A Grove of Redwood Giants
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park draws visitors from all around the world. The 4,650-acre park, located in the Santa Cruz Mountains, is known for its 40-acre grove of old-growth redwood trees. The park also offers impressive 360-degree views of surrounding mountains and Monterey Bay.
Although old-growth redwoods are the park’s most famous feature, the park contains an amazing diversity of habitats. Trails plunge in and out of the riparian woodland, cross over several creeks, and ascend into mixed evergreen forests, culminating in scenic views.
The park also contains Santa Cruz Sandhills, a unique habitat found only in Santa Cruz County. Only the hardiest plants can survive on this pale, chalky soil; mighty Ponderosa Pines and swathes of native wildflowers rule this habitat.
Henry Cowell Redwoods is also home to many animals. Banana slugs emerge on wet days, coyotes and bobcats emerge at dusk, and black-tailed deer are ubiquitous. Bird watching is rewarding in these parts; pileated woodpeckers, Western screech-owls, and spot belted kingfishers are some birds to watch out for. The San Lorenzo River is home to steelhead trout and a small population of coho salmon.
Long before Spanish occupation, the Sayante tribe, Awaswas speaking people, lived in this area along what is now defined as Zayante Creek. They relied on the forest for food, water, and shelter. They traded steelhead trout and coho salmon with other tribes for resources such as acorns and obsidian.
Starting in the 1840’s, European settlers began to occupy this land. The redwood forest was a playground for early entrepreneurs: French settler Pierre “Don Pedro” Sainsevain built a lumber mill (near the park’s present-day picnic area) and logged much of the park’s trees over time. Warren Welch built a vacation resort, which attracted notable guests including presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Benjamin Harrison. The area was also the site of the Davis and Jordan Lime Company.
In 1899, photographer Andrew P. Hill was taking photographs near Welch’s Big Tree Grove resort. The owner confronted him and demanded the glass-plate negatives. This angered Hill. After that fateful day, Hill vowed to protect the redwood trees. He founded Sempervirens Club, the group who would play a pivotal role in protecting local redwood forests. Years later, Sempervirens Fund became Sempervirens Fund which continues the work of protecting and stewarding the giant trees.
Santa Cruz County took control of the land in 1930 and named it Santa Cruz Big Trees County Park. In the 1950’s, the County added an adjacent parcel of land formerly owned by Samuel “Harry” Cowell. The state park is named after Cowell’s father.
When You Visit
Henry Cowell Redwoods offers something for everyone: hiking, horseback riding, picnicking, swimming and camping. The park has several entrances. The visitor center, along with a grove of old-growth redwoods, is accessible through an entrance off Highway 9 in Felton. The campground is located off Graham Hill Road.
Redwood Grove Loop Trail is perfect for anyone who’d like to go for a gentle stroll. It’s an 0.8-mile loop under old-growth redwoods. Astute visitors (or anyone who grabbed a self-guide brochure from the visitor center) may spot the albino redwood near the trail. This loop is wheelchair accessible.
If you can endure a moderate grade, the Observation Deck Hike yields a spectacular reward. This hike is 4 miles long with a 550 ft. elevation gain. The trail leads through Santa Cruz Sandhills habitat and to the Observation Deck, the highest point in the park.
Or consider Lime Kilns Trail, a popular 5-mile loop through the lush redwood forest and along Fall Creek. The loop brings visitors close to what’s left of the lime kilns. This hike is in the park’s Fall Creek Unit, located a few miles north of the main park.
Henry Cowell Redwood’s campground includes 113 sites nestled under pine and oak trees. The campground is a five-minute drive from the Redwood Grove Loop Trail and a half-mile walk to the Observation Deck.