Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

*Recent fires in the area made news worldwide as nearby Big Basin State Park was ravaged by fire. Although Big Basin is closed due to this destruction, Henry Cowell is is open again for day use.

California is known for its Redwoods, and the most popular spot to see these massive giants is Muir Woods, just across the Golden Gate from San Francisco. Indeed, Muir Woods is very impressive, but because of the easy access, it is very crowded. If you are looking for an opportunity to experience an old-growth redwood forest without the crowds, head towards Santa Cruz and visit Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. As a full day-long trip, you can take the fast way (I-280 to Highway 17) to Henry Cowell, and after enjoying the park, head north on Highway 1 where there are a number of worthwhile stops.

In just a short .8 mile loop trail that leaves from the Visitor’s Center, a walk through Henry Cowell provides a wonderful opportunity to experience the majesty of the coastal redwood. Self-guided tour pamphlets are available at the trailhead for one dollar and provide a plethora of information about the individual trees (some of which are at least 1,500 years old), as well as the ecosystem of the forest and how the forest has been managed over the last hundred or so years. Other ways to experience this loop is via an audio tour (downloadable at https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=27184) or on a weekly Saturday morning guided walk.

While just wandering the trail is magical in itself, there are a number of highlights that we are always excited to see. One of our family’s favorites is the Fremont tree which was partially hollowed out by fire many years ago. The inside is so large it feels almost cabin-like; on a recent visit, we were easily able to fit four adults and three young people very comfortably. Another favorite due to its sheer size is The Giant, which towers over 270 feet high and is 16 feet wide. Along the walk, we have also been lucky to see banana slugs, deer and other animals that always piques little hikers’ interest.

If you have more time in or near the park, there are a number of other options including The Garden of Eden swimming hole (currently closed due to COVID), a number of mountain bike trails, and of course more hiking (consider the 1 mile Observation Deck hike from Powdermill Fire Road campground). Additionally, right next to Henry Cowell is Roaring Camp Railroad, which offers train rides through the forest and even to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. It’s a fun way to experience the forest from a different perspective.

After having your fill of redwoods, head west to Santa Cruz, one of the most quintessentially Californian towns anywhere and head north where you can stop at any number of beaches or small towns: Pescadero has the Pigeon Point Lighthouse and a well-known Portuguese tavern – Duarte’s, Año Nuevo State Park is famous for its Elephant Seal population and is open for guided hikes from mid December to late March each year, and beaches at Pacifica and Half Moon Bay are both great places to watch surfers. To be honest, there is so much to do in this area – from wine tasting to whale watching – if you can swing an overnight or two instead of just a day, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!

Having called California my home for the last 20 years, I love to help clients plan their trips here. I build custom itineraries throughout California based on clients’ specific interests and needs. If you’d like assistance planning your dream trip to California, or anywhere in the Western U.S., contact me at kristin@familytravelsandadventures.com or (408)533-0080.

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