Every time I have out-of-town visitors, they (understandably) want to see the redwoods. When I was living in San Francisco, I always followed the masses and took them to Muir Woods in Marin County. As anyone who has been there probably knows, Muir Woods is almost always packed to the brim with tourists. I find it somewhat difficult to reflect on the beauty of the redwood forest when there are multiple children crying in the vicinity!
When I moved to the Peninsula, I decided to switch it up. No need to drive two hours to Muir Woods when there are so many beautiful redwood parks right here in the Santa Cruz Mountains, right? So when two of my nature-loving cousins came to visit recently from Chicago and Montana, I decided to check out Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park for our redwood adventure.
I’d heard through the grapevine that this park can also get pretty packed, especially on the weekends and in the summer. But on a Thursday in late spring, it was shockingly, and perfectly, quiet. After a scenic drive down Highway 17 and through old-timey Felton, we arrived at the park and immediately found a parking spot right near the visitor center. The parking lot only had about 10 or 15 other cars—basically the polar opposite parking experience from those I’ve had at Muir Woods.
One aspect that is similar to Muir Woods is Henry Cowell’s beautiful main loop, the Redwood Grove Trail, a flat, less than 1-mile circuit around some of the biggest old-growth redwoods in the region. A much more enjoyable experience without the crowds! And a perfect walk for visitors that aren’t up to hiking.
Once my cousins and I completed the main loop, we decided to hike up to a scenic viewpoint off Ridge Fire Road. We started on the Pipeline Road/River Trail to Eagle Creek Trail. From there you take a right on the Pine Trail, after about a mile of sandy trails you reach an overlook with scenic views of the ocean, sand hills and the redwood forest below. Retrace your steps or take the Ridge Fire Road, then take a right on Pipeline Road all the way back to the Visitor Center (about 5-6 miles round trip).
After our hike, we headed to Santa Cruz, which is only about a 10-minute drive from the park. A hike in the redwoods followed by the beach and some good fish tacos = the perfect day!