Fall Creek Unit: Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

There's another post dedicated to my love of Fall Creek Unit in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. I can wax poetic about the verdant ferns, the towering second-growth coastal redwoods, and the rushing creeks forever. I love taking people to Fall Creek and manage to get out there at least several times a year, even though I don't live in Santa Cruz anymore. 

On our most recent trip to Fall Creek, it had been raining for several days previous. California has seen record rain this year and Fall Creek has always been a place where there's been running water, even in drought years. We expected clouds, the perfect weather for a hike. Fall Creek did not disappoint: the creek roared through the forest at levels higher than I've ever seen before. 

We pulled into the dirt parking lot. Fall Creek is a local secret. Shhh...it is completely free to hike here, despite it's status as a state park. All trails in Fall Creek start from this parking lot. To get to the other trails you need to hike down Fall Creek trail, a steep but short jaunt to the forest floor.  If this is your first time hiking here, then I would recommend taking the Lime Kiln Trail which follows Fall Creek to the historic lime kilns. If you've been here before or you're not interested in exploring awesome abandoned buildings, then take the Ridge Trail. Short but a good workout, the Ridge Trail zigzags up a hill to a narrow, sandy ridge. One of the wonderful things about hiking in the Santa Cruz Mountains is how you can change plant communities from redwood forest to sandy manzanita scrub. 

A washed out bridge and fast moving stream blocked the trail. 

A washed out bridge and fast moving stream blocked the trail. 

Hiking up the Ridge Trail, we stepped over numerous logs and fallen tree branches; it had been a rough winter in Fall Creek. Thankfully, the trail system here is well-maintained and trails clear quickly. Just remember to stay on the trail because the hillsides are positively teeming with poison oak. 

Coming down the Ridge Trail on the other side of the hill, you can turn right to go up to the barrel making site, an area with rusted barrel making tools from when Fall Creek was a lime kiln production area. However, as can be seen in the photos above, the bridge was completely washed out and the stream running fast. You can ford the creek if you're adventurous but be careful. 

If you're not feeling adventurous, we weren't, retrace your steps back to the junction and turn left. You can cross the stream later and head back to the main trailhead. The bridge here had been pushed downstream but was tethered and stable. A couple of guys were trying to get one of their older and terrified dogs across the bridge; they eventually had to carry the poor thing across. As soon as we started the crossing, the rain came pouring down. 

Keep hiking along this trail and you should come to another bridge crossing. This bridge regularly becomes untethered and this day was no exception. When we arrived to find the bridge washed out, it started to hail. To give you an idea of how crazy the weather was, the sun had been shining not five minutes before. Be prepared for anything when you're in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The creek grows to about forty feet across here and there's no other way to go. You have to turn around go back up the Ridge Trail. 

If you're looking for a beautiful hiking area with a year round creek in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Fall Creek is a perfect choice. It's easy to get to, free, and a less-crowded alternative to neighboring Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. There's no services here: no water, camping, or a restroom. Just nature.