Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
One particularly early morning, Erik had a doctors appointment. So we all piled in the car and went with him. The kids and I hung out in the car while daddy did his appointment. Afterward we wanted to shake off those doctor vibes, and the best way to do that? Go adventuring, of course!
We decided to go to Henry Cowell State Park. None of us had been to Henry Cowell before, even with me having grown up in the area. It’s always surprising how many places we haven’t been yet, I feel like we are pretty well traveled but California is so vast. Anyway, we decided to check it out. We knew there was a river near by so we packed a lunch, swim clothes and all the hiking necessities.
We got to the park on a Monday at 10 am during the summer. The main parking lot had cars in it but it wasn’t even half full as this point. We grabbed our hiking stuff and decided to check out the Redwood Grove Loop Trail. We picked up a nature guide by the visitor center, admired the giant slice of a tree that was around before the birth of Christ and started walking. The trail is wide and flat, perfect for strollers or wheelchairs and about .8 miles with no rise or fall in elevation. My kids loved this trail. They excitedly found each number indicating a selection to read from the self guided tail guide. We learned about the Sequoia Sempervirens tree and how is compares with a Douglas Fir, we learned about how to identify these trees based on their needles and pinecones and we learned about the people who first discovered these forests. The trail is more of a compacted dirt path lined with wood fences, it meanders through the forest and allows you to walk around the biggest tree in that forest, ‘The Giant’, and through burned out trees and you can even crawl into a hollowed out tree ‘The Fremont Tree’.
As we were walking people passed us, which is normal when you have a toddler who insists on hiking ‘all by myself’. We have told the boys that the quieter they are the more nature they will see, the more they look the more they will find. This proved to be true on our hike. My middle boy, wild and active and usually loud, was quiet. He stopped all of a sudden in the trail, pointed and whispered ‘A deer!’, he was right. On the other side of the fence from us, in a little meadow was a young buck grazing away. We stopped to watch him, walked around a curve in the trail to get a better angle and watched some more. People stopped to ask us what we saw, my boy was proud to point out the deer that he spotted. Sure we have seen deer before, I grew up being allowed to feed the deer. But seeing one in real life will never get old, at least I hope not. What a gift to see something that is usually pretty elusive. This buck couldn’t have cared less about us, he looked up, saw us and went back to grazing. We moved down the trail but that moment is engrained in my middle boys heart, I’m sure. Being watchful and quiet always pays off.
We got to about the middle of the trail, by the Fremont tree and the fence line breaks. We took the trail that curves to the right to Pipeline Road and we crossed that to the River Trail. Pipeline Road is mostly paved and could easily handle a stroller or wheelchair…This Road starts at the parking lot if you want to skip the Redwood loop all together. The River Trail follows the San Lorenzo River and is dusty, sandy, rocky and a little dicey in places. There is quite a steep drop off on the river side and the trail is one person wide. There are spots intermittently to get down to the river, but watch out for poison oak, it’s everywhere! We found a cool bridge to walk over, it was shaky and missing guide ropes but it was adventurous. The view of the river from there was amazing. The bridge takes you on the Ox fire road which leads to The Garden of Eden, where we were planning on going to swim but a guide said it wasn’t all that great and suggested the river that was right behind the visitor center. I think the garden of eden would be better for bigger kids. There is a closer separate entrance and parking area for it, so you don’t have to hike the three miles (one way) trail.
Anyway, we walked back across the bridge and down the river trail some more, holding the toddler’s hand tightly, his over confidence can be a recipe for disaster. We found a spot to get down to the river with relative ease, steep steps and under a fallen tree and we made it to a nice rocky beach. The river was nice a shallow there and the boys all walked out in it to explore the water, we love these shoes for the kids so they can be in and out of the water with ease. We found three abandoned inner tubes and saved them from being trash. Three boys, three tubes, it was serendipitous. We threw rocks in the river and splashed around for a bit before getting hungry. We hadn’t brought out lunch stuff with us, not knowing what the trail held or where we could play or eat.
So we headed back to our car for to grab our lunch stuff and we finished the nature trail. We grabbed our picnic lunch and river splashing supplies and headed down the Pipeline Road from the parking lot. We walked behind the visitor center and found a spot to get down to the river that wasn’t already occupied. We crossed the river to get to a great beach, we found a spot in the river that wasn’t super deep, but we did all get a little wet, but when you were planning on being in the water it’s not a big deal. We set up our picnic mat and got to relaxing. We ate our typical adventuring lunch, the boys call it ‘snackies’ it’s just lunch meat, sliced cheese, avocado and chips and snacks. Easy but fun. Then the boys got in the river! The river is deep in parts so we had to keep a close watch on our littlest who can’t swim on his own yet. Even if you put your kids in a personal flotation device I would keep a hand on them, the river doesn’t flow super swiftly but just enough to where they could get carried away or stuck under some over growth. Remember safety first!
We spent a few hours here, the boys ‘riding rapids’ in their tubes and the little one throwing rocks and Mommy and Daddy making sure everyone stayed alive and had a good time…just living that parent life. The sun was shining, we were in the shade, the birds were singing, the river was babbling and our children were laughing and playing. It was an absolutely lovely day.
The day really was great, as long as we forget my bad attitude when we found the free tubes…oh great, they are free, but now we have to lug them back down the trail to our car and then back again with our lunch stuff. The whole time the kids were tossing them around and dropping them and making our walk take longer and I was just annoyed. Also, I have a really hard time with flying by the seat of my pants. I love a plan. We will hike, eat and then play in the water. But we had to go back to get our lunch and weren’t sure what the river was like or the hike, so I was feeling a bit out of my comfort zone. I’m a work in progress. Just wanted to keep it real with you guys. Sometimes the kids have attitudes and sometimes I do. But like the big girl I am, I changed my attitude and thoroughly enjoyed the day, and so did the rest of my family!
This place has something for everyone. Flat easy family friendly trails, a river, more extensive trails, a self guided nature guide, plus it’s right next door to roaring camp. Oh, did I not mention that? Roaring camp is a railroad that has two trains you can ride, one on a tour of the redwood forest and another that goes to the beach boardwalk in Santa Cruz. You can hear the trains from the nature trail, so be prepared, your kids will want to watch the trains and then beg to go them. We scheduled a train ride for another day so our kids knew they would get to ride, just not today. Plus they were so content to just be river dwellers for the rest of their lives that they didn’t mention the train.
Wear versatile shoes for walking and water play
Bring a water-resistant mat to sit on by the river…or better yet just sit in the river
Pack a picnic lunch, there are plenty of places to sit and eat
Bring a good attitude…no amount of planning can over come the grumps!
Let us know if you check this place out in the comments below. Tell us what you thought, or feel free to ask any questions. We are here help you, get up, get out and go adventuring!