Things to know before you visit

Be Prepared

Big Creek Reserve is a rustic field station in a wilderness setting. Although there are staff on-site to generally help with orientation, questions and in emergencies, be prepared to be self-sufficient.

Locked gate combination

  • To recieve the gate combination for entry you must sign and return the Use Guidelines and Rates form that will be sent with your reservation approval. Return this acknowledgement at least two days before you embark on your trip to the reserve. There is no cell service at the gate and you may not get a hold of someone to let you in.


  • 4 wheel drive is not required most of the time but it is recommended to bring a higher-clearance vehicle. You are not guaranteed to get everywhere in a low slung sedan or electric vehicle.


  • Big Creek operates under the philosophy that you should leave things better than you found them. There is no housekeeping. Please read the cleaning instructions that are sent to you with your reservation approval.
  • Come like you're camping, even if indoors. The cabins have beds with mattresses but no pillows or sheets. Bring the same gear you would if you were staying at a campground. 

Field Safety Planning

  • Download and fill out the UCSC Big Creek Reserve field safety plan for your group with protocols for how to handle emergency situations (lost hikers, minor injuries, severe weather, etc.). See the UCSC EH&S Field Safety Policy for guidance. Have all users in your group sign the plan and submit to your EH&S department.
  • Bring a personal first aid kit for minor injuries. Ask reserve personnel if you need first aid supplies for larger,m non life-threatening injuries.
  • Read the reserve's emergency instructions and become familiar with them before you visit. Phone numbers for emergency services and reserve personnel are listed and are also posted in each building.

Clothing and Weather Conditions

  • Bring multiple layers and be prepared for large fluctuations in temperature throughout the day. Big Creek has many microclimates that you will pass through while out and about. The weather can change quickly from sunny and warm to windy, foggy, damp or rain. Some days there can be a 30 degree temperature difference between sea level and the ridge tops.
  • Bring sturdy and comfortable hiking shoes.
  • Check the weather forecast for local conditions


Poison Oak

  • Be sure you can positively identify poison oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum. Recognizing it quickly will keep you away from it.
  • Stay on the trails. We try hard to keep poison oak off the hiking trails. If you leave the trail, you are often at very high risk.
  • Never hike with skin exposed. Wear long pants and a long shirt. Treat hiking clothes like contaminated material.
  • Do not wear hiking clothes twice before washing them. The oil soaks through cloth and will reach your skin by the second time wearing it.
  • Wear hiking-specific shoes that you can change so as not to get contaminated with handling shoelaces. Or wear gaiters over shoes so they get the oak oil rather than the shoes.
  • Wash with Tecnu or dish soap (Dawn is good) immediately after returning to camp. Bring a small bottle with you hiking. There is a product called Ivy Block by EnviroDerm. Applied before exposure it apparently helps block the oils from your skin until you can wash it off.
  • Avoid touching your face or other “sensitive” body parts with your hands after you may have been in contact with poison oak.
  • Wear a hat and bandana around your neck in case errant vines growing out over the trail brush you at face level.
  • Print these poison oak recommendations


  1. Drone use on all UC property is regulated. If you wish to fly a drone, you must apply to the UAS Program for policy and authorization for drone use. Any costs associated with unapproved drone flights are the sole responsibility of the operator.
  2. Once you are at the reserve, you will need to get authorization from the Resident Reserve Director. Secondary authorization from the Reserve Director is dependent on flight path, weather conditions, wildfire risk, endangered species nesting behavior, etc.