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.
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.
Hike description: Around 7-8 miles, 1,800 feet cumulative elevation gain. 3 hours. No water or restrooms at road but can detour a short distance by observation deck to campground if needed. Map of Henry Cowell State Park Hike from Graham Hill Road
Trails hiked today: Park at Graham Hill Road Entrance, 1 mile west of campground entrance. Powder Mill Trail to Powder Mill Fire Road Left on Pine Trail and keep left up to Observation Deck continue up Pine Trail to left on Eagle Creek Trail to left on River Trail to end then right on Rincon Road to Big Rock Hole Trail. Remain on Big Rock Hole Trail until it ends at the River. Retrace your tracks back up to Rincon Fire Road and take this road to the right crossing the Big Rock Hole Trail twice. At Ridge Fire Road take a right to Pipe Line Road. Take a right on Pipe Line Road and end back at the parking lot.
This hike is away from the main Visitor Center Entrance. Parking is free and along Graham Hill Road. This hike is best in “off season” when you can beat the summer heat and the crowded campground. Trails are muddy in winter and well worn and rutted by heavy use by horses and hikers. Some of the steps were more like retaining walls. The hike travels through redwood canyons as well as sandy pine-forested ridges.
The Big Rock Hole Trail is straight down to the river for .75 of a mile. I never could find the “Big Rock Hole” but it may have been under high water. I scouted down a couple of side trails looking for it but did not have time to really look for it. Would not recommend crossing the San Lorenzo River in winter unless you are an experienced backpacker with river crossing knowledge. The hike down to the river is well worth the view.
This hike touches the river twice but does not cross it. All trails over Eagle Creek have sturdy bridges but there are none over the river.
This is not a trail for a lot of solitude. Luckily I was down at the river for 15-20 minutes alone so I could enjoy it. I am sure in summer it is even more crowded than this sunny winter Sunday. Good signage but I would recommend printing out the map above or purchasing a map at the visitor center kiosk or campground. There are also many variations of the hike you can check out on the map. The Pipe Line Trail is paved and is the main trail for leisurely walking dogs. I tried to stay off it but it was a pleasant enough road with good views. The distance and elevation are estimates. I am getting a GPS soon!