Find a wealth of beauty off Highway 1 near Santa Cruz.
On the Pacific edge of Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Rancho del Oso encompasses a 3,000-acre stretch of the Waddell Valley that's home to seven ecosystems. "We have it all in this one little valley," says the park's program coordinator, Jeremy Lin.
At Waddell Beach, wind and kite surfers share the waves with shorebirds and tide pool creatures. Along the valley's evergreen-blanketed slopes stands the nation's largest registered nutmeg tree, 105 feet tall. And beneath the redwoods, five varieties of salamander scamper about—adorable amphibians that the park honors each year on Salamander Saturday (Mar. 4 this year).
Another annual fete: the delightful Wildflower Weekend (Apr. 22–23), which celebrates the buttercups, trilliums, shooting stars, and countless other blooms that color the valley each spring.
Get an overview of this rich flora and fauna—and greet the resident stuffed grizzly bear—in the park's nature and history center, once the home of Hulda Hoover McLean, the park's first naturalist and niece of former U.S. president Herbert Hoover.
From there, the three-quarter-mile Hoover Nature Trail meanders through rare Monterey pines, offering vistas of the valley. More ambitious walkers can take the Skyline to the Sea Trail linking Rancho del Oso to Big Basin headquarters, a six-mile hike to an observation deck misted by Berry Creek Falls.
This article was first published in Spring 2017. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.