The Best Hikes In Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

Where can you go for a casual walk in the forest beside a river, and also see huge old-growth redwoods? Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is a hidden gem you absolutely need to know about.

There are several coastal redwood forests in the Bay Area, but I was particularly blown away by our hike in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. It’s near Santa Cruz and Highway 1 so we decided to go on a hike to enjoy the Santa Cruz Mountains.

In this article I’ll be sharing the best hikes in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park that we really enjoyed. If you’re planning to make this a longer day trip, I also have more ideas on fun things to do nearby.

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Where is Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is conveniently located just 8 miles north of Santa Cruz within the Santa Cruz Mountains. It is also great for day trips from San Francisco as it is just 75 miles away. You can also consider visiting this park if you’re making your way towards Highway 1 from the Bay Area.

The park spans over 4,650 acres, providing ample space to connect with nature beneath the colossal redwood canopies. The northern section of the park is also known as Fall Creek Unit.

Is Henry Cowell State Park worth visiting?

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park - Fall Creek Unit

Absolutely! Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is one of the few places in the Bay Area where you can find old-growth Redwood Trees.

This is in contrast to the more common second-growth trees that regrew over the past 100 years after the logging ceased. If you’ve gone on other hikes in the Bay Area, you’ll know what I mean.

These huge trees have been well-loved by many since the 1800s. They have even been visited by Presidents Benjamin Harrison and Theodore Roosevelt. Did you know that the largest tree here is about 1,500 years old and has grown to 280 ft (85 m)?

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park - Fall Creek Unit

Aside from big trees, you can also hike in the lush forests of Fall Creek Unit to see the lime kilns that were used in the past.

Through these adventures in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, you’ll catch a glimpse of the history of this place. I highly recommend coming here for a day trip to hike.

How to get to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

The most straightforward way to get to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is by driving. You’ll take CA-17 N from Santa Cruz, and exit via Mount Hermon Road. That road will end at Graham Hill Road. After that, you can head to one of the three park entrances:

  • Fall Creek Unit
  • Day Use Parking Area
  • Ox Fire Road Trailhead

If you’re planning to rent a car, here are some car rental tips to help you have a smooth road trip.

The Best Hikes In Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

The hikes in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park are characterised by 2 types of landscapes.

Fall Creek Unit is a lush forest trail on the northern side of the park with the gorgeous Fall Creek running through it. The main entrance will be on the southern side, where you’re greeted by the majestic trees in the Redwood Old Growth Loop.

Overall, there are 30 miles of hiking trails for visitors to explore in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Both areas are stunning in their own ways and I recommend checking out both of them while you’re here. Don’t forget to also bring along a hiking day pack to help you explore more comfortably.

Here are the best hiking trails from each of the 2 areas you need to check out.

1. Fall Creek to Lime Kilns Trail

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park - hike in Fall Creek Unit

This trail takes you from the south end of the Fall Creek Unit, through Bennet Creek Trail to Fall Creek Trail and South Fork Trail. The first part of the hike is a magical walk under the dense forest of second-growth redwoods, later changing to a mix of madrone and tanoak trees near the Lime Kilns.

Lime Kilns in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Lime Kiln remains

The Lime Kilns were used for processing the Limestone that got quarried by heating it for a few days. Since they needed fuel for the kilns, they cut down lots of trees here. You can also read more about the history of the industrial activity through the informative signs near the Lime Kilns.

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park - hike in Fall Creek Unit

Coming back, you’ll cross the creek via a small bridge a few times. Enjoy the walk back as you descend back down into the forest floor. You can also bring a snack and enjoy a picnic along the creek amidst the serene atmosphere.

  • Distance: 3.5 miles (5.8 km) loop, about 2 hours
  • Elevation gain: 521 ft (159 m)
  • Difficulty: Easy – moderate
  • Starting point/Parking: Fall Creek Unit | Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
  • Dogs not allowed

Pro Tip: The parking lot is not big and it can get quite crowded in the morning. You could either arrive earlier in the morning, or just before lunch time when the morning crowd leaves. No guarantees though – so perhaps you can check out this next trail first if you can’t find parking.

2. Redwood Old Growth Loop Trail

I recommend doing both of these trails together because the amazing Redwood Old Growth Loop Trail is just 7 minutes away from Fall Creek Unit. It is a flat and accessible trail that is really easy for people to check out.

So, don’t leave Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park before seeing the stars of the show, the big trees, in the Redwood Old Growth Loop Trail. Why not check out the Visitor Center on the way to the trail? It is open from 10am to 4pm everyday.

You will also see this huge cross section of a tree trunk that was harvested in recent history, with labels on the rings to show you how old the tree is! Spoiler alert – this tree was alive even in the year Jesus was born! I hope that got you excited to see the other big trees in this Redwood Grove.

One of the notable trees to check out is the Fremont Tree, which has a hollowed out trunk base that is big enough to fit a family inside. It is rumored that explorer John C. Fremont had camped at this spot in 1846.

Picnic benches under redwood trees
Picnic beneath the redwood trees
  • Distance: 0.9 mile (1.4 km) loop, 30 minutes
  • Elevation gain: 40 ft (12 m)
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Starting point: Redwood Grove Loop Trail
  • Parking: Henry Cowell Redwoods SP Parking
  • Dogs not allowed

Things you need to know

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park - hike in Fall Creek Unit

How much does it cost to visit

Entrance to the day use parking lot costs $10 per vehicle.

Fortunately, the day-use fee is valid for re-entry to other state beaches and parks as long as they are still open. For example, you can combine this visit with other state parks nearby, like Wilder Ranch State Park or Natural Bridges State Park.

What time is Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park open

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is open from sunrise to sunset. If you want to visit the visitor center which is open daily, make sure that you’re arriving after 10am and before 4pm.

Do you need a reservation for Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park?

No reservations are required for day use. This makes spontaneous trips and last-minute decisions hassle-free. However, if you plan on camping, reservations are recommended, especially during peak seasons.

Best time to visit

Although Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is open all year round, I had a great time in fall (November) as there were hardly any crowds and the weather was mild. There was beautiful fall foliage during our hike in Fall Creek Unit, and there was enough space for us to enjoy and take pictures with the trees in the Redwood Grove Loop.

Where to stay

While camping within the park is an immersive experience, if you prefer more creature comforts, explore lodging options in Santa Cruz, Felton, or Scotts Valley.

More things to do near Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

The adventure doesn’t stop at the hiking trials in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park – here are more things to do nearby. You could easily make it a weekend trip too!

Mystery Spot

For a whimsical detour, visit the nearby Mystery Spot – a gravitational anomaly that seemingly defies the laws of physics. It’s a quirky experience that adds a touch of fun to your nature-filled itinerary.

Roaring Camp

Embark on a scenic steam train ride at Roaring Camp, located nearby. It’s a nostalgic journey through the old-growth trees in Henry Cowell Redwood State Park. Although the steam train is now runs for fun, it was once part of the bustling industrial activity in the former years.

Big Foot Museum

Let your imagination run wild at the Bigfoot Museum in Felton as you can engage in the stories of this mythical creature.

Natural Bridges State Park

Extend your nature immersion by visiting Natural Bridges State Park near Santa Cruz, where monarch butterflies find refuge from late fall to spring. It’s an amazing phenomenon that is worth checking out. Pro tip: You can your day use entrance fee for this park too.

Explore Felton

Grab lunch, or simply take a stroll through Felton, a charming town near the park. You’ll find quaint shops and eateries where you can relax after an adventurous day.

Janice, a California-based travel writer from Singapore, discovered her love for hiking and camping during her studies in Los Angeles. Through her blog, she now shares detailed itineraries for adventures in California, Asia, and beyond. She also talks about gear recommendations and tips for beginners, hoping to inspire them to explore the great outdoors with confidence.

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