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.
ACTIVITIES: Hiking, camping, picnicking. Bicycling on designated fire roads. Horseback riding on designated trails and roads. Summer swimming in the river. Nature programs and dog walking (on leash). No backcountry camping. 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.
Most of the park’s ranger- or docent-led programs (including campfire talks, forest walks, and Junior Ranger programs) start on Memorial Day weekend and end after Labor Day. Check the schedule for days and times. Aimed at kids age 7 through 12, these programs offer games, crafts, hiking, and exploring with other children.
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 113-site campground has potable water, restrooms and showers. It accommodates trailers up to 31 feet and campers/motorhomes upt to 35 feet. 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 website (external link). The campground kiosk telephone is (831) 438-2396. Closed in winter.
TRAILS: 35 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.
FEATURES ACCESSIBLE TO PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: Redwood Grove Loop Trail, visitor center, nature store, and some campsites, restrooms, and showers. Audio tour for loop trail.
DOGS: On leash on paved roads and designated fire roads and trails. In tent or RV at night.
ENTRANCE FEE: $10 for day-use vehicle entry; no charge to walk or bike into the park.
MORE INFORMATION: For more information, go to the park’s website (external link), call the visitor center at (831) 335-7077, or contact Mountain Parks Foundation (external link), 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 (external link) (Italian), Taqueria Vallarta (external link) (Mexican), Cowboy Bar & Grill (external link) (Steaks to Burgers), Chopstix (external link) (Chinese) or Redwood Pizzeria (external link) (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 (external link) and ponder if he’s real or not.
FAVORITE HIKE: Walk the main grove (external link) 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 (external link) — 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 (external link) 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 (external link) 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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Acres Protected by the League: 827
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