Rancho del Oso Unit
Latest NewsA limited area of the park will reopen Memorial Day Weekend. • There is no water available at this park. Bring water with you.
A small portion of the Rancho del Oso Unit of Big Basin Redwoods State Park will reopen Memorial Day Weekend, nine months after the devastating CZU Lightning Complex Fire burned 97% of the park.
Rancho del Oso — the western, coastal area of Big Basin — will be open on weekends only from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Access will be limited to the visitor center at Rancho del Oso and a small portion surrounding the center, including the Marsh Trail. Adjacent Waddell Beach is also open to the public. Backcountry areas of Rancho del Oso and the rest of Big Basin remain closed, and there is still active fire in some places.
Read more about the history of Rancho del Oso and get an update on fire recovery efforts at Big Basin.
Here are some guidelines for people visiting Rancho del Oso:
- Restrooms are partially opened.
- Limited trails are open.
- The Nature Center is open.
- Socially-distanced picnic tables are available.
What is currently closed at this park?
- There is no water available at this park. Be sure to bring water with you.
- Special events
Rancho del Oso is the ocean end of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Prior to the CZU Lightning Complex, the park offered a variety of recreational opportunities, including hiking, biking and horseback riding on Canyon Road, a six-mile graded dirt fire road that meanders along Waddell Creek. The majority of these trails and activities are currently inaccessible due to fire damage.
Waddell Beach, located across Highway 1 from the park entrance, is known worldwide as one of the spots for windsurfing and kite surfing. The steady strong northwest winds and good surf provide ideal conditions for this demanding sport.
Learn more in the California State Parks brochure (note, the brochure is not up-to-date with fire impacts).
Drive north from Santa Cruz on Hwy 1 for 17 miles to the Waddell Creek Bridge. Parking is available on both sides of the highway.
By Bus: Take Santa Cruz METRO route 40 from Santa Cruz.
Things to doHiking
The Marsh Trail is open but the majority of trails remain closed.Windsurfing and Kite Surfing
Launching from the tops of incoming waves the best windsurfers can complete full loops and continue on their way. With the strong winds and occasionally heavy surf, Waddell Beach is not recommended for novice wind surfers. Regular surfers and boogie boarders also find it an ideal spot to pursue their activities.Bird Watching and Wildlife Viewing
The Theodore J. Hoover Natural Preserve is great for birders. The Marsh Trail is teeming with life. Rabbits are frequently seen scurrying off the trail, while dragonflies swoop over the water, and birds flit among the willows growing near the creek. Due to the abundance of water, flowering plants have an especially long season here.
The Nature and History Center features interactive exhibits sharing the wonders and diversity of the Waddell Valley. Turn right before the Waddell Beach parking lot, you’ll see a sign marked “Rancho del Oso Nature and History Center.” The Center is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Fees and Passes
Parking is free.
- Picnic areas
- Visitor Center
- Accessibility: Wheelchairs can access areas of the wetlands from a paved road.
- Docent-led educational programs (on hold due to COVID-19)
The trail camps and group campsites are temporarily closed due to impacts of the CZU fire.
A series of Backpack Trail Camps are spaced along the Skyline to the Sea trail, with three being located within easy hiking distance from the Rancho del Oso park headquarters. Reservations are required to stay in the backpacking camps; call 831-338-8861. Fees apply. The backpack trail camps are open May 1 to Oct. 31
There is also an Equestrian Trail Camp that allows riders to camp overnight with their horses. Reservations are required for the horse camp; call 831-338-8861. Fees apply.
Field trips are on hiatus due to the pandemic.
Wilderness Patrol volunteers will hike or mountain bike into scenic backcountry to assist visitors. The program is on hold due to the pandemic and the wildfire.
Rancho del Oso is a site rich in cultural and natural history. The area was frequented by Native Americans (most likely the Awaswas clan of Ohlone Costanoan), who managed the land in order to benefit from the bountiful landscape and encourage the proliferation of game.
In 1912, Theodore Hoover (Dean of Engineering at Stanford and brother of President Herbert Hoover) bought a majority of the Waddell Valley from more than a dozen small land owners. Hoover built the “Brown House” in 1913 as a family vacation house (a role it still serves) and named his holdings Rancho del Oso. In 1925 he built a large Spanish-style residence, the “Casa,” for his family across the creek from the Brown House. Although the Casa was destroyed by fire in 1959, several of Mr. Hoover’s heirs still have residences at Rancho del Oso.
California State Parks acquired approximately two-thirds of the original Rancho del Oso land including Waddell Beach, from Hoover’s daughters, in 1977. This enabled the completion of the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail.
In 1985 Hulda Hoover McLean sold her personal residence and its 40-acre lot to the Sempervirens Fund, intent on creating a place to share the wonders of the natural world with others. After some minor renovations, it was passed on to California State Parks for use as the Rancho del Oso Nature and History Center. She was very active in organizing the Waddell Creek Association, which helps support the volunteer and educational programs at Rancho del Oso, and served on its board of directors well into her 90s. She died in 2006 at the age of 100.
- No single track trails are open to bicycles at Rancho del Oso or the main portions of Big Basin State Park.
- Dogs are not allowed in any portion of Rancho del Oso or in the horse camp at any time.
- Permits are required for camping.
Waddell Creek Association, which operates the Rancho Del Oso Nature and History Center
(831) 427-2288 (weekends only)