Skip to main content

The Ultimate Guide to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

The Ultimate Guide to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

Featuring 15 miles of hiking and riding trails, the Henry Cowell Redwood State Park boasts trees that are close to being 1,800 years old.


5 min read

June 28, 2023

In the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains lies a gem so lush, you’ll be seeing green in your dreams—welcome to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Featuring 15 miles of hiking and riding trails that take you through towering redwoods, mixed evergreens, sandhills, and ponderosa pines, the park boasts trees that are close to being 1,800 years old. Are you after the most breathtaking sunrise? Or do you wish to spend your weekend at a rugged campground? This state park is going to give you everything you need, and then some.

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park preserves forest and riparian areas in the San Lorenzo River, including a grove of old-growth coast redwoods.

All About The History of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

To understand the significance of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, let’s journey back to 1899 when California’s redwood trees became internationally famous. That year, an English publication hired Andrew P. Hill—an artist, photographer, and author from San Jose—to write a story about the massive beauties of the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. Hill packed his equipment and set out on a journey to Felton, where he found the perfect subjects for his magazine piece. These magnificent virgin redwoods reached a whopping 300 feet in height, but before Hill could do anything to capture their striking glory, a man by the name of Joseph Welch (the owner of the grove) came and chased him off. 

Recomended businesses

Show me
Recommended Businesses near

Discover the best of California. Our recommended businesses are top-quality and are committed to their communities.

Welch refused to let any commercial photographs be taken of his redwoods unless they offered to pay, leaving Hill no choice but to return to San Jose without any visuals to complete his article. The fact that the general public was unable to experience these beauties just didn’t sit right with Hill. His frustrations would soon be answered when a man by the name of Henry Cowell entered the picture.

The 4,623-acre state park was established in 1954, and it includes a non-contiguous extension in the Fall Creek area north of Felton.

Who was Henry Cowell? 

A notoriously private persona, Henry Cowell was an integral part of the California state park creation. He and his brother John left their hometown of Wrentham, Massachusetts in 1849, right when the lure of gold was drawing people to the Golden State. John returned to Wrentham shortly after, while Henry began a successful drayage business at only 30 years old. His knowledge obtained from a business-savvy wealthy family paid off, and soon, his empire grew to include property from San Luis Obispo to Washington State.

Flash forward to 1950, when there was only one member of the Cowell family left, Samuel ‘Harry’ Cowell, who was almost ninety years old. An avid outdoorsman, Harry was especially fond of the family’s property next to the Welch Grove—the one Andrew P. Hill was denied access to. In 1952, he acquired the grove and named it in memory of his father, Henry. Since the grove was already given to the state, Cowell’s representatives met with the officials, underwent lengthy negotiations, and were eventually successful. Thus, on August 18, 1954, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park formerly opened as a California State Park.

Up-slope from the redwood forest are transitional tree species like Pacific madrone and a stand of Ponderosa pine, rare at such a low elevation.

When to Go?

Every season is redwood season here. While these beauties are perhaps at their most striking in the winter rain and fog, you can pretty much visit the state park whenever you want. While the less-than-ideal weather conditions of California winters keep most of the crowds away—if you’re an introvert who longs for one on one time with nature’s bounty—this is the ideal time for you to visit. But, if you don’t mind a few fellow campers, the park’s river provides summer swimming, spring bounces with wildlife, and the fall makes for a front-row seat to vibrant rust-orange foliage. 

Some of the highest and driest ridge slopes in the park support fairly unusual chaparral communities known as "elfin forests."

Tips for Visiting

While not the biggest you’ll find in the county, Henry Cowell State Park has biking trails and equestrian options that go beyond what you initially imagine—the things you encounter on your way cannot be found in most guides. To make the most of your experience, we strongly recommend popping by the Visitor Center and talking to the docents about hike ideas, wildlife sightings, and whatever info they think you should know that day. There’s a 3D trail map that you can check before embarking on a hike, in case elevation change is something that’s important to you.

Typically open from sunrise to sunset, Henry Cowell State Park has a number of free interpretive activities that happen during summers only and after dark. Participate in weekly Star Strolls up to the Observation Deck or enjoy a live jazz concert every month at Full Moon Madness that takes place near the Visitor Center.

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park Campgrounds

Hiking, fishing (depending on season), seasonal camping (including RV), birdwatching, and several dog-friendly trails await at this state park.

Graham Hill Campground

Nestled in a mixed evergreen forest near the Santa Cruz Sandhills habitat, this Henry Cowell campground offers 107 sites, all of which can hold 35-foot long RVs. All campers here are provided with a food locker, a picnic table, a fire pit, and a grill.

Santa Cruz Ranch RV Resort 

Though not technically in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, this campground is still a treat. Located around the beautiful redwoods, Santa Cruz Ranch RV Resort makes for plenty of shade—perfect for a hot summer’s day. The Central Coast RV camp is situated by the boardwalk, where you’re bound to splash around the water.

Tent and RV camping with no hook-ups are available several miles from the main entrance to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

Smithwoods RV Park

A mere mile away from the state park, Smithwoods RV Park is a front-row seat to the town’s famous monthly festivals. The RV campground is armed with most modern amenities—water, electricity, cable TV, and picnic tables—and is also suitable for a visit with your four-legged best friend.

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park Hikes

The park has a more modern visitor center. Next door to the main parking lot is the Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad.

Redwood Grove Loop Trail

Renowned among Henry Cowell State Park hikers, Redwood Grove is nearly a mile-long wondrous journey through a typical old-growth forest. The trail shares stage with the Roaring Camp Railroads and the silence of the redwoods is occasionally pierced by the loud hoots of steam trains. Your trek is going to feel remarkably cool and lush, with a groundcover of ferns and redwood sorrel, and a peaceful silence that comes from all the sound-dampening foliage.

Indian Creek Loop

Just across the railroad tracks from Redwood Grove Loop Trail hides the lesser-known Indian Creek Loop. About a quarter-mile of its bumpy dirt road passes through the redwoods, and the other quarter-mile connects to the Roaring Camp train station—there’s a lot of wildlife to catch along the way.

Need help with a home improvement project? Get a free quote today!

Enter Your Zip Code

Enter Your Zip Code

RELATED Articles

Discover More

fueled by the power of California love
We're committed to helping you discover the places, people and businesses that make our state Golden. Our online publication, updated daily, brings you all the content you need to live your California dreams. And that's just the beginning…
Purpose section
Purpose section