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San Lorenzo River

Coast redwood, bigleaf maple, Santa Cruz, Big Trees & Pacific Ry (11/20/20) Sam Reeves

The San Lorenzo River travels down from redwood forests in the San Lorenzo Valley to Santa Cruz. As this gentle stream descends, it passes through Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and near the Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton.

Monterey Peninsula color spotter Sam Reeves and I share a love of similar places. I spent my youth on another peninsula, the San Francisco one – where Sam enjoys exploring – and later, headed marketing at the Roaring Camp Railroads, where he makes an annual trek. Often, I’d leave the caboose containing my office, that sat on a railroad siding beside the state park, and spend my lunch break walking through the Joseph Welch Grove of Big Trees.

Welch was the first person in California to preserve the redwoods from being cut and this grove and those at Roaring Camp stand as testament to his pioneering private contributions to conserving old-growth redwoods. In a sorry twist of fate, Henry Cowell, who profited from clearing the Santa Cruz Mountains of redwood forests and whose family donated the land he’d denuded to the State of California, got the park named after him, while Welch – the true savior of the redwoods – remains little known.

A mix of winter deciduous foliage grows in the forest, including dispersed pockets of orange black oak, yellow bigleaf maple, orange-yellow valley oak, rosy creek dogwood, golden black cottonwood, orange-yellow blue elderberry, crimson poison oak, yellow box elder, orange-russet western sycamore, lemon-colored alder and scarlet bitter cherry berries.

Reeves visits the Welch grove and park each autumn. About today’s trip he said, “it did not disappoint.  The bulk of fall color is located on the trails adjacent to the San Lorenzo River.  Maples, cottonwoods, alders, and sycamores were all at peak colors.”

Peak often lasts through the Thanksgiving weekend. You’ll find “some isolated color in the redwood loop, but not as much as you will see next to the river.  There’s also opportunities to see fall color south of the redwood loop at Garden of Eden, and the Rincon on Highway 9.” Fall Creek remains closed due to fire lines that were made there in August.

At Roaring Camp, the sycamore near the depot are fading. Though colorful maples line both the narrow gauge and standard gauge right of ways into the redwoods. A ride on the narrow-gauge line takes passengers up through the redwood forest, over trestles to the summit of Bear Mountain; one on the standard-gauge line travels down beside to San Lorenzo River to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Spots of bright color are seen along both routes.

  • Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Felton (285′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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