You remember your last trip to Muir Woods in Northern California. You remember the stately redwoods soaring into the blue sky – or the fog, depending on the season. You remember walking on the boardwalk between the trees feeling as though you were at the feet of giants. It was awesome in the old-fashioned sense.
But you probably also remember the twisty 2-lane road to Muir Woods, following behind a diesel-powered tour bus, with maybe a couple of kids in the back whimpering “Mommy, Daddy, I don’t feel so good. And you remember the fruitless search for a parking place in the cramped lot, and finally finding a place along the narrow road nearly a mile from the entrance, and the long walk (maybe with a couple of kids) to the park and then the somehow longer walk (maybe with tired kids) back to the car, and that twisty road. And you remember the other people crowding the boardwalk, waiting in line to take a picture of the kids next to the tallest tree, waiting in line for the restrooms, waiting in line to buy a postcard. Muir Woods is up to 6000 visitors a day.
But wait! There are other redwoods in the San Francisco area. And many of them are easier to get to, have larger parking lots, and no lines. I’m not talking about Hendy Woods State Park (road even twistier, and too far from the Bay Area.) I’m not even talking about Big Basin (still a two hour drive from anywhere, and mosquitoes!)
I’m talking about Henry Cowell Redwoods near Felton in Santa Cruz County, just over the Coast Range from Silicon Valley via four-lane freeway for most of the way. Henry Cowell has the spectacular trees, has the shaded paths between behemoths, has the fog and the ferns depending on the season. But look at this picture of the parking lot. Empty parking spaces! And no tour buses!
On a recent visit the sun filtered greenly down between the cathedral-high branches of the redwoods. The light reflected even more green from the wood sorrel and fern carpeting the ground by the path. The moss-covered logs and bay trees almost glowed with a green so intense that I felt as though I was walking under water. The quiet was so deep that I could hear the fall of a leaf. Along another section of the path the San Lorenzo River burbled between sandy banks. A dozen narrow footpaths showed where children and their parents had given in to the temptation to test the water during the summer. On this spring weekday afternoon I was the only person in sight.
On a weekend the park is a bit more bustling, partly because of the activity just next door (literally a fence-hop away) at Felton’s Roaring Camp Railroad. If those kids need corralling after rambling through the redwoods, a ride on a steam train up to a second redwood grove might be just the thing. And if you are lucky they will sleep all the way home.