Neil Wiley

Courtesy of Mountain Parks Association and
 Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

Big Basin is bigger and older. Open space parks around Lexington Reservoir are closer. But Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park offers easier accessibility to a wider range of eco-climates, trail conditions and types of usage. This is a park for everyone.

It’s easy to get to. Located less than a mile south of Felton on Highway 9, the park is about half an hour away. And there is no mountain driving on curvy, narrow roads. You may see some friends, too. Mountain neighbor Pat Rapp is a gatekeeper at the entry kiosk. And one of my favorite environmental activists, Carol Carson, is a docent.

You can do as much or as little as you want. Close to the parking lot is the Redwood Grove Loop Trail. Wheelchair and stroller accessible, this 8/10 of a mile trail is flat, shaded and cool. Displaying the park’s oldest and tallest trees, it is the perfect trail to show out-of-state guests, small children or other reluctant walkers. A large meadow and wooded sites along the San Lorenzo River serve picnickers and large groups. Short trails connect these areas with the gift store, redwood grove and nature center. You can also walk across the parking area to the Roaring Camp Railroad station where you can board a train for a trip through the redwoods.

This is also a park for the more ambitious hiker, bicyclist or horseman. Bicyclists can ride all paved roads and fire roads. Horses can be ridden on most trails and fire roads. You can walk your dog on Meadow Trail, Graham Hill Trail and the 3.3-mile Pipeline Road that is closed to public vehicles. Hikers can enjoy every kind of trail, from easy walks along the river to more challenging climbs up narrow, sandy, ditch-like paths to chaparral-covered ridge tops.

Hike 1

Located to the left of the main parking area, the Redwood Grove Loop Trail is an easy half-hour walk on flat, shaded ground, which is good, because you’ll be looking up at the park’s tallest redwoods. These magnificent trees can be 300 feet high, and live upwards of 1500 years. Although only about 3% of these first growth trees have survived, a few of the world’s tallest trees still stand proudly. The trail is a pathway through a zoo-like park of another endangered species. See them while you can.

Hike 2

Walk by the gift store to the right end of the main parking area, then follow a connector trail to the shady River Trail. Turn right and follow the trail along the San Lorenzo River to sunny Meadow Trail. (The river is amazingly clear, and you can see some good-sized salmon.) Turn right to go back to the main parking area. The loop takes about an hour.

Hike 3

From the parking lot, walk down to River Trail, then turn left. Follow this trail under the bridge and on until you reach Rincon Fire Road. (Rincon looks more like a trail.) Turn right on Rincon and trudge up a relatively steep but short climb until you reach the Cathedral Redwoods. Lie down on a half-log platform, and look up at the tops of encircling redwoods.

Rather than going back via Rincon, take the parallel Big Rock Hole Trail to Ridge Fire Road. (Big Rock Hole Trail is narrower, higher and just different.) Turn right and follow this deep, sandy, steep Ridge Fire Road to the observation deck for some good views of the park.

Look behind the observation deck to find Pine Trail. Take this downhill past a campground area to Eagle Creek Trail, a lovely trail with a touch of mystery. Turn left to go down to Pipeline Road. After a short distance on Pipeline Road, watch for a small red hydrant labeled “63” over “00.” Turn right to an unmarked trail that will take you to the Redwood Grove Loop Trail, and back to the parking area. This hike takes about four hours or so, with plenty of stops for refreshment, rests and picture-taking.

If you choose a longer hike, bring your own water and a little food. Climbing some of these hills will encourage your appetite. Trails are easy to follow, generally smooth and well marked. Most intersect another trail in a mile or less, so getting lost isn’t too dangerous. You should, however, bring a map of the park. Some trails wind around so much that it is easy to lose direction. First-timers may find a compass helpful.

Filled with books, clothes and other goodies for the outdoors person, the most dangerous place in the park is the gift shop. Just keep telling yourself that the proceeds go to the Mountain Parks Association. Join, and you get 20% off, some free maps and other good stuff.

Hemmed in by Highway 9 and Graham Hill Road, Henry Cowell Park is not an isolated wilderness. You can hear the distant roar of traffic just about everywhere in the park. But few parks give hikers and riders such easy access to beautiful redwood and mixed evergreen forests.

Whether you stop by for a short visit on the way to Santa Cruz or stay for a longer hike or ride, Henry Cowell is the park for everyone. Bring $3 for all-day parking and $2 for a map. For more information visit or call 831-335-4598.

For more information about train rides to Bear Mountain and Santa Cruz, visit or call 831-335- 4484.



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