The Lime Kiln Trail leads you on a journey through an ancient redwood forest to old overgrown industrial ruins. This is one of the most popular day hikes near Santa Cruz that offers amazing views and a look into this region’s history.
The Fall Creek to Lime Kilns Trail is just over 3 miles long and passes creeks, wooden bridges, giant redwood groves, and remnants of a lime processing site. With serene scenery and little elevation gain, this trail is a great choice for those looking to enjoy a bit of nature in the small town of Felton.
Location & Parking
Lime Kiln Trail is located within Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in Felton, just 15 minutes north of Santa Cruz.
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is essentially divided into two sections separated by Highway 9. To the southeast of Highway 9, you can visit popular attractions such as the Roaring Camp, Redwood Grove Loop Trail along with several overlooks and unique sandhills.
The northwest section of the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is part of the Fall Creek Unit that has 20 miles of rugged hiking trails spanning over 2390 acres of land. This is a second-growth redwood forest in Felton that was once logged and has grown back since. Here you can find hidden gems including the 3.3-mile-long Fall Creek to Lime Kilns Trail that we’ll cover in this post.
To reach the trailhead you can set your Google Map directions to Fall Creek Unit, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park which will lead you directly to the visitor parking lot. You can also look up Fall Creek To Lime Kilns Trail on the AllTrails hiking app and set directions through the app.
The visitor lot is quite small but we arrived on a weekday morning and we were one of the first people to set out on the trail. At the trailhead, you can also check out a map of the available hikes and trail warnings.
While it costs $10 to enter the main area of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, the parking lot at Lime Kiln Trailhead did not have an entrance booth.
About Lime Kiln Trail
The Fall Creek to Lime Kilns Trail is a popular 3.3-mile long day hike that leads to the Old Lime Kiln Ruins.
I would classify this trail as easy because it only gains 500 feet in elevation and is a great choice for beginner hikers, families, and kids. The terrain consists of rugged, uneven surfaces with tree roots, rocks, and creek crossings so sturdy hiking boots are recommended.
While most of the trail to Limestone Kilns is well marked, many of the trails at Fall Creek Unit intersect which can be confusing if you’re not familiar with the area or trail names.
I used a combination of AllTrails and Maps.Me hiking apps to track the route. Once you head into the redwood forest there is very limited reception so be sure to download an offline hiking map ahead of time.
The first section follows a narrow trail that travels next to a mossy river canyon. Then you will reach a bridge after which the trail goes in a loop to the ruins and back.
The Fall Creek to Lime Kilns Trail offers a great mix of towering redwood trees, a fern-lined creek, and a bit of history.
Lime Kiln Ruin History
The unique part that sets this trail apart from other redwood hikes is the ruins that you can visit here.
About halfway into the trail, you will come across the Old Lime Kiln Ruins. These ruins mark the location of historic lime kilns, a barrel mill, and other remains of an old industrial complex that operated in this forest between 1874-1919.
After the factory closed, the property slowly deteriorated. Now what remains of the complex is overgrown with bushes, moss, and trees as nature claim back the land.
At the site, you can read about the lime processing factory that used to stand here and see the foundation of the three pot kilns that were used to create construction materials.
You can walk around the old complex and explore the ruins but the top section is blocked off with fences for safety due to dangerous drop-offs.
Our Hiking Experience
We were visiting Felton for a quick getaway and decided to hike this highly rated trail before visiting the main area of the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.
From the parking lot, you can easily find the trailhead and a map of the Fall Creek Unit. Follow the narrow trail that will first travel down a few switchbacks before gradually climbing back up.
Soon after you will come across a fork in the trail. Stay to the left to continue on the Fall Creek to Lime Kilns Trail.
The next stretch follows a narrow, shaded trail along a creek. If you hike this trail in fall or even early winter, you can enjoy some beautiful fall colors from the brightly colored Bigleaf maple trees. If you’re lucky you might even spot some wildlife or a yellow banana slug munching on a mushroom.
About a mile into the trail you will reach a bridge that is the starting point for a loop that goes to the ruins. You can go either clockwise or counterclockwise – the terrain remains similar in either direction.
We decided to go left after the bridge and continue on the Fall Creek South Fork Trail clockwise. This section passes through towering redwood groves until you reach the Lime Kiln Ruins.
The Lime Kiln Ruins were built in a remote location with nothing else around for miles so the site is quite unusual and unexpected. The remains of the chambers are pretty large and you can walk around and up above them.
After exploring the Limestone Kilns keep going and you’ll see a sign for Powder Magazine and a small opening in the ground where they used to store explosives.
From there the trail continues on a wide road called Cape Horn Trail that in the mining days was used by workers to carry wagons of limestone out of the forest.
Then you will reach a junction and will need to go right to continue back on the Fall Creek Trail to finish up the loop.
This last section of the loop was my favorite with lots of ferns, mossy trees, and multiple creek crossings. If you’re lucky to enjoy it all by yourself, it’s quite a relaxing and serene experience.
After the loop ends and connects with the bridge, you can continue back to the trail starting point.
Other Visitor Tips
- You will see many mushrooms along this trail but do not pick or eat any of them. Every year people die from eating poisonous mushrooms found in the forest.
- Dogs are not allowed on the Lime Kiln Trail to protect the wildlife. If you’re looking to take your pup on a hike, the south section of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park offers several dog-friendly trails.
- Bicycles are also not allowed in the Fall Creek Unit due to rugged, narrow trail conditions.
- Most of the Lime Kiln Trail is shaded which means the temperatures in the forest are cooler than expected. Even though the weather was in the high 70’s during the day, we were quite chilly on these trails.
- This forest is overgrown with poison oak. Be sure to stay on the main trail to avoid exposure to poison oak.
Where To Stay Nearby
The Felton River Resort offers peace & quiet on a wooded property with river views at the edge of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.
During our visit to Felton, we stayed at the Fern River Resort that is nestled in a serene redwood forest off Highway 9. The cabins come equipped with all the comforts of home and are filled with thoughtful touches for a cozy experience.
This resort features a stunning, lush garden surrounded by towering redwood trees and views of the San Lorenzo River. The Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park Visitor Center is just a mile away. Many of the State Park attractions can be reached within a short walk from the resort.
Looking for more things to do around the coast? Check out these posts next:
- 12 Wonderful Things To Do In Felton, California
- 9 Top Things To Do At Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
- Staying At The Fern River Resort In Felton
- Historic Loop Trail At The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park
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