“This is a delightful redwood forest and creek hike on several of the trails at Henry Cowell Park.”
— Joan Pendleton
Exploring the creeks and the lime kilns is fun for the young ones. A short creek and kiln loop is done by going left onto Cape Horn Trail from Fall Creek Trail about 1.5 miles from the parking area.
This is a beautiful hike through the quiet peace of a dense redwood forest. The size of the trees is awe inspiring, as is the rugged terrain, and deep, dark creek valleys. These special trees, the giant redwoods, are protected for eternity for the enjoyment of current and future generations here in the Fall Creek Unit of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.
Fall Creek Valley
From the parking area at the trailhead sign, one immediately enters a dense redwood forest. Take Bennett Creek Trail
to Fall Creek Trail
. Upon reaching Fall Creek Trail
, go left onto Fall Creek Trail
to begin traveling upstream along the banks of Fall Creek. About a mile from the parking area, there is a sturdy bridge that crosses the South Fork of Fall Creek. After crossing this bridge, there is an unmarked trail junction—go right here to continue on Fall Creek Trail
. Continuing upstream, there are small cascades and lush vegetation along the creek. The Fall Creek Valley hillsides are steep and covered with redwoods. The remnants of an old barrel-making mill are passed about 2.3 miles from the parking area. A marked trail junction with Big Ben Trail
is reached at mile 2.9.
Big Ben Trail
From Fall Creek Trail
, go straight (not right) onto Big Ben Trail
and continue upstream along Fall Creek for a very short ways - about 0.05 miles. Here, there appears to be an unmarked trail junction with a path going left towards Fall Creek and an apparent path straight ahead continuing along Fall Creek. There is no sign indicating which way to go. To continue, go left toward Fall Creek and cross it on a primitive stick-and-log bridge. Do not go straight—going straight dead ends quickly at a huge downed tree across the path. After crossing Fall Creek, pick up Big Ben Trail
again as it almost immediately veers left to begin climbing up out of the Fall Creek Valley. The trail is densely forested and the hillside is steep. Some switchbacks ease the way. Huge redwoods, other trees, and ground vegetation make up this forest. The trail climbs this densely forested hillside continuously for almost 1.5 miles to the Big Ben Trail
's end at Lost Empire Trail
. Here at the end of Big Ben Trail
lives Big Ben Tree, a beautiful, giant, old-growth redwood tree.
Lost Empire Trail
The Big Ben/Lost Empire Trail
junction is the highest point of this hike. From here, turn left onto Lost Empire Trail
and descend through the redwood forest on the hillside of the ridge that forms the steep southwest side of the deep Fall Creek Valley. The trail loops around the beginning of Barrel Mill Creek (a creek that flows into Fall Creek at the old barrel mill site on the banks of Fall Creek), continues descending, and reaches Cape Horn Trail
after about 2.5 miles on Lost Empire Trail
Cape Horn Trail
The Lost Empire/Cape Horn Trail
junction is in the Fall Creek Valley very close to Fall Creek, which can be heard below. Go right onto Cape Horn Trail
to head toward the South Fork of Fall Creek and South Fork Trail
. This is well marked. After about another 0.25 miles, Cape Horn Trail
veers right and leaves the Fall Creek Valley behind. Fall Creek can no longer be heard, BUT another creek comes into earshot—the South Fork of Fall Creek. The trail is now on the steep hillside of this South Fork Creek Valley, with this new creek far below, to the left of the trail. From here the trail slowly nears the South Fork of Fall Creek and descends to meet it. Cape Horn Trail
then ends at the South Fork of Fall Creek where it meets South Fork Trail
South Fork of Fall Creek
Continue on South Fork Trail
to immediately do a U-turn to head downstream along South Fork of Fall Creek. Here, right after this U-turn, be sure to check out the ruins of the old lime kilns. One can explore these kilns with a very short side trip across South Fork Creek. To continue on the main trail, head downstream along the banks of South Fork Creek. The redwood forest is thick here, with lush vegetation along the creek. After about 0.4 miles on South Fork Trail
, South Fork Trail
ends at Fall Creek Trail
and the sturdy bridge that crosses South Fork of Fall Creek. Turn right, cross the creek, and head back down Fall Creek Trail
, to Bennett Creek Trail
, and then the parking area.
Flora & Fauna
Redwood forest and dense vegetation abound here. Ferns and other lush vegetation can be found along the creeks.
History & Background
Limestone was plentiful in this area, and the lime kilns were used to process the limestone into lime up until the early 1900s. Redwood trees were used to fire the kilns. Redwood trees were also used to make the barrels that the lime was held and shipped in. Eventually, the supply of limestone and redwood trees was exhausted and the kilns closed in 1919. The modern day, thick, second-growth redwood forest here is a testament to the resilience of nature.