirens Falls, we did notice some people in the know who actually drove all the way to the falls.

Indeed, we noticed there were maybe enough parking space for two or three cars right at the ramp leading down to the lookout for Sempervirens Falls.

While the parking spaces were signposted for only 15 minutes of parking, we easily could have driven here, checked out the falls, then driven off to drastically reduce the amount of effort and time required.

Sempervirens_Falls_098_04222019 - Descending to the Sempervirens Falls ramp and lookout, where there was one motorist who managed to stop here and cheat out of doing the hike
Descending to the Sempervirens Falls ramp and lookout, where there was one motorist who managed to stop here and cheat out of doing the hike

I wondered if some people even figured out that this cheater’s way to experience the falls could also be a tongue-in-cheek way of possibly not paying the $10 vehicle fee.

After all, the Big Basin Way (Hwy 239) kept continuing southeast towards Hwy 9 eventually leading south to Santa Cruz.

Of course not paying the park fees means rolling the dice with not getting caught by park employees who we’ve seen driving back-and-forth on Sky Meadow Road when we walked it.

Authorities

Sempervirens Falls resides in the Big Basin Redwoods State Park near Santa Cruz, California. It is administered by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. For information or inquiries about the park as well as current conditions, visit their website or Facebook page.

Sempervirens_Falls_006_04222019 - People checking out one of the redwood trees by the Big Basin Park Headquarters before starting the hike to Sempervirens Falls on the Sequoia Trail
Sempervirens_Falls_013_04222019 - Julie on the Sequoia Trail flanked by towering coastal redwood trees en route to Sempervirens Falls
Sempervirens_Falls_017_04222019 - One of the hollowed out redwood trees that was a favorite photo subject amongst people who did the Sequoia Trail
Sempervirens_Falls_025_04222019 - The aptly-named Sequoia Trail naturally went beneath many of the Big Basin State Park's coastal redwood trees
Sempervirens_Falls_031_04222019 - Looking ahead at a leaning coastal redwood tree on our way to Sempervirens Falls along the Sequoia Trail, which reminded us of how Sequoia trees eventually die (they typically fall over when they get too top heavy since they're fire resistant around their trunks)
Sempervirens_Falls_033_04222019 - Julie and Tahia continuing to hike along the Sequoia Trail en route to Sempervirens Falls
Sempervirens_Falls_037_04222019 - Most of the Sequoia Trail hike involved hiking along lots of tall coastal redwood trees so after a while, we started getting jaded with the quantity of such trees en route to Sempervirens Falls
Sempervirens_Falls_042_04222019 - Julie pushing ahead on the Sequoia Trail past more broad trunked redwood trees
Sempervirens_Falls_045_04222019 - Here's a section where the Sequoia Trail was very close by the Sky Meadow Drive
Sempervirens_Falls_049_04222019 - The Sequoia Trail continuing to parallel the Sky Meadow Drive for a good chunk of the hike to Sempervirens Falls
Sempervirens_Falls_059_04222019 - Sometimes the Sequoia Trail dipped low enough to be side-by-side with the Sky Meadow Drive
Sempervirens_Falls_063_04222019 - Julie checking out a grove of redwood trees near the Watashi Campground
Sempervirens_Falls_064_04222019 - Julie and Tahia checking out more photo ops at this grove of redwood trees at the Watashi Campground
Sempervirens_Falls_069_04222019 - Looking towards the gated entrance that was closed off at the Watashi Campground en route to Sempervirens Falls
Sempervirens_Falls_071_04222019 - Looking across the empty parking lot at the Watashi Campground
Sempervirens_Falls_078_04222019 - The Sequoia Trail continued at this end of the Watashi Campground as we still pursued Sempervirens Falls
Sempervirens_Falls_082_04222019 - Hiking along more coastal redwood trees en route to Sempervirens Falls as we went beyond the Watashi Campground
Sempervirens_Falls_087_04222019 - The Sequoia Trail still paralleled the Sky Meadow Drive as we pursued Sempervirens Falls beyond the Watashi Campground
Sempervirens_Falls_102_04222019 - Descending the ramp leading down to Sempervirens Falls
Sempervirens_Falls_107_04222019 - Julie and Tahia descending to the lookout platform for Sempervirens Falls
Sempervirens_Falls_108_04222019 - Our first look at the Sempervirens Falls at the bottom of the ramping boardwalk
Sempervirens_Falls_111_04222019 - Using the railings to take long exposure shots of Sempervirens Falls
Sempervirens_Falls_118_04222019 - Contextual long-exposed look at Sempervirens Falls
Sempervirens_Falls_123_04222019 - Sempervirens Falls can be pretty popular given its relative ease of access
Sempervirens_Falls_129_04222019 - Walking the Sky Meadow Drive back towards Park Headquarters after having our fill of Sempervirens Falls
Sempervirens_Falls_132_04222019 - Julie and Tahia making it back to the gated off Watashi Campground, where we realized that starting here would have really shaved off a good chunk of the hike to Sempervirens Falls
Sempervirens_Falls_138_04222019 - Julie spotted these marble chunks in the gutter next to Sky Meadow Drive on our return hike from Sempervirens Falls.  We wondered where they came from
Sempervirens_Falls_144_04222019 - A service truck driving past us as we were walking the Sky Meadow Drive
Sempervirens_Falls_148_04222019 - Making it back to the road junction between Sky Meadow Drive and the Hwy 239
Sempervirens_Falls_151_04222019 - Loos Grove was where we cut back to the Sequoia Trail when we reached Hwy 239
Sempervirens_Falls_153_04222019 - Back on the Sequoia Trail for the final stretch to return to Park Headquarters at the end of our Sempervirens Falls hike
Sempervirens_Falls_155_04222019 - Making it back to the Sequoia Trailhead at the south side of the Big Basin State Park Headquarters
Sempervirens_Falls_156_04222019 - Julie and Tahia finally making it back to the Park Headquarters

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Sempervirens Falls was accessible from the Big Basin Redwoods State Park Headquarters.

We drove to the Park Headquarters from San Jose or Santa Clara so we’ll describe the most direct driving directions as such.

Driving from Santa Clara to Big Basin Redwoods State Park

From Santa Clara, we’d take the US101 west to the CA-237, then we’d head west on CA-237 to the CA-85 south.

Sempervirens_Falls_007_04222019 - The Big Basin Redwoods State Park Headquarters
The Big Basin Redwoods State Park Headquarters

From there, we’d take the CA-85 south to the Saratoga Ave exit, then turn right onto Saratoga Ave.

In about 1.8 miles on Saratoga Ave, the street continues straight onto Big Basin Way (Hwy 9).

We’d follow Hwy 9 for a little over 13 miles to another junction.

At that point, we’d leave Hwy 9 and drive onto Big Basin Way (Hwy 239).

Sempervirens_Falls_011_04222019 - Looking towards some handicapped and employee parking spaces on the south side of Park Headquarters, which were right in front of the Sequoia Trail that we took towards Sempervirens Falls
Looking towards some handicapped and employee parking spaces on the south side of Park Headquarters, which were right in front of the Sequoia Trail that we took towards Sempervirens Falls

Then, we’d follow Big Basin Way for about 8 miles to the Big Basin Park Headquarters.

Driving from San Jose to Big Basin Redwoods State Park

From San Jose, we could make our way to the CA-17 south (via the I-280 or I-880), and then either take the CA-85 west to Saratoga Ave or continue south on CA-17 to the Los Gatos Saratoga exit (exit 20B) for Hwy 9.

If we take the CA-85 route, then we’d follow the directions as given above to take Saratoga Ave to Hwy 9.

Otherwise, we’d just follow Hwy 9 and then follow the directions as given above.

Sempervirens_Falls_001_04222019 - The parking lot by the Big Basin Park Headquarters
The parking lot by the Big Basin Park Headquarters

Regardless of whether we would drive from Santa Clara or San Jose, the drive would take approximately 75 minutes or so (depending on traffic).

Note that since Big Basin Redwoods is a state park, there was a $10 (as of 2019) vehicle fee, which we had to pay and display.

For geographical context, San Jose is about 6 miles (roughly 15 minutes depending on traffic) east of Santa Clara, 32 miles (about 45 minutes) north of Santa Cruz, 48 miles (about an hour or more depending on traffic) south of San Francisco, 41 miles (about an hour or more depending on traffic) south of Oakland, 86 miles (about 90 minutes drive or longer depending on traffic) south of Napa, 120 miles (about 2 hours drive) south of Sacramento, and 340 miles (5 hours drive) north of Los Angeles.

Short sweep of the area around the falls and the falls itself

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Tagged with: big basin, redwoods, state park, santa cruz, san jose, santa clara, bay area, central coast, california, waterfall, silicon valley, skyline to the sea, sequoia trail, sky meadow road, watashi campground



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Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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