Santa Cruz Story

Park Friends

Central Coast Activities

Events Calendar

Redwoods of Santa Cruz

Where Nature’s Giants Spawned Courageous People


A beautiful example of nature-inspired courage is boldly displayed everyday in Santa Cruz. Two magnificent groves of ancient redwoods give powerful evidence there is hope for humans in their interface with nature. At State Parks in Felton, the Cowell Redwoods and at Big Basin we can experience a natural wonder. These old growth marvels were spared man’s rapacity, and that is a great story.

But, it is made greater because artists and scientists came together to save these trees, and created the conservation and state parks movement in California.

Redwood logging was fierce all over California. It began soon after Americans took control of the region, and continued unabated for nearly half a century. Until then, most of these magnificent trees had been seen only by people who came to cut them down.

But, one person, Andrew Hill from San Jose, came to photograph them in Santa Cruz. He was so moved by their greatness, and so horrified by the logging, that he began a conservation movement that saved one of the grandest groves of redwoods, and gave birth to the California State Parks.

These grand testimonials to prehistoric nature, once ranged over much of North America, Greenland, Europe, and Asia, but now are limited to the fog belt from Big Sur to southern Oregon. Some Redwoods live longer than 2,000 years, and grow higher than 350 feet.

Redwood groves create habitats for rare plants and animals. Big Basin is home to the largest stand of ancient redwoods south of San Francisco. A former lodge at the park is now an excellent nature center.

Camping and Hiking

More than 80 miles of hiking trails in Big Basin begin with an awesome half mile trail loop through an ancient grove. It is a fine example of the great coastal sequoias. Other trails lead to picturesque waterfalls and the ocean. There are 147 tent camping sites spread over several excellent campgrounds, and 36 tent cabins for rent. Back pack camping is available.

Also, a spectacular overnight hiking trip –Skyline to Sea.


Big Basin State Park, the product of citizen conservation advocacy, was created in 1901, as the first California State Park.

The Sempervirens Club, comprised of outdoor enthusiasts and natural sciences academicians, was formed at Slippery Rock in Big Basin, in 1900. And in just 2 years they were able to raise money and enact legislation to acquire 3,800 acres of these redwoods for a park. Later, a sister organization, Save The Redwoods League joined the good fight, and today the park is four times larger, and extends to the ocean.

Conservation Legacy

It is a rare and beautiful place, and home to exquisite orchids and native azaleas. Marbled Murrelets, a shorebird, nests high in Big Basin redwoods.

Andrew Hill – A long ago newspaper story about Hill and the redwoods, said: “Giant redwoods, mighty with the strength which had withstood the ravages of centuries, quavered at the menacing snarl of the saw mill; trembled with the throb of its engines; moaned with the scream of the ripping,tearing, steel teeth, cutting through the heart of the forest, nearer and ever nearer, and from their towering height beckoned across the mountains for rescue; beckoned to those who were yet to come might feast on their grandeur…”

Hill brought influential people right into the scene of the slaughter, and preached the cause of protecting the trees. And, once they experienced the trees, and the danger, they joined Hill in what became a movement. Around a campfire, at Slippery Rock, after hiking into Big Basin past the sawmills, and seeing the carnage first hand, the group, on May 18, 1900, formed the Sempervirens Club.

A railroad had already surveyed the basin, and plans were underway to cut 15,000 acres of redwoods between San Lorenzo River and Boulder Creek.

It became a race to save the trees. It was a time that called upon the best in people to win a battle against the worst in people.

Against great odds, and an opposing governor, Hill and his group got the Redwood Bill passed which bought Big Basin for the state. Now these trees are here, their beauty inspiring us with what can be the best in people.

Today, Hill’s accomplishment is marked only by a water fountain on the trail. But, if it is necessary for him to want more, he can be satisfied that hundreds of thousands of people come here and are sublimely touched by the presence of these trees.

Read the Story of Hill’s Accomplishment

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park An exemplary ancient grove is just one-half mile south of Felton close to Highway 9. A one mile loop trail shows off some of the greatest old growth trees –the Fremont and the Giant. It’s a good place to see how redwoods are resistant to fire, and understand the natural ecology of fire.

The park has an interpretive nature center, and a 112 site campground. San Lorenzo River runs through the park.

This is where Andrew Hill became enchanted with redwoods. Here to photograph the redwoods for a magazine in England, Hill encountered the human attitude about possessing nature’s grandest of her wonder. The owner of a hotel in the grove tried to exact a payment from Hill for the photography, and that caused him to reason that the incredible redwoods should belong to the public.

But, then he saw logging and saw milling furiously chewing down the great redwood groves, and he set to work.


Sequoia Semperviren were known by Spanish as Palo Colorado – Red Tree.

The Latin name today came from botanist who affixed semperviren -meaning ‘evergreen’ to Sequoia – from Sequoyah the great Cherokee intellectual. He created a written language for Indians. American scientists named the tree in his honor. California Indians were very reverent about these trees. Reaching more than 350 feet, redwoods create their own rain forest in foggy coastal valleys. Their branches catch fog and drip water. Filtered sunlight through redwoods create mystical effects that excite the senses.

California redwood groves are all that remain from prehistoric periods when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. They are fire and decay resistant, and can regenerate without seed. In the last 60 million years their tenure has been threatened only by logging in modern times.

Wanton over harvesting by lumber companies has so seriously decimated redwood forests, that they have depleted their own industry beyond sustainability, and wrecked irreversible destruction on all other habitats in their wake.

How to get there

Big Basin is 24 miles upcanyon from Santa Cruz. Two roads approach the park. From Saratoga on Highway 9, proceed past Skyline, and 6 miles farther is Highway 236 which enters the park a few miles farther.

From Santa Cruz, take Highway 9 to Boulder Creek, and, then on to Highway 236 (west) which enters the park after 9 miles.

Overnighting fees

$18 Friday and Saturday nights, $17 the other nights for tent sites nights, April through October. $!4 a night November 1 to March 31

Tent cabins are $40 to $44 per night.

Fee for back pack camping is $10 per night.

To reserve a back pack site, call 831.338.8861

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is one-half mile south of Felton on Hwy 9. There are 112 tent camp sites at Cowell. Entrance to the campground is on Graham Hill Road, 4 mi. NE of Santa Cruz

For more information, call:

Big Basin 831.338.8860

Cowell 831.335.4598

Historical Account of Mr. Hill’s efforts

Santa Cruz Mountain Trails


Help preserve Coast Redwoods with California's Oldest Conservancy Fund:
Sempevirens Fund


Point Lobos

Pelican Getaways

Santa Cruz Redwoods

Big Sur Story

Pacific Grove

Steinbeck Center

Big Basin Creation

Big Sur Eco Guide


Central Coast Guide

C. Coast Activities

Big Sur Lodge

Elkhorn Slough

Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks

Central Coast Events

Big Sur Campgrounds


Calif. Back Country

Central Coast Map

Sandpiper Inn

Monterey Peninsula

San Juan Bautista

Ventana Wilderness

Carmel Hiking

Bygone Towns

Pelican Protectin Alliance

Molera State Park

Pebble Beach


Monarchs in Pacific Grove

Big Sur People & Places

Santa Cruz


Natural Bridges – Butterfly

Big Sur Watercolors

Monterey Bay Volunteer

San Simeon-Piedras Blancas

Big Sur Hiking

Marine Sanctuary

Elephant Seal Notes

Artichoke Store

Big Sur Lodging

Moss Landing


Garden Art

Hwy One – Big Sur Road

Carmel Valley

Mission San Antonio


Big Sur Cabins

Carmel Birding

Hearst Hacienda

Birding Places

Big Sur Coast

Carmel Lodging

Elephant Seals


Point Sur Historical Park

Morro Bay

Montaña de Oro

Nature Guide

Partington Cove & Canyon

Hecker Pass


Member Comments

Nacimiento Road

Pinnacles Monument


PelicanNetwork Links

Old Coast Road – Big Sur

Kayak Central Coast

Salinan Nation

PelicanNetwork Home

Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Bixby Bridge

Rock Art Site Steward

About Pelican Network

Big Sur Diving


Member’s Comments

Pelican Member

Big Sur Birding

Big Sur Sanctuary

Voices of the Wetlands



If you want updates about the Central Coast, join the PelicanNetwork email list

Yes. I want to be on the PelicanNetwork email list.

(Your name and email address will not be given to anybody. You will receive stories and reports about once a week – for example about natural and cultural history events, group hikes, new books and issues.)

My Name
My Email


Comment, or Contact PelicanNetwork