Located in the Santa Cruz Mountains not far from Interstate 17 in Northern California, it is one of the last old-growth coastal redwood forests. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is a 4,650-acre preserve created on August 18, 1954.
Within the parks is a 40-acre grove of towering coastal redwoods. Coastal redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are the tallest trees in the world, with mature trees reaching 300-350 feet tall. Coastal redwood trees can also live for more than 2,000 years.
Henry Cowell’s Redwood Grove Loop Trail draws visitors around (and even through) some of these majestic trees. Visiting this grove is an ideal place for forest bathing or just taking a simple nature walk.
What is forest bathing?
In 1982, Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries coined the term “shinrin-yoku” to refer to the practice of forest bathing in response to reported high levels of stress among its citizens.
The idea is simple: Take a meditative walk among the trees and you’ll feel more relaxed and reap the health benefits. Forest bathing is designed to be a therapeutic method that rejuvenates the physical and mental health of individuals by engaging all five senses – sight, smell, sound, touch and taste by immersing themselves in the forest environment.
Scientific studies have given some credence to these claims, finding that forest bathing can lead to lower stress hormone cortisol, lower blood pressure, lower pulse rates, and produce an overall relaxed state of mind.
Why coastal redwoods are ideal for forest bathing
Visitors to old-growth coastal redwood forests often describe it as eliciting the same sense of awe as standing inside a cathedral. Walking among the towering trees is an experience that engages multiple senses.
The coastal redwood ecosystem is also rich in biodiversity, resulting in a more complex and engaging sensory experience. Redwood forests contain multiple layers of plants and animals, including various species of ferns, mosses, and small animals.
Redwood Grove Loop Trail
The Redwood Grove Loop Trail within Henry Cowell is an easy, flat loop with parking right next to the trail. Walkers and hikers of all ages and abilities can enjoy this casual stroll through ancient redwood trees. There are docents along the 0.8 mile loop who are more than happy to answer any questions you may have about this grove of redwood trees. Markers at points of interest along the trail correspond to the self-guided tour found in brochures available at the visitor center located at the entrance to the loop.
Coastal redwoods that have been alive for hundreds of years are a sight to behold. The sheer size and age of these trees creates a sense of wonder among visitors standing beneath the canopy. The tallest tree in the grove extends 277 feet toward the sky.
Mature stands of coastal redwood trees also create an enclosed canopy that filters sunlight into a soothing, diffused glow. During the summer months, fog rolls in from the nearby Pacific Ocean creating a hazy view of the sky as it washes away the trees.
It’s not just the trees that attract the eye. The coastal redwood ecosystem is very diverse. Hundreds of species of mammals, birds, insects, reptiles and fungi are found within this forest.
During the wet months, visitors may enjoy viewing the Pacific banana slug on the forest floor. These yellow molluscs (Areolimax colombianus) is the second largest terrestrial slug in the world.
The soundscape of the coastal redwood forest is soothing. When you enter this ancient forest, one of the first things you’ll notice is the subdued sound quality. The towering trees and dense foliage act as natural sound insulators, creating a tranquil ambience. The gentle wind sent a soothing rustle from the branches.
Squirrels feed quietly among the tree trunks and ferns. The distant call of a bird, such as a Steller’s warbler or a northern spotted owl, pierces the quiet. Even the people strolling nearby are quiet, busy absorbing the grandeur of the forest.
Redwood trees have a distinct earthy scent. This is because trees release a chemical compound called terpenes. These terpenes are more than just the tree’s natural scent. These essential oils help Drawing water from the air, fending off insect infestations, and protecting redwood trees from wildfires.
Some studies suggest that forest aerosols such as terpenes have health benefits for people including their use as chemotherapeutic agents to treat some diseases.
Henry Cowell’s redwood episode is meant to be explanatory. There are many hollow trees along the trail that users can explore to not only see the thick bark that protects the trees during forest fires but also to see up close and feel the charred interiors of living trees.
Visitors can also enter the Fremont Tree for a full sensory experience. The tree is named after explorer Lieutenant John C. Frémont who was said to have camped inside the tree in 1846 during an expedition to plot the shortest route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Coastal redwoods provide a unique combination of sensory, emotional, and physiological benefits that make them a great place for forest bathing.
Cho, K. S., Lim, Y. R., Lee, K., Lee, J., Lee, J. H., & Lee, I. S. (2017). Terpenes from forests and human health. Toxicological research, 33, 97-106. doi: 10.5487/TR.2017.33.2.097
Okamoto, R. A., Ellison, B. O., & Kepner, R. E. (1981). Volatile terpenes in Sequoia sempervirens foliage. Changes in composition during ripening. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, 29(2), 324-326. https://doi.org/10.1021/jf00104a026
Park, P.J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasitani, T., Kagawa, T., and Miyazaki, Y. (2010). Physiological effects of shinrin-yoku (air bathing or forest bathing): Evidence from field experiments in 24 forests throughout Japan. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 1518-26. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12199-009-0086-9
Payne, M., and Delphinus, E. (2018). Review current evidence for health benefits derived from forest bathing. International Journal of Health, Wellness and Society, 9(1), 19.