Henry Cowell State Park (2 River Crossing Hike)
Two River crossing hike
Distance: ~10 miles (Since we double backed quite a bit)
Elevation Gain: ~1400 feet
Date: 17-18 October 2015
Trail condition: Shaded throughout with quick change in scenery and conditions, crossing the river twice in an anti clockwise loop.
Trailhead: Henry Cowell Redwoods SP visitor center parking lot (Redwood Grove).
Parking Cost: 10$ for day use
Duration: 1/2 day
Trail: River Trail from parking lot (left side) all the way —> (Right on rincon fire road) Big Rock Hole Trail to the big rock hole -> walk in sand till you see a trail on the other side of the river (first river crossing) -> Buck eye Trail (veer left on the other side of the river) —> End of Buck eye trail (2nd river crossing - cross diagonally to the trail -> Powder hill fire road to observation deck -> Pine Trail to observation deck -> Pine trail continues (not the same way you came.. ) we made a mistake and got to the camp sites.. -> Eagle trail (left on eagle trail) -> River trail (right on river trail) -> Parking lot.
After a long break I decided to “take a hike” in Henry Cowell Redwood State park near Santa Cruz (off hwy 9) over the weekend. This was an outing to introduce camping to Shruti and also I did have to go on atleast one hike this month. Having booked the campsite well in advance and not having gone to this park before I was pretty thrilled. We even went out to by a pair of camping chairs. Thanks to Gurmeet for his hike description, I was able to execute this one without really planning a lot about direction and trails (Well, that did end up in increasing our mileage from 7.2miles to 10miles :P)..
We were planning to camp back in the park and so wanted to finish the hike soon. We reached the park entrance at 9:50am and so decided to do the two river crossing loop instead of the more famous “4 river crossing” hike. Do take a note it’s two crossings of the same river and not crossing two different rivers. Geared up with the trail map, brochure and instructions from online we started the to be 10 mile hike at 10am. To start off the hike on an adventurous note we took the exact opposite trail to the one we were actually supposed to go on. Back tracking cost us about 30-45mins. At 10:30am we were finally on our way towards the first crossing of the Saint Lorenzo river.
The initial mile of the hike involves walking amongst a family of tall, majestic, ancient redwoods and an operational railway bridge. We got to see ‘’Thomas the train’’ ferrying kids and parents alike on a rail tour of the park. We later found out that this was a privately run rail road system for kids just outside the park. The river trail till eagle trail intersection pretty much goes along the paved road. Once we take the trail post the eagle trail junction, it becomes a single person use trail. We continued our trudge all the path for a while to hit the Rincon Road intersect. We had to take a right there and with a hundred feet saw the big rock hole trail that lead to the big rock hole. This trail eventually (after crossing a road and continuing towards the big rock hole) ends up in a sandy shore with the Saint Lorenzo river visible on the right. Although water levels here keep varying (might vary especially after very heavy rainfall over a few days), walking along the banks as far as possible took us to a place where we could see the trail start over on the other side of the river. This is where we ended up crossing the river. We took a break here and allowed our feet & shoes to dry.
We took the immediate left on the other side of the river and were on the Buck Eye trail. This trail meanders away from the river for a while and slowly get back towards the river. It’s a long walk with good elevation gain at this point. The Buck Eye trail ends at the river and you can see a not-so-obvious clearing diagonally to your right on the other side of the river - that’s where you intend to go. This part of the river has quite a good amount of water, coming up to my knees (I’m 5’7’’) and was quite chilly. We took a break here for a bit again. After this we continued on the buck eye trail which hits the powder hill fire road intersection. Signs to the observation deck took us up the fire road. At the intersection of pine trail and the road, we decided to take the trail to the observation deck instead of the road. I did end up realizing why the trail was christened “Pine Trail” - guess how - I found pine cones fallen all the way to the observation deck.
The observation deck is a cabin built at the highest point in Henry Cowell SP. The vistas from the top were beautiful. After a few pictures instead of heading down the Pine trail (continuing), we took the same trail back (the trail we came on). This mistake cost us about 2+miles of extra hiking :) and some fun figuring out how to get to the eagle peak trail that would take us back to the parking lot. En-route we also ended up at the campgrounds where we planned to camp over the night! Guess what, I wished I could magically transport our car to the campsite :) By the time we got back to the trail head it was 3:30pm ending a beautiful river crossing hike. The camping that followed also truly was a first-of experience with Indian Masala Chai and Cup Noodles.