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Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

River, Eagle, Pine, Ridge Trails
4 miles round trip with 500-foot elevation gain

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park preserves first- and second-growth redwoods in a tranquil Santa Cruz Mountains setting.

Henry Cowell and Joseph Welch, who in the 1860s acquired the former Mexican land grant Rancho Cañada de Rincón, shared a similar commitment to protect the Big Trees Grove (now Redwood Grove). Welch’s holdings were purchased by Santa Cruz County in 1930 and became parkland; in the 1950s this land was combined with 1,500 acres donated by Cowell’s heirs to become a state park.

Thanks to the preservation efforts by these men, the “Big Trees” are as stirring a sight now as they were a century ago when railroad passengers bound for Santa Cruz from San Jose made a lunch stop amongst the tall trees.

The short Redwood Grove Nature Trail, which visits one of the finest first-growth groves south of San Francisco, is a good place to start your exploration of the Santa Cruz Mountains. This popular trail, complete with interpretive leaflet, loops along the San Lorenzo Riverbank among the redwoods, some of which have been given names. One of the larger commemorative redwoods honors President Theodore Roosevelt, who enjoyed his 1903 visit to the grove.

The state park is hilly and with changes in elevation come changes in vegetation. Moisture-loving redwoods predominate on the lowlands while the park’s upper ridges are cloaked with oak woodland and chaparral.

By connecting four of the park’s trails, you can walk through all of the park’s diverse ecosystems. You’ll begin in the redwoods and ascend chaparral-covered slopes to an observation deck located in the middle of the park. Great mountain and coastal views are your reward for the ascent.

Be sure to stop in at the park interpretive center, which has exhibits and sells maps and books. Redwood Grove Nature Trail begins near the center.

Directions to trailhead: Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is located just south of Felton on Highway 9. You can pick up River Trail near the park entrance at Highway 9, or from the picnic area.

The hike: River Trail meanders down river along the east bank of the San Lorenzo. You may hear the whistle of the Roaring Camp & Big Trees Railroad, a popular tourist attraction located adjacent to the park. The steam-powered train takes passengers through the Santa Cruz Mountains on a narrow gauge track.

About 0.25 mile after River Trail passes beneath a railroad trestle, you’ll intersect Eagle Creek Trail and begin ascending out of the redwood forest along Eagle Creek. Madrone and manzanita predominate on the exposed sunny slopes.

Bear right on Pine Trail (the pines you’ll see en route are ponderosa pine) and climb steeply up to the observation deck. Enjoy the view
of the Monterey and Santa Cruz coastline, the redwood forests, and that tumbled-up range of mountains called Santa Cruz.

On the return trip, take Ridge Trail on a steep descent to River Trail. Both River Trail and its nearly parallel path—Pipeline Road—lead back to Redwood Grove and the picnic area.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at