OK, I’ll admit it. I can be a little loath to drive more than an hour for a day’s adventure. (Unless, of course, it involves being crazy and heading to Tahoe or Bear Valley for the day. But that seems like it’s Big Time Adventure Day, and that warrants more driving.) This means we do very little exploring of parts south of, say, Garin (Hayward), and anything on the Peninsula/SF side. I recognize it’s wrong to call something “Bay Area Families” and then woefully neglect whole regions. But here we are.
I am happy to say that today we did a little bit of evening out the geographic focus– we spent the day in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. And oh boy, will we be returning for more fun! Henry Cowell has options for all– short easy rambles for the small of leg, plenty of challenging trails for your more hearty hiker and, the bestest– the San Lorenzo River snakes through the park, providing ample swimming/wading/splashing opportunities!
First, if you are coming with a tiny person, you should know that the Roaring Camp Railroad is adjacent to the park headquarters, and has a train that runs through the park. If you have a Thomas the Train enthusiast, know that on special weekends (August 5-7, for example), they put a Thomas the Train engine on the front of the train and your child can ride on Thomas’ train. It’s not a cheap ride though– tickets for kids are $20/each and $27/adults. As a result, we did not experience the magic of the train this time. However, it would make a good day out paired with a jaunt in the park.
Henry Cowell’s main entrance has a multitude of picnic sites, a visitor center, a nature store to purchase all things Henry Cowell and a plethora of trails leading in various directions. It is also the place where you will see the most people. There is ample parking, but I would say that if you have any misanthropic leanings, be forewarned. Many people come to experience Henry Cowell. That said, the Visitor Center was quite well-done and worth visiting with small people– there were several wildlife dioramas, a couple of different sections where kids could gently handle things like bobcat fur, a deer vertebrae, a couple of different skulls and a snake skin. There was also a very popular (with the kiddo) animal print activity that involved stamping life-sized tracks into a little booklet. (Kiddo is sleeping with the booklet at the moment– that is how much she loved it.) Definitely worth a visit.
Then we took the short (and VERY popular) Redwood Grove trail. This trail goes through a lovely grove with lots of huge trees. It’s perfect if you have a toddler and is even wheelchair accessible. It’s not going to convince you that you’re having an epic wilderness experience, but it’s quite nice.
Let’s talk about the other draw to Henry Cowell, though– the San Lorenzo River. The most visited spot on the river is clearly the Garden of Eden. We did not go there, and after driving past the cars lining Highway 9, I’m pretty convinced that if one is set on going to the Garden of Eden, it’s a much better choice for a weekday outing (preferably when school is back in session). However, the good news is that the San Lorenzo River is long and multiple spots exist for finding good swimming spots, even on weekends.
We drove further down to the Rincon Road trail head. This spot is popular with mountain bikers, but it was also easy to find a parking spot on a sunny Sunday afternoon. We took the Rincon Road trail down to where it paralleled the river. We ended up hanging out at the spot where the trail crosses the river (less than a mile from the trailhead), but there were several spots that we could have chosen on the way that would have been equally delightful. And in comparison to the multitudes of people we saw at the Visitor’s Center and then parking for the Garden of Eden, we had our little beach to ourselves most of the time. One group joined us for a moment but then backtracked to find their own space– of which there were many. The water was not so deep as to encourage real swimming (maybe hip-deep at the deepest spots?) but it was perfect for a four-year old. If you were trying to park once and hike before swimming (without crossing the river, which might be tough with littler kids), I would park at the Rincon Road lot and then take the connector trail into Pogonip Park, which is just south of Henry Cowell but connected by the Rincon Connector trail.
In all, Henry Cowell is full of potential adventures for all ages of kiddos & their grownups (it also has camping, which we will be checking out this year, if all goes well!). The park allows dogs on SOME trails but not others, so read up on the park’s website for which trails Fido can experience. Additionally, we must mention the absolutely worth-stopping-for Cremer House in Felton. It was suggested by some friends who live in the area, and it was excellent– providing options for all kinds of palates/food situations, along with lots of well-chosen beers.
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