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:

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Hike Along Streams at Redwood Regional Park

Oakland, Ca – Just outside of the East Bay’s urban sprawl, Redwood Regional offers visitors the chance to see second and third-generation redwoods and a recovering stream habitat.

Species to Look Out For

About the Park

Oakland, Ca – Regional Park

Science Spotlight: Rainbow Trout at Redwood Regional

The rainbow trout is a native Californian fish species, originally found on the western coast of North America. They require good quality water to survive and reproduce. so they have become symbols of healthy American watersheds.

Their introduction to freshwater streams worldwide has resulted in their spread from their historical range. Rainbow trout have now spread to all continents in the world except for Antarctica. However, don’t be fooled by the expanded range – the rainbow trout is facing declines due to loss of quality habitats, pollution, and water diversion (to name a few). As a result, multiple species of steelhead (a special form of rainbow trout whose strategy is to migrate to the ocean as juveniles) are federally listed as endangered or threatened.

The rainbow trout’s freshwater stream habitat at Redwood Regional Park is threatened by erosion. The erosion, caused by heavy traffic from hikers, dogs, and bicyclists, causes accumulation of sediments and a decrease in stream water quality. These effects impact multiple species that use the stream for breeding – including rainbow trout and the “Special Concern”-listed California newt.

To do your part in restoring freshwater streams, be sure to stay on the trails and refrain from allowing pets to enter the stream.

Park History

Redwood Regional Park shares its legacy with many other Bay Area parks as a redwood forest ravaged by logging. The redwoods that remain today are second and third-generation kin to the giants that once stood at the park.

Visit the Park

Please note that there is a $5 vehicle fee to enter the park. Dogs are allowed on leashes, but an additional fee of $2 is charged per dog.

Here are some helpful resources to plan your visit:

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Visit California’s First State Park: Big Basin State Park

Boulder Creek, Ca – In 1902, Big Basin became California’s first state park. Today, it protects one of the largest continuous stretches of old-growth coast redwood south of San Francisco.

Species to Look Out For

About the Park

Boulder Creek, Ca – State Park

Science Spotlight: Keeping it “Crumb Clean” in California’s Parks

Marbled murrelets are small, robin-sized seabirds that have one very interesting quality: they build their nests high up in redwood trees. Redwood forest habitats have suffered from logging during the gold rush, which in turn has contributed to the steep declines of marbled murrelet populations.

Steller’s Jays and other avian predators have been shown to negatively impact marbled murrelet populations by eating their eggs and young, according to a study at Redwood National and State Parks.

Steller’s jays are crested blue and black birds commonly found at campgrounds, attracted there by food leftover from humans. The high jay density is thought to increase  the chances of Steller’s jays finding and predating the nests of marbled murrelets.

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A common sign at campgrounds, featuring a Steller’s jay and a warning to clean up all traces of food. Source: Save the Redwoods League.

Public education programs, such as the “Crumb Clean” initiative depicted above, warn people that food waste has the potential to impact marbled murrelet populations by attracting their predators.

The moral of the story? Be careful of leaving any trace on your hikes – even a crumb can make a difference!

For more information on marbled murrelets and Steller’s jays, check out the Bay Area Naturalist article “Logging, Crumbs, and Lost Fish: The Story of the Marbled Murrelet“.

Park History

In 1902, Big Basin State Park became the first state park established in California. Its land protects mostly redwood forest and is home to the largest continuous stretch of old-growth redwoods south of San Francisco. Scientists estimate that the older trees in the park range from 1,000 to 2,500 years old.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans inhabited the park’s land for thousands of years. Evidence of the Native American’s land use can be seen in the bowl-like depressions in rocks along the trail. These depressions were used by the Ohlone people to grind seeds and acorns into flour.

In the midst of logging in the late 1800’s, a small group of citizens formed the Sempervirens Club (sempervirens being the species name of coast redwoods). They spurred a movement amongst California’s citizens, which resulted in the creation of a bill to protect the park area. The park is currently over 18,000 acres and growing.

Visit the Park

Please note that there is a $10 vehicle fee at the park. Dogs are not allowed on trails, but are allowed on leashes at picnic areas.

Here are some helpful resources to plan your visit:

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Enjoy the Stillness of Redwood Stands at Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve

Half Moon Bay, Ca – Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve offers rich history and wildlife. Learn about its recovery from logging and its amphibian resident, the California newt.

Species to Look Out For

About the Park

Half Moon Bay, Ca – Nature Preserve

Science Spotlight: California Newts at Purisima Creek

Dan and I encountered our first California newt while hiking alongside Purisima Creek. We had been on the lookout for newts for the past few weeks, so you can only imagine our excitement when seeing a bright orange amphibian crossing our path.

California newts are found along the coast and mountain ranges of California, from Mendocino County to San Diego County. They are endemic to California, meaning that they are not found outside the state. They live a dual lifestyle, spending half of their time in water and the other half on land.

California newts are listed by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife as a “Species of Special Concern”. Ponds that they use for breeding and maturation have been lost to development. Fish, crayfish, and bullfrogs introduced to California’s freshwater areas threaten populations by eating California newt eggs and young.

Look out for California newts during their migration to their breeding grounds, which usually coincides with the first rains in the fall. If you see one of these bright creatures along the trail, be sure to not pick them up! Not only could you disturb them, but their skin is also loaded with a neurotoxin. The toxin, tetrodotoxin, is found in all species in their genus. It is also found in pufferfish.

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A California newt near the creek’s edge at Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve.

Park History

Prior to its status as a nature preserve, the Purisima Creek area housed seven saw mills supplying coast redwood lumber to the booming gold rush population in the San Francisco Bay Area. The entire preserve was cleared of trees that were large and intact enough for lumber.

The Save-the-Redwoods League gifted $2 million to the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space, which allowed for the establishment of the park. Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve offers 4,711 acres of recovering coast redwood forest, creeks, and a canyon.

Visit the Park

Please note that there is no entrance fee to enter the park. Dogs are not allowed.

Here are some helpful resources to help plan your visit:

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Wander in Eucalypts at Wunderlich County Park

Woodside, Ca – Ever had Folger’s coffee? The Folger family played a large role in the history of this park. Learn this and more in our guide to Wunderlich County Park.

About the Park

Woodside, Ca – San Mateo County Park

Science Spotlight: Eucalyptus in California

While winding out of the young redwood forest at Wunderlich County Park, I was met with stands of eucalyptus – a non-native species deeply rooted in the logging history of the San Francisco Bay Area.

When checking out the plant life on your local hikes, it’s likely that you’re witnessing a mosaic of native and non-native species. It is estimated that California is home to over 1,000 non-native plants, introduced by early settlers of the state. There are 5,000 native plant species in California – making the non-natives a decently large proportion of plant life.

Native to Australia, eucalyptus trees are a common household name known for their beautiful gray-colored leaves and aromatic oil. California settlers during the Gold Rush faced high demands for lumber and a looming concern for the amount of native forest logging. Eager for a good source of wood, operations planted millions of eucalyptus trees around the Bay Area.

The eucalyptus optimism was met with failure – settlers soon discovered that eucalyptus trees are not good for lumber until after the wood matures over 75 – 100 years. Today, they still are present in many areas along the Bay.

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Eucalyptus trees dot the edges of the trail at Wunderlich County Park.

Park History

The Costanoan Native Americans inhabited the park area prior to settlement by Europeans.

Just like nearby Huddart Park, the redwood forest in the area was heavily logged during the Gold Rush. In 1840, John Copinger established a ranch in the area. The ranch changed ownership until it was sold to James A Folger II (yes, you guessed it – the Folger’s Coffee family!) in 1902 to be used as recreational area. The Folger Stable and Carriage House are still open to the public today, used as a stable and museum.

The land was purchased by Martin Wunderlich in 1956, who gifted the area to San Mateo County in 1974.

Visit the Park

Please note that there is no entrance fee to enter the park. Dogs are not allowed.

When visiting, we recommend checking out the Folger Stable and Carriage House for a taste of South Bay history from the lens of the famous coffee family. We also recommend checking out Salamander Flat – keep your eye out for any amphibians there!

Here are some helpful resources to plan your visit:

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Witness Cool Sandstone Formations at Castle Rock State Park

Los Gatos, Ca – From sandstone to redwood trees, Castle Rock State Park is a Bay Area hiking spot that you don’t want to miss.

About the Park

Los Gatos, Ca – State Park

Science Spotlight: Sandstone at Castle Rock

During our visit to Castle Rock State Park, we were captivated by the carvings of sandstone that lined the park’s trails. The erosion in the sandstone has created interesting patterns over time, which are awesome sights along the hike.

The sandstone at Castle Rock is made mostly of large-grain sand held together by calcium carbonate “cement”. Sandstone naturally has thin cracks along the formation of the rock. Slightly acidic rainwater (rain is made slightly acidic because of water’s reaction with carbon dioxide in the air) is able to penetrate the stone through the cracks, dissolving the calcium carbonate as the water moves into the rock during the wet season.

During the dry season, the water on the inside of the rock is drawn to the surface, bringing along the dissolved calcium carbonate with it. This movement weakens the interior of the rock and strengthens the exterior of the rock, resulting in erosion patterns that can look like pockets. Over time, this process can also produce large caves. As you hike along Castle Rock, be sure to keep your eye out for such formations.

For more information on Castle Rock Geology, feel free to check out this article by the Portola and Castle Rock Foundation!

Park History

The area that we recognize as Castle Rock State Park used to be a network of trails used by the Ohlone people to transport goods from the coast more inland.

The California Gold Rush was the first major source of transformation for the park. Similar to the story of Huddart Park, Castle Rock State Park became a source of lumber for the booming population in the San Francisco Bay Area. Farming in the area also impacted the habitat as orchards were planted to sustain the people living there.

Locals who loved the landscapes around the area began to purchase small plots of land to be enjoyed by the public. In 1968, the area was designated as a State Park after the land was donated to the state by the Sierra Club and Sempervirens Fund.

Visit the Park

Please note that there is an $8 parking fee. Dogs are not allowed in the park.

We recommend checking out the waterfall viewing platform and Goat Rock during your visit. Be sure to bring a camera to take photos of the beautiful sandstone formations!

Here are some helpful resources to plan your visit:

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