Henry Cowell State Park: An In-Depth Family Adventure Guide

Henry Cowell State Park: An In-Depth Family Adventure Guide

Spending a few days in nature is a great way to introduce your kids to a different side of the world we live in today. In a fast-paced world where tech has become an integral part of our lives, activities like camping, fishing, and hiking are a great way to offer our kids an insight into what life was like before the tech revolution.

California has 139 state parks, encompassing nearly 1.6 million acres of land. With this much diversity in the state, it can be daunting to pick out a state park with a rich diversity to cater to all members of the family. But it doesn’t have to be! We are here to help you find the right destination.

Nestled in the picturesque Santa Cruz Mountains of California, Henry Cowell State Park is a haven for nature lovers and a perfect destination for a family day out. With its towering redwood trees, scenic trails, and opportunities for outdoor activities, Henry Cowell State Park offers an enriching experience for kids and adults. In this article, we will explore what makes this California gem worth visiting.

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What you need to know before visiting Henry Cowell State Park

Henry Cowell State Park is located just a short drive from Santa Cruz. As you approach the park, the lush greenery and the aroma of pine needles set the stage for an exciting adventure.

As you enter this majestic forest, you’ll find yourself surrounded by ancient redwood trees that reach heights of over 200 feet. Kids will be captivated by the sheer size of these giants and the magical atmosphere created by the dappled sunlight filtering through the dense canopy. Here is what you need to know before visiting Henry Cowell State Park;

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park on Google Map:

1. How much does it cost to go to Henry Cowell State Park?

Before accessing Henry Cowell State Park, you have to pay an entry fee. For day-use access to both the park and the campground, there is a $10 parking fee, with a discounted rate of $9 for seniors aged 62 or older. For larger groups arriving in buses, there is a $50 parking fee for buses carrying 10 to 24 passengers and a $100 fee for buses carrying 25 or more passengers.

2. How old are the trees in Henry Cowell State Park?

The crown jewel of this majestic forest is the tallest redwood, an awe-inspiring tree that has graced the landscape for an astonishing 1,500 years. Stretching skyward to a remarkable height of 277 feet, it stands just 28 feet shorter than the iconic Statue of Liberty.

These towering redwoods, along with the resilient California bay trees, tanoaks, and hazelnuts, create a harmonious ecosystem where adaptation to the dappled shade beneath the ancient giants is a testament to the intricate dance of life within the park.

3. Are dogs allowed in Henry Cowell State Park?

While these furry companions are great to travel with, there are a few guidelines to follow when visiting Henry Cowell State Park. Dogs are restricted on some trails such as Redwood Grove Loop Trail and in the Fall Creek Unit but there are still ample opportunities to explore the natural beauty of the park together.


Take advantage of the dog-friendly areas, such as the Meadow Trail, Pipeline Road, Graham Hill Trail, and Powder Mill Fire Road. The picnic areas and campsites also welcome dogs, providing a great spot for a well-deserved rest. It’s also essential to keep your canine companion on a leash no longer than six feet and ensure they are not left unattended.

What to do in Henry Cowell State Park

To help you plan your nature escape, we have designed an itinerary that will cater to all members of your family;

1. Check out the nearby Roaring Camp

Located in Felton, Roaring Camp is a top attraction that transports visitors back in time to a Western-style town, complete with a train depot, a general store, and captivating historical buildings. The town’s centerpiece, the Roaring Camp Covered Bridge, is a must-see, serving as a charming entryway with its 36-foot length making it the shortest covered bridge in the US.

The Roaring Camp is just next to Henry Cowell State Park allowing adventurous families to combine both destinations into a single day of adventure. The unique blend of historical charm and natural beauty makes Roaring Camp an enriching experience for visitors of all ages.

For a thrilling adventure, don’t miss the Roaring Camp Train ride through the old-growth redwood forest, a scenic hour-long journey that winds through wooden train trestles and steep switchbacks to Bear Mountain and back. The $33 adult and $24 kids’ train tickets (plus $10 for parking) offer an immersive experience, revealing parts of Felton’s redwood forests otherwise inaccessible.

The Roaring Camp on Google Map:

2. See the park from the Redwoods Observation Deck

Perched at an elevation of 805 feet above sea level, the Redwoods Observation Deck in Henry Cowell State Park is the pinnacle of natural beauty and panoramic views. Overlooking the vast expanse of Monterey Bay and the surrounding mountain peaks, this elevated vantage point provides an unparalleled perspective of the park’s diverse landscape.

Accessible via a scenic 0.5-mile trail near the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park Campground, the Observation Deck serves as a unique gateway to an extraordinary ecosystem. The area is distinguished by its rare sandhills and plant community, making it an exclusive habitat found nowhere else in the world.

Observation Deck | Henry Cowell Redwoods on Google Map:

3. Go birding in Henry Cowell State Park

Henry Cowell State Park is a birdwatcher’s paradise, boasting a rich avian diversity with over 200 species, including captivating owls and lively woodpeckers. The park provides a tapestry of habitats for bird enthusiasts to explore, ranging from the enchanting redwood groves to the serene riverfront areas and the unique sandhill environments.

The Fall Creek Unit is a hotspot for birdwatching, drawing enthusiasts with its abundance of feathered residents. With binoculars in hand, visitors can witness the symphony of bird calls echoing through the redwoods, catch glimpses of elusive owls, and marvel at the acrobatics of woodpeckers as they navigate the diverse landscapes that make the park a haven for seasoned and budding birdwatchers.

4. Go bicycling in Henry Cowell State Park

Bicycling enthusiasts will find Henry Cowell State Park to be a captivating destination with its diverse terrain and scenic beauty. Cyclists are permitted on the park’s paved roads and fire trails but must exercise caution in areas with steep terrain.

For a more relaxed ride suitable for beginners and family outings, the Pipeline Road provides an easy journey with gentle slopes. However, cyclists should be aware that certain sections, including all single-track trails, are off-limits to bikes.

For those seeking a more exhilarating adventure, the Rincon Fire Road offers steeper inclines and rougher terrains but is recommended for riders with advanced skills. Respecting trail closures is essential, as they often aim to protect wildlife habitats and prevent erosion. Cyclists must yield right-of-way to pedestrians and horseback riders, fostering a harmonious coexistence within this natural reserve area.

5. Go fishing in Henry Cowell State Park

Henry Cowell State Park is a haven for angling, fishing enthusiasts can cast their lines into the serene waters of the San Lorenzo River. The river, winding its way through the park, is home to an abundance of steelhead trout and coho salmon, creating an ideal environment for a rewarding fishing experience.

Anglers aged 16 and older must possess a valid California fishing license to fish in the park. The winter season is the best time to go fishing in the San Lorenzo River as this is when the steelhead trout and coho salmon migrate upstream from the ocean.

6. Go hiking in Henry Cowell State Park

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park beckons avid hikers with its extensive network of trails, spanning an impressive 30 miles throughout its lush landscape. Whether you’re a seasoned trekker or a family with young adventurers, the park caters to a variety of skill levels. Here are the most family-friendly hiking trails in Henry Cowell State Park;

0.1 The Redwood Grove Loop Trail

The Redwood Grove Loop Trail is a delightful 0.8-mile easy hike that immerses visitors in the enchanting world of ancient redwoods. This trail winds through a majestic grove of old-growth redwoods, showcasing the tallest tree in the park, standing at a towering height of over 277 feet.

0.2 The Meadow-River Loop

Embark on a delightful adventure through the Meadow-River Loop, a 1-mile trail that promises a harmonious blend of natural beauty and wildlife encounters. Begin your journey on the Meadow Trail, conveniently starting just after crossing the San Lorenzo River on the park entrance road from Highway 9.

As you traverse this enchanting pathway, you’ll be treated to the picturesque sight of the meadow, adorned with sycamores, box elders, and open grassland. The meadow is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, offering glimpses of deer, coyotes, and a variety of birds, particularly during the serene hours of dusk and dawn.

0.3 Cathedral Redwoods

Embark on a memorable journey through the enchanting Cathedral Redwoods by taking the scenic 4-mile trail, a moderate hike that promises a worthwhile adventure for families.

To reach the captivating family circle of coast redwoods, follow Pipeline Road to Rincon Fire Road, and finally, traverse the Big Rock Hole Trail. The awe-inspiring beauty of these ancient giants creates a serene and magical atmosphere, making the hike truly rewarding.

Where to eat in Henry Cowell State Park

The state park doesn’t have any dedicated food hubs but there are several nearby restaurants to grab a quick bite after a long day of scouring the park. Here are the best restaurants near Henry Cowell State Park;

1. Cowboy Bar & Grill

Just 0.6 miles from Henry Cowell State Park, Cowboy Bar & Grill offers a delightful dining experience that perfectly complements a day spent in the great outdoors. This charming establishment boasts a welcoming country-western theme, creating a cozy and kid-friendly atmosphere for families.

The menu is a culinary adventure, featuring fantastic comfort food with a delightful twist. From mouth-watering sandwiches to perfectly cooked steaks, the diverse American fare caters to various tastes.

Cowboy Bar & Grill on Google Map:

2. Marianne’s Ice Cream

Located about 4 miles from Henry Cowell State Park, Marianne’s Ice Cream beckons tired adventurers with a delectable promise of hand-crafted sweetness. As the perfect denouement to a day spent exploring the wonders of nature, Marianne’s offers an array of ice cream flavors that have been crafted with love and precision.

Since 1947, this charming ice cream parlor has dedicated itself to the art of frozen delights, employing time-honored techniques to ensure the creamiest and most delightful ice creams for its patrons.

Marianne’s Ice Cream on Google Map:

Where to stay in Henry Cowell State Park

The park provides several campgrounds, which are pet-friendly choices for families traveling with furry companions. If you prefer the convenience of nearby hotels, there are also lodging options near the park, ensuring you have flexibility in choosing the accommodation that best suits your family’s preferences and needs.

1. Hotels

0.1 Hilton Santa Cruz/Scotts Valley

Nestled on the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Hilton Santa Cruz/Scotts Valley is a gateway to natural beauty and coastal excitement. Just a 10-minute drive from the magnificent Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, this hotel provides a convenient and comfortable retreat for nature enthusiasts and families alike.

After a day of exploration, guests can return to the Hilton Santa Cruz/Scotts Valley, where they can unwind in well-appointed accommodations, savor delicious meals at on-site dining options, and take advantage of the hotel’s amenities, creating a perfect balance between adventure and relaxation.

Hilton Santa Cruz/Scotts Valley on Google Map:

0.2 Inn at Pasatiempo

Nestled beside a majestic Eucalyptus grove, the Inn at Pasatiempo offers a tranquil retreat in a wooded setting that perfectly complements its convenient location near Highway 17 and proximity to the natural wonders of Henry Cowell State Park, just four miles away. This charming inn invites guests to unwind in a serene environment, and its year-round outdoor heated pool becomes a focal point for relaxation.

The Inn at Pasatiempo on Google Map:

2. Camping

The Henry Cowell State Park Campground has 113 campsites suitable for tents, trailers, and RVs, complete with picnic tables and fire rings. For those seeking a more secluded and intimate camping experience, the Observation Deck Camping Area provides tent-only sites near a breathtaking observation deck overlooking the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Adventurous campers may opt for the Pipeline Road Backcountry Sites, accessible by hiking trails and offering primitive camping amidst the serene redwood groves—perfect for those who crave solitude and a more rustic experience with no amenities.

The Garden of Eden, while restricted to day use only, provides a splendid setting for picnics or a refreshing swim, enhancing the overall camping experience at Henry Cowell State Park.

A visit to Henry Cowell State Park promises a day filled with natural wonders, outdoor activities, and family bonding. Whether you’re exploring Redwood Grove or hiking the trails, the park offers a diverse range of experiences suitable for kids. So, pack your hiking boots, grab your camera, and embark on a memorable journey into the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains with your little explorers.

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Happy Travels!

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