Just the facts: 9-10 miles, 2000 feet climbing, 4 hours.
I went back to Fall Creek to scout out the new unmarked trail I found last week. Of course, after doing this hike I realize it is on the excellent San Lorenzo Valley trail map put out by Redwood hikes — just not marked. As usual, I began at the San Lorenzo Elementary School parking lot off Highway 9 just east of Felton. To find the trailhead to the High School Trail locate the football stadium and head to the back of the bleachers. You will see a road that goes between the childcare center and enviromental site. Take this road and you will soon see a wood bridge on the left. Cross here and you are now entering the Fall Creek part of Henry Cowell State Park.
There are no dogs or bikes allowed here but everyone seems to ignore the dog rule. High School Trail is a beautiful one mile, relatively flat, trail through the redwoods. Today, I head up the Ridge Trail for 1.1 miles and connect with the short S-Cape Trail. The S-Cape Trail drops down to the Fall Creek Trail. Fall Creek Trail is where 80% of the hikers walk. It is a pretty walk but if you want to avoid the crowds just hike the surrounding trails. Take a right on the Fall Creek Trail and you will have an easy stroll along the creek.
After 1/2 mile begin looking for signs of the unmarked trail. Of course, there are many trails going down to the creek so it is best to keep watch for the beam bridge that crosses the creek — not downed trees but a foot wide beam. The trail is about a 100 yards before you get to the Barrel Mill Site. So if you reach the mill site turn about and back track to the unmarked trail.
I decide to give the wooden beam a try today and easily cross it. It is solid and only about 8 feet above the creek — not as high as it seemed coming down the hill last time! The trail is well-built and I wonder if it will be open to general use someday. I find it easier to go up, avoiding the slippery, steep section coming down near the top. There is one spot where you need to climb under a huge downed tree, that horses cannot pass, so it appears to be a hikers-only trail.
The trail has switchbacks and in one area there are trees that have been cleared using an axe rather than a saw, another sign that this is not a park authorized trail. Either that, or volunteers did not like chainsaws. It takes me about 20 minutes to reach the Lost Empire Trail so the trail is under a mile. The trail is well used so many folks have discovered the short-cut.
Turning left on the Lost Empire Trail it is only about a minute walk to Lost Camp. From Lost Camp I continue on the Lost Empire Trail, taking about 30 minutes to reach the summit and the Big Ben tree and, thus, the Big Ben Trail. Contining down I cross Fall Creek and meet up with the Fall Creek Trail in another 30 minutes. From this trail intersection Barrel Mill Site is another .6 miles so I estimate that the unmarked trail cuts about 2.5 miles off of the usual loop. In another 10 minutes I pass the mill site and continue walking on Fall Creek Trail toward Fall Creek Drive. DO NOT take the Bennett Trail which go right toward the parking lot on Empire Grade Road. Around 1/4 mile before Fall Creek Drive the High School Trail joins back up on the left. Fall Creek Drive is another entrance to the park but there is no street parking.
The High School Trail is one mile back to the high school. The elementary and middle school sits just above the high school.