Explore Santa Cruz Redwoods at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

Santa Cruz, Ca – Home to four different ecosystems – redwood, riparian, sandhill chaparral, and grassland – Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is an exciting experience rich in biological diversity.

Species to Look Out For

About the Park

Santa Cruz, Ca – State Park

Science Spotlight: One Park, Four Ecosystems

We began our hike at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in a riparian habitat – a habitat characterized by being adjacent to a river or stream. As we passed by the San Lorenzo River, I couldn’t help but admire the clear water running over smooth, flat stones. Close to the water’s edge, a black phoebe perched on a low-hanging branch, ever-ready to snap up unsuspecting insect prey.

As we made our way uphill, more and more redwoods began to tower above us. Their shade created cool microclimates – refuge from the September sun’s heat. The coast redwood bark formed gnarled knots at the bases of the trees. The bark smoothed out as you craned your neck to follow the tree’s trunk upwards. The sounds of the river earlier on our walk were replaced with the sharp calls of Steller’s jays.

Over the course of our hike, we had the chance to witness just two of the four ecosystems present at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park: riparian and redwood habitat. The state park’s unique geologic history has shaped it to be the home to redwood forest, riparian areas, sandhill chaparral, and human-created grassland ecosystems.

The park is a mixture of different types of rock formations: to the north, the park is dominated by softer sandstone and mudstone. To the south, the park is comprised of harder rock formations such as granite and schist. The variable geology in the different regions of the park laid the foundation for the diversity of ecosystems that we are able to observe today. The diversity of ecosystems also begets diversity of species – making a visit to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park a rich and exciting experience.

Park History

The park’s area is deeply-rooted in California’s industrial history. The surrounding area was logged for lumber, and the park itself was once home to a busy lime industry. The area is rich in limestone, which when heated in a kiln, becomes lime – an important material for building. Much of the surrounding forest was cut and burned as fuel for the operating kilns. The lime kilns operated from 1865 to 1919.

The park was also the site of an important moment in Bay Area conservation history. Andrew P. Hill, a local photographer, visited the redwood grove in the area to photograph the towering coast redwood trees. After a confrontation with the owner of the grove’s operating resort, Hill formed the Sempervirens Club, whose mission is to protect redwoods so that they can be enjoyed by the public (see the related park history for Big Basin State Park).

In 1930, Santa Cruz County took control of the resort, resulting in the land’s dedication as a county park. In 1954, Samuel Cowell joined his family’s land to the county park, resulting in the naming of a new state park after his father, Henry.

Visit the Park

Please note that there is no entrance fee to enter the park. Dogs are allowed at select locations in the park. For more information on where dogs are and are not allowed, visit the California State Park site’s General Information for the park.

Here are some helpful resources to help plan your visit:


Author: Taylor Crisologo

Taylor studied biology at Cornell University, where she worked with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on projects ranging from breeding herring gulls off the coast of Maine to dancing lyrebirds in Australia’s Blue Mountains. When she’s not researching great places to experience Bay Area nature, you can find her birding or reading a book at home with her husband and their two indoor cats (Max and Penelope).

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