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.
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.
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.
Hiking to 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.
We also spotted moss and ferns, which attested to the moist coastal climate that supported such biodiversity.
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. 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.
In my mind, the ideal weather to experience this waterfall would be during foggy or overcast days when the lighting would be even.
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.
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 return 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.
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. So it was much faster doing it this way.
Overall, we did this out-and-back hike in roughly 2.5 hours. That said, we went at a slow pace, and we even spent a good deal of time exploring the Watashi Campground.
Thus, I could see this hike taken perhaps as little as 2 hours round trip.
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.
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.
Sempervirens Falls was accessible from the Big Basin Redwoods State Park Headquarters.
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.
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).
Then, we’d follow Big Basin Way for about 8 miles to the Big Basin Park Headquarters.
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.
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.
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