"All good things are wild and free." --Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Redwood Grove at Henry Cowell State Park

Six people fit inside the base of the gigantic coast redwood tree, and with a ranger's flashlight we peered into the deep, high center of the trunk where a fire had hollowed out the inside and blackened the walls. You could fit a queen-sized bed and a couple of night tables in here. Or an explorer and his group of men. Or better, a large bear and her cubs.

"Let's pretend we're bears," I whispered to my four-year-old as the other day-trippers trickled out and back into the forest.

"You're the momma, and I'm the baby," she said, growling and laughing.

We were in the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz County this Labor Day, during a long weekend in the mountains. My husband and I wanted to go on a walk in the shade with the kids, and we wanted to use the double stroller since it was muggy and hot.

The Redwood Grove Loop Hike, a 0.8 mile trail in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, was exactly what we wanted for a short amble under towering redwoods. There are quite a few trees that you can actually go into, or through, hollowed and carved as they are from fires that once blazed through here. One of the tallest trees is more than 270 feet high (the Statue of Liberty is 305 feet tall). You'll see fairy rings of young trees growing around parent trees--my kid was thrilled to see anything associated with the word "fairy."

At the start is an awesome Visitor Center, free and fun for kids with stamp pads of animal prints, pelts to touch, taxidermy on display, a perpetually running movie, and a 3-D topographical map of the area. Borrow one of their brochures about things to see on the Redwood Grove Loop Hike before starting your walk. It points out the Doug firs, tan oaks, and bays enriching the forest; the big burls protruding from the redwood trunks; the sorrel carpeting the forest floor; an albino redwood and much more.

Right next door is Roaring Camp Railroads, an awesome steam train that traverses redwood forest and chugs down to Santa Cruz's beach boardwalk. Last time we were at Henry Cowell, we rode the train too (it's super pricey but was worth the thrill for the kid and myself, both train aficionados). The sound of the train's whistle reverberates through the redwood forest.

Felton is about an hour and a half south of San Francisco. I recommend taking 280 down to CA-85 South to Highway 9, which is a little slower than CA-17 but more scenic. (We also were renting a cabin in Ben Lomond, which is right on 9) By taking 9 you can easily drive to outdoorsy places like the headquarters at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Loch Lomond Recreation Area, and Castle Rock State Park.

What Else? Where to Eat in Felton
A lady inside the visitor center recommended the Cowboy Bar and Grill in Felton when I asked about places to eat outside. We ended up eating inside, and nobody gave a flying fig that we took forever to eat and bottle feed our babies. The waitress brought coloring pages, crayons, and plastic cowboy and Indian figurines for our big kid. We totally chowed down on a great big salad with pulled pork, a bowl of pozole soup, slabs of honey-drenched cornbread, iced tea, and pint-sized margaritas. This place, I recommend.

What Else? Where to Stay Nearby
If you know of a good place to stay that won't break the bank, tell me. We booked two nights at Jaye's Timberlane in Ben Lomond, right up Highway 9, because it had little cottages, but it was a dump for over $100 a night. I leaned on a wall and it sounded like it was about to crack. If you fiddled with the shower head the whole thing'd pop off and laser-jet you in the head with water. The fridge wasn't cold. Our kid sat on the Adirondack outside and a rung popped off. But still, our kid loved the place, loved the fact that there was a pool, and didn't want to leave, ever.

Redwood Grove Nature Trail
Two men. Two babies.  
Map to Henry Cowell Park and Roaring Camp Railroad

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