Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park Fall Creek Unit is a beautifully rugged second growth redwood forest with lush trails following the curves of Fall Creek as you hike through history. On our 10.2 mile hike we followed Fall Creek to the lime kilns that were active in the early 1900’s and up to Big Ben to see the largest redwood in this forest and back down to Fall Creek. Climbing over and under downed trees, balancing across fallen logs to cross the creek all while enjoying the sounds of birds singing and lush fern lined trails. Definitely a hike to help you recharge!
In need of some forest time to recharge from the chaos that is life, we drove 2.5 hours to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park Fall Creek Unit. It was a perfect spring day for a hike and we were so ready to breathe in the fresh air! The parking lot for Fall Creek holds about 20 cars and fills up quickly! We got one of the last actual parking spots. While there were quite a few cars there, we didn’t see many people after we passed the lime kilns.
Fall Creek trail starts off going downhill from the parking lot and immediately greets you with a flowing creek and a forest canopy above. Even if you have to cut this hike short, like we did last time, it is still absolutely worth going for the beauty of this park! Follow the creek and enjoy the sounds of water flowing over boulders and around fallen logs. Don’t forget to look up and admire the young giants towering above you!
Everything was gorgeous and we kept pausing to snap a few photos then keep going. The ferns were so happy and the redwood sorrel were in bloom making it all seem so much more alive. There were quite a few people on this part of the hike. They were all quietly hiking along enjoying the environment they were in. At about 1 mile into the hike you reach the first bridge where there is a fork in the trail, we went left and up toward the lime kilns on the South Fork Trail.
Hiking along South Fork trail for about .5 miles with just under 200 feet elevation gain it was a gentle climb to our next destination, the lime kilns. In the late 1800’s early 1900’s these lime kilns were fully functional. Most of the redwoods in the park were cut down to fuel the fires for the kilns and to move the chunks of lime to the train station and shipped up to San Francisco. Now, Henry Cowell is a State Park and mother nature is beginning to take back her land.
The lime kiln structures are still there. They are covered in moss and ferns with wildflowers and bushes growing all around. Love that the historical structures remain! They can remind us of how we rebuilt San Francisco as well as what happens to an old forest when left to recover. If all you want is a short hike with a little history and lots of beauty, you could turn around here and head back enjoying the creek along the way.
Sill in need of mother nature’s natural stress reduction, we headed up Cape Horn trail to Lost Empire trail to see Big Ben.
The switchback Cape Horn trail was just under a mile before we reached the grueling incline of Lost Empire trail. Not sure how this trail got its name, maybe because not all of the empire could climb the 1,000 feet in 2.5 miles? Parts of this trail were steep 30% grades with some dropping off to almost level giving us a break from climbing on uneven ground. There were a couple twists and turns in the trails and a wonderful mix of trees.
On the forest floor we were mostly surrounded by redwoods and ground cover. Up on Lost Empire trail, madrones and bays provided shelter until we got higher up and redwoods started becoming the dominant tree. We ran into very few people along this part of the hike which was great for us but a bummer because there was so much beauty up there!
The trail was perfectly lined with dense ground cover of redwood sorrel with trees reaching high up to the sky. Then a last push up on a rocky, uneven, steep trail to reach Big Ben. He is the largest of the redwoods in the Fall Creek Unit of Henry Cowell State Park that still remains. Big Ben is about 6 feet in diameter and a perfect resting stop! We hung out with Big Ben for a few minutes while he posed for pictures with us before we began our 1.5 mile with 600 feet elevation loss hike back down to Fall Creek via Big Ben Trail. The switchbacks were nice but were a tad bit narrow in some spots!
Once we reached Fall Creek trail again we noticed as we were looking down that we needed to cross the creek on either a group of smaller logs bunched together or one large log that had fallen across the creek. Option 2 it was! We carefully climbed on top of the large log and balanced our way across the creek. It wasn’t too bad! We weren’t high up in the air and the creek wasn’t rushing too much so the fear of falling wasn’t too bad. 😉
From here it was a nice gentle descent as we followed Fall Creek again. The water flowed over boulders in the creek, under downed trees and over logs stuck in the creek. There were a few more creek crossings to do, some with seasonal bridges and some finding your way across the fallen logs. It felt good to have a few obstacles along the way! Playing limbo on the trail with the trees that were blocking the trail or climbing over them. Definitely was not boring!
One part of Fall Creek trail looked like there had been a small landslide where the trail used to be. This was one of the more challenging parts to navigate! Over trees that reached out over the creek, along a log balanced on another log and back down to solid ground.
We also came across the remains of the Barrel Mill site. Seriously thank you to California State Parks for keeping all of these historical sites for us to see!
Most of the seasonal bridges were placed along the wider parts of Fall Creek. These gave perfect views from the middle of the creek without the fear of falling in while balancing. We began to see more and more people. We knew we were getting close to the end of the hike. Reaching the intersection with South Fork trail again we retraced our steps on Fall Creek trail to the parking lot.
Seeing this same trail from the other direction in different light still made us pause to admire the forest that enveloped us the entire way. It’s like getting a hug from a tree. 🙂
Parking is free but limited. There are no facilities so don’t drink too much coffee before you start the drive! Moderate hike with some steep parts. 90% shade but can still be hot. Dogs on leash ok. 10.2 miles with 1,903 feet elevation gain/loss. Closest town is Felton, we stopped at the grocery store to get snacks for the drive home.
Things We Love:
With a 2.5 hour drive to the 10.2 mile hike and a 3 hour drive home, one’s back and legs can get stiff! When we got back home we both got out of the car a little hunched over and sore. After showering we each took turns using the foam roller on our backs, massage stick for our legs and foot roller. Those are heavenly!! They massage out your tired sore muscles and help relax them. We both roll out our backs daily (sucks getting older!) and use the stick and foot one after longer hikes. This helps with recovery so much! It hurts at first but you get used to it knowing that it’s like having a masseuse available any time! When you check out these products, don’t forget to watch the ‘how-to’ videos they have to use them properly. If you are ready for some muscle relaxation and faster recovery time, click on the Amazon links below and check it out!
Where else can you find us?
Don’t forget to check out the video of the hike on our Hike Then Wine YouTube channel!