Fall Creek Unit of Henry Cowell State Park is a jewel of a park. Hike description: Start at San Lorenzo Valley High School parking lot (weekends only). 10-11 miles, 2000 feet climbing.
Moderate hike for people in shape. Get trail map at Henry Cowell State Park main entrance one mile west on Highway 9 on the other side of Felton. This is a beautiful hike among redwood trees and deep canyon streams. Bathrooms at High School swimming pool when open.
I began this hike from the San Lorenzo Valley High School parking lot. Only park here on weekends or holidays. You can pick up the high school trail at the northeast side of the running track next to the childcare center. Follow the road back into the woods and take the trail quickly down into the gully over the wood bridge and up and over. If you take the well beaten path to the dam you have gone too far.
The High School Trail is a beautiful, flat trail that meanders through the redwoods for a mile and links up with the Fall Creek Drive Trail. Before it ends, take the trail up an unmarked trail which will soon meet up with the S-Cape Trail. If you go straight you will climb up to the Truck Trail. If you take this route it will add some more elevation but minimal distance. You will run into fewer people this way because the trail begins climbing. This trail is also recommended after a heavy rain because Fall Creek lives up to its name — trees fall everywhere!
Today I chose to take the North Trail along the creek to the Barrel Mill Site and found myself climbing over four trees and balancing over logs for one creek crossing because the removable bridge was out (it is made to be removed in bad weather). The park has two cool historic sites: barrel making and lime kilms. This hike passes them both. I didn’t stop for lunch at the barrel making site because it was threatening rain but it is a good site if not already taken by a hiking group on a nice day. Farther down the trail catches up to the Big Ben Trail and here you have to find your way over the creek — easy in Summer but you can be in for a wet crossing in winter. I had to wait several minutes for a traffic jam of six horses who happened to meet up at the creek crossing going in opposite directions.
When I finally got ready to cross I had to locate a couple of large branches to throw over to make a temporary bridge. You need good balancing skills for this! Except in Summer when the creek is low, you can expect to get feet wet here. After crossing the trail slowly climbs with switchbacks to a large tree which is a gorgeous douglas fir, but not Big Ben. Finally, after this false hope, you climb some more and reach a resting spot and the big redwood tree.
From here it is all downhill on the Lost Empire Trail past the Lost Camp to the Lime Kilm Site. This site is great for kids and you can plan another easy 1 hour round-trip hike from the main parking lot (see map). I highly recommend it but it is still a climb for those who may not be in the best of shape.
After exploring the area I headed back down the South Trail to the Fall Creek Trail. This whole area will be fairly crowded (compared to the north side) because of its close proximity to the main parking lot. After getting close to the end of Fall Creek Drive Trail you will meet up again with High School Trail on the left. One mile to go and I ended up back at the stadium for the high school.
I was pretty amazed to see all the activity at the high school for a wintry weekend. There was a coed softball game going on, scuba-diving school in the pool, a quarterback practicing his throwing with his coach, the high school boys baseball team taking to the field, and lacrosse practice. Go Wildcats! I am getting over an injury so it took me five hours to complete this hike. Normally the hike is completed in 3.5-4 hours.