Hike through a verdant redwood forest less traveled and get a glimpse into Santa Cruz of old, when oxen, wagons, and miners populated the hills. The Fall Creek Unit in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is just a short drive from the small town of Felton. The 4.6-mile (round-trip) hike to Barrel Mill follows the park’s creek, which, after a few days of rain, is an especially impressive sight. Start on Bennett Creek Trail, passing briefly through a forest of second-growth redwood, Douglas fir, and tan oak before ambling alongside flowing Fall Creek on its namesake trail. You’ll cross a bridge that comes to a fork, unsigned but marked instead by a large tree at the bridge’s end.
To stay on the Fall Creek Trail, take a right at the fork and continue following the trail along the rising and falling landscape all the way to the Barrel Mill site. You get a hint of a bygone era here where redwoods were once used to create barrels to transport limestone. Return the way you came (completing the 4.6 miles), or continue along the trail and make an 8-mile (round-trip) loop to see other attractions, including Big Ben Tree, a beautiful redwood with a cavernous trunk (take a breather inside the redwood’s huge, hollowed trunk).
BONUS BEER: The Cremer House restaurant and alehouse in Felton is just short drive from Fall Creek, and, as the oldest building in the town of Felton, keeps with the historic vibe of the Fall Creek Barrel Mill trail. But really, it’s just about a “mug” of beer here! Try the Margaret Cremer, a red steam ale brewed exclusively for The Cremer House, or the Slug Life IPA, dry-hopped. The choices alone make it worth the stop.
For the hike, we strongly recommend picking up a detailed map of the Fall Creek Unit, which can be purchased for $1 at the main Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park Ranger Office and Entrance Station, 101 North Big Trees Park Rd.) To reach the trailhead from Felton, drive 0.5 mile up Felton-Empire Rd. The Fall Creek entrance and parking lot is on your right. Free parking. Map. No dogs.