Painted Forest

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is one of the Santa Cruz Mountains' main attractions, but relatively few folks…

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Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is one of the Santa Cruz Mountains’ main attractions, but relatively few folks make it to the park’s little-known sibling, the Fall Creek Unit just a short distance away. Walk beside Fall Creek, a year round oasis flowing beneath towering redwoods. Along the trail you’ll likely encounter autumn’s paintbrush on the foliage, with golden sunbeams penetrating the canopy shade. For a highlight, take the short side-trip (0.4 miles) to the old IXL Lime Company kilns. During a fifty-year stretch that began in the early 1870s, limestone was quarried in these parts and then burned in the kilns to produce lime. A big-leaf maple grove puts on a spectacular show at the lime kilns, and South Fall Creek winds right through the rich, earthy setting. Go on, fall for it.

BONUS: Hallcrest Vineyards & Organic Wine Works is virtually across the street from the entrance to Fall Creek Unit, so treat yourself to an après-hike reward and indulge in the organic “Surfin’ Syrah.” Tastings are free.

From Interstate 280 going south, take Highway 85 south; then take Highway 17 south. Continue on Highway 17 about thirty miles toward Santa Cruz; exit Mt. Herman Rd. and turn right onto Graham Hill Rd. Cross Highway 9 and continue one mile; look for the parking lot on the right.

Trail Notes: The 2,390-acre park features over twenty miles of trails (no pets or bikes), so we strongly recommend purchasing a “Fall Creek Unit” map ($1) from the park’s main entrance on Highway 9. It’s about a one-mile hike to the kilns from the parking lot. A short, easy loop can be made using the Cape Horn and South Forks Trail. Longer, more strenuous hikes can be taken by climbing out of the canyon to either ridge on the Lost Empire Trail and Big Ben Trail. For more information, click here.

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