Henry Cowell: Day Hike (6 miles)

My goal is to hike once every week. On Sunday, June 14th, we visited Henry Cowell State Park, which is more than 4,650 acres of forested and open land in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

It can be a 15-minute drive if we started hiking from the entrance closest to us, but we started from the Park Office and Entrance Station, which makes it a 20-minute drive.

HISTORY

“Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park inspires calm reflection among ancient giant redwoods and sunny sandhill ridges. The park’s historical significance and its spectacular scenery draw travelers from around the world.

Visitors can enjoy hiking, horseback riding, picnicking, swimming, camping, and fishing on more than 4,650 acres of forested and open land in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The park’s groves of old- and second-growth redwoods flank the San Lorenzo River. In the serene Fall Creek Unit, a few miles north of the main park, hikers experience a verdant, fern-lined river canyon and encounter the remnants of a successful lime-processing industry.”

Native People
“The Sayante tribe, a subgroup of the Ohlone culture, lived in this area before Spanish rule. They found plentiful shelter, water, and food both on the land and in the river. The San Lorenzo River was a major source of fish for the Sayante people, allowing them to exchange steelhead and salmon with neighboring tribes for acorns, obsidian, and other resources.”

Geology
“Located in the rugged Santa Cruz Mountains, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park provides a fascinating geologic view into the landscape. The San Lorenzo River flows through the park, roughly following the path of the Ben Lomond Fault. Stream erosion and fault movement are the primary forces that have helped shape this land. The northern part of the park is composed of soft sandstone and mudstone, with fossil evidence that it was once a shallow inland sea, including sand dollars and shark teeth. The southern portion of the park consists of harder granite and schist formed from magma. These geologic factors determine the vast diversity of flora and fauna that inhabit the park. Three of the park’s four main ecosystems — redwood, riparian (streamside), and sandhill chaparral — were shaped as a result of these processes. The human-made grassland is the park’s fourth main ecosystem.”

All of this information can be found on the its website and brochure here.  

PREP

The night before our hike, I downloaded the map to my phone, and planned it on my desk top. I want to go one of the longer hikes (6 miles), and luckily the website has a hiking trails page, which can be found here.

Always look to see if the park offers suggested trails to take. It can make your life so much easier to plan.

The “Cowell Highlights Loop” seemed like more down my alley since it is 5.9 miles. We discussed earlier to take it a bit easier and not stay out as long. Therefore 5.9 miles it is and on our way back we can check out the Cathedral Redwoods and Cable Car beach.

MAP

All of this information can be found here.
Hikes and Trails PDF Please download since they are not currently providing paper maps.

HIKING SUMMARY

Distance:
6~ miles
420 Elevation

Time:
2-3 Hours

Drink:
1.5+ Liters Total
1.0 Reservoir/Camelback
2x 20oz water bottle

Food:
Quest Protein Bar
Honey Stinger Chews

Pack:
Camera
Lens cloth
Chapstick
Tissue Pack
Nuun Endurance

Clothes
Running Shoes
Socks
Hiking Skort
Long Sleeve
Tank Top
Hat
Mask

Weather:
60’s

Parking:
Small Parking Lot
Cars cannot park on side of road but can park before entering the park, which will add an extra 2-mile roundtrip.

Water for Hiking Mileage Ratio

5 miles = 1 liter minimal
2 hours = 1 liter minimal

Goal Hike: 6 Miles, 420ft elevation, 2-3 hours
1.5+ Liters of Water

Hot Hikes: Water to Hiking Mileage Ratio:
5 miles = 1 Liter of Regular Water;
1 Liter of Water with Electrolytes,
preferably Nuun Endurance maybe with Caffeine for a mid-hike energy boost.

THE HIKE

The 6-mile hike is stated on the hiking trail webpage. It seems easier reading, but it actually got confusing and took the wrong route, and our loop was reversed. I’ll talk about the hike if you are going counter-clockwise, but I’d recommend doing the clockwise trail as stated on the website.

Fun fact: Google Maps does not have all the trails listed, so it is crucial to have a copy of the map because it is more accurate than what you will find on google maps.

We loved seeing all the eco-systems and seeing how it changes and appreciated all the uphill. It didn’t feel strenuous, which was lovely. We loved hiking near the river. There is something special about it. I totally wished we could take a dip in it another time.

From Website but Modified for the Cowell Highlights Loops
Trailhead: visitor center; 5.9 miles, elevation change 420 feet. 
“Like Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, this hike has everything: redwoods, views, and water. From the visitor center, head up through the redwoods along Pipeline Road to the Eagle Creek Trail. Near the campground, turn right on the Pine Trail. In less than a mile you’ll reach the Observation Deck at 805 feet, the highest point in the park. From there, head down the Ridge Fire Road to great views of downtown Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay from the Overlook Bench on Pipeline Road. As you loop back, you can swing by Cathedral Redwoods (on the Rincon Fire Trail*) and Cable Car Beach (on the River Trail). On a warm day, that’s a good place to finish with an afternoon swim. “

My Recommendation

  • The State Parks Pass is your best friend.
    • Although you can pay for parking at 8am, we arrived ay 7:30am and never had to think twice about parking.
  • Arrive early on the weekend or go during the weekdays
    • When we had left, it was a madhouse
  • .Have a digital or print map with you, and make sure you start off the right spot.
    • It can get confusing
    • I was there a few days ago, and we took the wrong trail towards the other side


TRAILS

We started going the right direction, and parking near the new sign made it a 1000x easier to navigate.

The last time we came, we started near the store, and it threw off our sense of direction since it made us feel as we were walking behind people’s cabins.

We walked on Pipeline Road. Looking ahead, we saw the river and river trail. You can take either path, and it will all lead to the same destination. If you are confused, remember the river should be on your right.

If the river is on your left-hand side, and if you are on the river trail: you are going the opposite direction. Turn around and start from the main sign to better orient yourself.

Initially, we took Pipeline road because we were afraid we would not cross over trails.

However, there are multiple times the trails cross over. Pipeline road is for the multi-use trail, but the river trail is for hikers and horses only.

It was beautiful walking through the redwoods.

At one point, we reached a junction that seemed confusing.

We went the wrong way. The branch was hiding what was the trail to the right, thus meaning we are going backward. We didn’t see information on the post that states “to campground.” So go straight and up. But we went to the right, which is how I will write about it.


It was a steep climb uphill.

We realized we were on the Rincon Fire Road and we took the wrong route.

We continued hiking to hit the Cathedral Redwoods because we did want to see it.

It was beautiful to see the fairy ring. We stopped to soak it all in and took pictures.

We decided to take the Black Rock Hole trail back since it is side-by-side to the Rincon Fire Road. That was a mistake because no one took the trail since it is narrow, and Stephen went through many spider webs. There was poison oak all near the trail. So yes, don’t take the Black Rock Hole Trail, take the Rincon Fire road.

We ended up with the Black Rock Hole, Rincon Fire Road, and Ridge Fire Road Junction. We took a right.

Up and up we go.

We ended up passing through one of the ecosystems, the Sandhills & Sand Chaparral. It was a bit more challenging, but it’s sand we trekking through, and it was exposed. So the sun was on our backs, and we were sweating.

And then we saw the observation deck, which was much bigger than expected. It wasn’t anything we expected because it was a real deck. It was a large size, and you have a 360 view of everything surrounding it because it is the highest point of the park. Beautiful!


Afterward, we went down.

We were supposed to take a left turn for the Pine Trail.

We took a right because I wanted to explore the campgrounds. I do not recommend that to anyone who is doing a day hike. We realized we should not have done that, and we managed to find our way out of the campgrounds. The restrooms were closed since the campground was closed, and there wasn’t a restroom incentive.

We found the Pine Trail and Eagle Creek Junction and continued onto Eagle Creek and realized this was the trail we had missed.

It was a beautiful hike back, and we loved hearing the river along the way.

We started seeing more people, which meant we are getting closer to the park entrance.
Finally, we reached the junction we had missed and noticed how we made a mistake. We didn’t see “to campgrounds,” and we thought “Eagle Trail Creek” with the arrow meant to the right when you stand in front of it.

At this point, we became more comfortable and took the river trail back instead of Pipeline road. There were a lot more people out and about because it is after 10 am.

We arrived at the parking lot, and it seemed a bit quiet. The restroom line started to get longer too. When we left and passed the entrance station, we saw the long line, and we were so thankful to arrive early and have the California State Parks pass. Definitely, a successful hike despite we took a few wrong turns. Glad I can write about it so you don’t get lost yourself!

REMINDER: LEAVE NO TRACE BEHIND

Lastly, please remember to leave LEAVE NO TRACE BEHIND and leave it better than you found it. Pack your trash. You brought it in, and you can take it out and properly dispose of it.

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