Fall Creek Revisited

I spent another great day hiking The High School Trail in Fall Creek. Please read my earlier blogs for the location of the park and trailhead. On weekends, I continue to prefer starting my hike from San Lorenzo High School rather than the dusty, small parking lot off of Empire Grade Road. Yesterday I hiked the mile long High School Trail to the S-scape Trail, continuing up to the Truck Trail, which is actually a dirt road. There are now two trails one can take down to the South Fork Fall Creek Trail. Both come in from the left and have no signs. The first trail is a new one – I am not sure it was built by the park staff but it is easy to follow, if you can follow trail markers. The trail is on the left about 1/2 miles down Truck Trail. It is currently marked with two 7 foot tall poles stuck in the ground. This trail is less than a mile, and drops you down just before the Barrel Mill Site. If you continue climbing up the Truck Trail road for another 1/2 mile you will see The Big Ben Trail on the left, currently marked with bright pink surveyor tape wrapped around a redwood tree. The sign has been missing for about a year now. Yesterday I chose this trail down. It is a little longer and steeper than the first trail. I took a left at the intersection at Fall Creek and headed back down the South Fork. After passing the Barrel Mill Site you will see the unmarked trail on the left that was previously described.

Continue down the South Fork, crossing foot bridges and other trails. Take the trail toward Fall Creek Drive. If you just take all the trails to the left, you will find your way back to the High School Trail. If you find yourself at Fall Creek Drive, no worries, just backtrack 1/4 mile and look for the sign to the high school on the right. Take the mile long trail back to the school. Total hike took me 3 hours so it is around 7 miles with 600 feet of climbing.

Update on High School Trail at Fall Creek

Just a quick update on finding the High School Trail for Fall Creek in Felton.  The trail does start behind the San Lorenzo High School stadium; however, there is construction going on at the elementary school next door so you have to walk around it all by the swimming pool.  Also, many of the locals have walked their dogs on this trail for years but the state has now posted a “no dog” sign.  It doesn’t seem to stop people, though.   This is still a gorgeous, mostly level trail surrounded by redwood trees.  It is a much better entrance into Fall Creek on the weekends.  There is plenty of parking at the high school.

Fall Creek — Barrel Mill Site to Lost Camp

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.

Fall Creek — Unmarked Trail from Lost Camp

It was Friday so I knew I couldn’t park at the San Lorenzo High School so I began this hike from the main dirt parking lot off of Empire Grade Road about two miles above Felton.  I headed up to the Lime Kilns and then was planning on doing the loop up to Big Ben and back down Fall Creek.  However, once I got to Lost Camp I realized I needed to get back so turned around to back track.

About 100 yards from Lost Camp I spotted a trail headed down from the left of the trail.  I decided I had enough time to go exploring a little.  The trail was obviously built by someone.  Although it was steep by today’s trail standards it was a good trail with shovel marks that showed someone put a lot of work into it.  The trail traversed below the Lost Empire Trail and then turned back in one long switchback, heading down toward Fall Creek.  It was a good trail but was covered with fall leaves so had to pay attention.  Any false trails were covered up to keep folks on track.  Whoever made this trail wanted to make sure people didn’t get lost!  The trail went down steeply and ended at a large beam bridge over Fall Creek that met up with the Fall Creek Trail.  It didn’t look particularly sturdy to me, and was narrow so I elected to rock hop over the creek — easy to do in August but much harder in winter.

I was now on Fall Creek Trail with the barrel mill site down the trail to the left.   This trail is great and probably knocks about a mile off of the regular loop trail.   Next time I will pay more attention to distance.  I hiked back up Fall Creek to the Lime Kiln Trail and out to the parking lot.  About 3 hours and 1,500 of climbing.  Maybe 7 miles or more.

Fall Creek High School Trail to Truck Trail

High School Trail Loop: 9 miles, 1300 feet of climbing, moderately slow pace, 4 hours.

I took my usual hike starting from the San Lorenzo Elementary School parking lot. Traversing the east side of the track field the hike starts behind the field on the road between the childcare center and the environmental center. Today I took the Ridge Trail up to the Truck Trail. Instead of cutting down to the Fall Creek Trail I continued on the Truck Trail for a while. To my surprise it was a level, pleasant walk to a grove of mid-size redwoods named for a donor, Goldie. From here the trail soon started downhill so I turned around and retraced my steps to the junction down to Fall Creek. I went left at the creek, past the Barrel Mill Site and connected up with the North Trail. Fall Creek Park is basically divided up into the South fork and North fork sections of the creek. I took the level North Fork back to Fall Creek Drive and cut back to High School Trail.

Fall Creek Park in Felton/Truck Trail/South Ridge

Hike description:  8-9 miles, 1500 feet climbing.  3.75 hours.

This hike starts from Felton’s San Lorenzo High School parking lot.  Fall Creek Park is park of Henry Cowell State Park.  The High School trail starts behind the left corner of the bleacher seats of the football field.  The road is not marked and passes the childcare center. This map that is posted on the Redwood Hikes website is great for tracing this hike.   Take the High School Trail and head up Ridge Trail to Truck Trail.  After hiking on the Truck Trail .75 miles I took a side trail on the right through an unmarked metal gate.  This was a nice hike for about a half mile and then the road started going down hill sharply so I returned to Truck Trail.  I explored off-trail to the left but the trail ended and it was surrounded by posion oak.  Back on Truck Trail to the Big Ben Trail.  The Truck Trail climbs and then Big Ben Trail heads back down to Fall Creek.  Instead of going up to Big Ben I headed back down Fall Creek Trail past the Barrel Mill Site to The South Ridge Trail.  I went past the Lime Kilms and connected back with the High School Trail.  Hike would have been 40 minutes shorter without the side trips.

South Felton to Wilder Ranch State Park Woodcutter Trail

Just the facts:  8 miles, 1500-2000 elevation gain.  Paved one lane roads, dirt roads, dirt trails.  4 hours.

I started from my home in South Felton (near Jackson Ave and San Lorenzo Ave) walked up to Scenic Drive. This area is private but lots of folks walk around the one-lane paved roads that meander through the redwoods.  Start down Jackson Avenue until it ends and then turn right on Manzanita Avenue (no sign here).  Walk a couple of blocks and turn left on McKinley Way and head down the steep road to Gold Ave.  Walk the U of Gold Ave to Brookside Way and go left until it ends at Lakeview Dr.  Turn left and walk about a half mile to Scenic Drive.  Go left up Scenic Drive, a quiet paved road that climbs around a mile.  Near the top there is a dirt road with a gate after 100 feet.   At the gate a sign tells you that you are entering the upper campus of University of Santa Cruz. This road, named Marshall Trail is not marked from this side but there is a metal gate with a pedestrian walk-through.  Walk along Marshall Road until you come to an open meadow at the top and connect to Chinquapin Fire Road.

If you take a left here you will end up in Santa Cruz’s Pogonip Park to Fuel Break Road.   In 1999 Santa Cruz, the State and the University joined together to complete a trail from Henry Cowell State park to the Pacific Ocean. I want to hike this trail but not in winter — it crosses the San Lorenzo River in Henry Cowell State Park with no bridge.  For this hike you take a right on Chiquapin Fire Road and cross Empire Grade Road and  enter Wilder Ranch State Park. Stay on Chinquapin Trail about a half mile until Woodcutter Trail. Take Woodercutter to right and it is a pretty trail that stays near the ridge and ends 1.9 miles at Smith Grade.  Back track to your car and feel free to choose different paved roads back (like Willow instead of Lakeview).