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Henry Cowell Redwoods SP State Park

cowell woods and state park


Henry Cowell Redwoods SP State Park is located in Santa Cruz County near the City of Santa Cruz. The park is open to the public for  nature hikes, bicycling, river kayaking, fishing, horseback riding and even a train ride passes through the beautiful Redwood Grove. The hiking trails range in difficulty but most are easy to walk and perfect for families of all all ages.


Douglas fir, oak, madrone and a stand of Ponderosa pine present a picture perfect experience much as travelers would have seen 200 years ago. The tallest tree in the park is about 285' tall and 16' wide. The oldest trees in the park are about 1400 to 1800 years old. With over 20 miles of riding and hiking trails, a picnic area above the San Lorenzo River and steelhead and salmon during the winter, this oasis near the ocean is one of the region's prized possessions, enjoying a location near the University of California Santa Cruz campus. The park is accessible by car on Highway 9 in Felton in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Public buses that stop at a shopping center with a Rite Aid store in Felton near the corner of Mt. Hermon Road and Highway 9 are a short walk (less than half a mile) from the park and cost less than $2 to ride.


Zayante Indians once lived in the area, discovering shelter, water and game abundant, making this an ideal place for settlements. After the Spanish established a foothold in California, the land here as in many parts of California became parcels granted to individuals. Rancho Zayante was granted by Mexico in 1834 to Joaquin Buelna and consisted of 2,658 acres just north of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and probably included a small portion of the present northern section of the Park; Rancho Carbonera, a large tract of land bordering the San Lorenzo River north of Santa Cruz and at the entrance to the San Lorenzo Valley, was granted by Governor Alvarado to Jose Guillermo Bocle in 1838; and Rancho CaƱada del Rincon en el Rio San Lorenzo de Santa Cruz was granted to Pedro Sansevain in 1843.


Gold was discovered in Gold Gulch, a small creek opposite the park picnic area in 1855. Limestone quarries, logging, paper mills and tourism all contributed to the influx of people into the area. Henry Cowell, for whom the park was named, previously left his home in Wrentham, Massachusetts for the lure of California gold. He began a successful drayage business that grew to include routes to Stockton and the gold country. His empire grew to include property and business interests from San Luis Obispo to Washington State.

He purchased interest in the local limestone business and reportedly owned over 10,000 acres of land in the park and surrounding region. Cowell also owned cattle and logging businesses (for lumber and to fuel the lime kilns), and continually purchased property. Henry Cowell died in 1903, leaving his lands and wealth to sons Ernest and Harry.


Harry took an active interest in operations and maintained the business until his death in 1955. He was the last link in the Cowell family line and wrote in his will that the real estate interests were to be governed by the Cowell Foundation, worth over $14 million. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park was one of the many recipients of the generous deed of land for public use and enjoyment.


Like so many of the written and verbal accounts, there are other perspectives that could contribute to this history of the park and its naming. One thing is clear. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is a testament to the beauty of Santa Cruz. Its Redwood forest has survived climate changes, logging efforts and remains one of the oldest living monuments to a beautiful place where forests meet the beach. For information on the Roaring Camp Railroads, see Felton web page.