Fall Creek Unit of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is one place Bay Area hikers would prefer to keep secret. It's shady and cool all summer, rarely crowded and contains some of the best redwood hiking in the region.
This hike to Big Ben Trail at Fall Creek Unit is admittedly grueling with more than 3,000 feet of ascent spread over nearly 10 miles, but if you've got the legs for an all-day outing it's one of the best ways to see all Fall Creek has to offer.
Another remarkable facet of Fall Creek is that an industrial mining site used to stand where a second-growth redwood forest thrives today. Stone ruins of an defunct lime-processing operation look vaguely Roman.
Big Ben Trail is named for a massive ancient redwood in a remote corner of the park. This route requires a long hard climb to reach the Big Ben Tree, but if you're a veteran hiker who is easily enthralled by old-growth redwoods, it's the trail to see at Fall Creek.
Trails on this hike: Fall Creek Trail > South Fork Trail > Cape Horn Trail > Lost Empire Trail > Big Ben Trail > Truck Trail > Ridge Trail > High School Trail > Bennett Creek Trail.
Best times to go: This is a true four-season park; just bear in mind it can be quite cold in the morning.
Dress in layers -- hiking along the creek is very chilly, but hiking up the steep trails to the nearby ridges will warm you up quickly.
Bring plenty of water and snacks to sustain your energy level.
Hours: 6 a.m. to sunset.
Dogs: Not allowed on trails.
Driving directions: From Highway 1 in Santa Cruz, go north on Highway 9 for ﬁve miles to Felton. Go west on Felton Empire Road (left turn) for a half-mile to Fall Creek parking area.