Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fall Creek

Sometimes a place can have special appeal when some aspect of your life has a connection to it in some way. There are many south bay trails which summon this kind of appeal for me, among them the Fall Creek unit of Henry Cowell State Park. When I first met my wife, she was living just off of Empire Grade Road, only walking distance from trail access to the top section of the park, which is technically in Bonny Doon. I have many fond memories of driving up and down Felton Empire Road to visit. I could probably drive it in my sleep. There was one time I practically got snowed in up there on a winter Sunday evening. And there were lots of times when we would take the inverse version of the Lost Empire hike by simply walking 5 minutes to the upper trailhead. On one occasion we thought we could get a hike in before supper, but wound up getting completely waterlogged in a downpour of biblical proportions. The many talks we had along those trails were priceless.

Fall Creek has no facilities of any kind beyond a rudimentary dirt parking lot and the trails themselves. It is far from isolated though, being in close proximity to the town of Felton. The lower parking lot is only about a mile from Highway 9, but easily missed if you’re not paying attention. The terrain consists of a green riparian canyon sweeping down the western slope of Ben Lomond Ridge flanked by minor ridgelines on either side. The park is thickly wooded making it an excellent summer hike. The diversity of plant life along the creek trail would keep any amateur naturalist busy all day. There are at least fifteen different species of ferns alone. Mostly second growth forest, the place has a history of quarrying lime. The ruins of the old kilns are still there, as is the old quarry, and along the creek are the scattered remains of a water powered barrel mill site. The trails themselves are the remnants of old wagons roads. Lime quarried from this site was used to rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake.

There are lots of interesting little short hikes you can do here, but our favorite hiking route takes us almost around the entire park. Turning up the Ridge Trail along the western side takes you uphill along the adjacent ridge to the Truck Trail, and on up to the Big Ben Trail junction. You hike mostly uphill along these trails through diversely wooded sections with a few exposed sections, but its not killer steep. You won’t get any views, but it’s peaceful and pretty. From there the Big Ben trail leads downhill, moderately steeply, to a trail junction at the creek where there is no bridge. In high water it may be difficult to cross here. You have the option of turning onto the Fall Creek trail and heading back toward the parking lot, which is really the most scenic trail in the park. You can also visit the barrel mill site along this trail. After crossing the creek, the Big Ben Trail is moderately steep uphill with switchbacks all the way to the Big Ben Tree. A stately old growth redwood which has somehow survived for future generations to enjoy. Turning onto Lost Empire trail takes you back downhill through dense cool forests of redwood and fir. You can take the Kiln trail to go explore the lime kiln ruins, and see the old quarry. We often take the junction to hike back up the Fall Creek trail just because it’s so pretty, and to see the barrel mill site. Somehow the historical ruins always intrigue me. Below are links to my Fall Creek pictures and my brother-in-law Dave's from the same hike.

Click here to see my Fall Creek photoset on flickr
Click here to see Dave's Fall Creek pictures (

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