Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
A Santa Cruz escape
HIGHLIGHTS: Just 5 miles from the bustle of Santa Cruz, 4,140-acre Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park offers sunlit meadows, lush stream canyons, pine and oak forests and quiet walks through ancient redwoods. Save the Redwoods League has helped protect 827 acres inside and 270 acres outside the park, including old-growth redwood stands, a mature second-growth redwood forest and two globally rare plant communities: northern maritime chaparral and Coast Range ponderosa pine.
ACTIVITIES: Hiking, camping, picnicking, bicycling, horseback riding, nature programs and dog walking (on leash). If you hear a whistle blowing, it's probably coming from the Roaring Camp Railroad, which offers tours of a nearby forest as well as transportation to the beach at Santa Cruz. The station is just east of the park, near the Cowell parking lot.
VISITOR CENTER: In the summer, the park's visitor center is open from 10 to 4 daily. In winter, the hours are usually 11 to 3. Call (831) 335-7077 to confirm hours. The nearby Mountain Parks Nature Store is open every day from 10 to 5. It's run by Mountain Parks Foundation, which supports Henry Cowell Redwoods and Big Basin Redwoods state parks. Phone: (831) 335-3174.
CAMPGROUNDS: The park's 112-site campground has potable water, restrooms and showers. Reservations can be made up to seven months and no less than 48 hours in advance by calling (800) 444-7275 or going to the park Web site. The campground kiosk telephone is (831) 438-2396. Closed in winter.
TRAILS: Some 30 miles of hiking trails wind through four different plant communities. The classic stroll is the 0.8-mile Redwood Grove Loop, which winds through coast redwoods up to 285 feet tall and 1,800 years old. Start by the visitor center.
MUST-SEE UNIQUE FEATURE OR SEASONAL HIGHLIGHT: Ponderosa pine isn't normally a coastal species. Yet this long-needled, orange-barked pine thrives in the rare inland marine deposits known as the "sandhill community" at Henry Cowell.
HIDDEN GEM: If the main part of the park seems crowded, head northwest to explore the steep canyons and second-growth redwoods of the four-square-mile Fall Creek Unit. The lower elevations are particularly lush. To get started, head west from Felton on the Felton-Empire Road. In less than a mile, look for the Fall Creek parking lot on your right.
MORE INFORMATION: For more information, go to the park's Web site, call the visitor center at (831) 335-7077, or contact Mountain Parks Foundation, which sponsors interpretive programs and produces and distributes park literature, books and maps at 525 N. Big Trees Park Road, Felton, CA 95018; (831) 335-3174.
EAT: Dave Kuty, Henry Cowell Docent and Mountain Parks Foundation President, suggests eating at Mama Mia's (Italian), Taqueria Vallarta (Mexican), Cowboy Bar & Grill (Steaks to Burgers), Chopstix (Chinese) or Redwood Pizzeria (Organic).
Redwood Pizzeria makes all its pies with organic ingredients, including the dough and sauce. Try the Bigfoot pizza with spinach, red onions, and garlic, or the homemade veggie lasagna. Vegans can have a cheeseless pizza made their way.
You can also stop in at the the Bigfoot Museum and ponder if he's real or not.
FAVORITE HIKE: Walk the main grove and then take the trail along the San Lorenzo river and up to the unusual sandhills and two lookout points with views of the San Lorenzo river.
Dave recommends exploring the sandhills on the Pine Trail loop. To see rare maritime chaparral plants and views, head out from the campground to the Observation Deck on Fire Ridge Road. Other hikes include taking the River Trail to Upper Redwood Cathedral or Rincon Trail to Diversion Dam. You can also check out the Redwood Loop - a 0.8 mile loop through old-growth redwoods. To see the riparian plants and animals, take the River Trail. In the Fall Creek unit, recommended hikes include taking Fall Creek Trail to the Barrel Mill area or to the South Fork Trail to see the Lime Kiln site.
FAVORITE PARK ATTRACTION: Dave suggests exploring the Giant Sycamore Grove to see some of the tallest western sycamores in the world.
DON'T MISS: Bob Hansen, former President at The Yosemite Fund, says "Take the train ride at Roaring Camp Railroad adjacent to the park to ride a 'shay logger' train or just walk into the station area and feel what it is like to be a few feet from a 'pufferbelly' (steam locomotive)".
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