This is Fall Creek's best hike, a moderately difficult hill climb through attractive woods followed by an easy return along a rushing creek. Although the differences are subtle, I always find this route to be more enjoyable than the Big Ben route. The forest has fewer signs of logging, maybe because there are fewer redwoods in this area. As a result, it's brighter, healthier-looking, and generally more attractive. It's also more varied, especially along the Ridge Trail, with different colors and textures of trees in any one spot and different types of trees appearing as you climb.
The entire route (in fact, the entire park) is wooded and, despite the fact that the trail climbs a ridge high above the San Lorenzo Valley, there are no scenic views.
This is a good hike for any time of year, although in winter Fall Creek turns into a raging torrent and four of the bridges across it (marked as seasonal bridges on the map) often get washed out. If this happens, just detour along the Cape Horn Trail. The hike is especially enjoyable in winter, since the woods are more lush and the creek more lively.
Start from the Fall Creek parking lot off Felton-Empire Road and descend on the Bennett Creek Trail. Turn right at the Fall Creek Trail, immediately crossing a wide bridge across the creek. The trail descends gently through dense, green second-growth redwoods. The forest is surprisingly lush and doesn't have the gloomy look that second-growth redwoods often have.
Turn left at the first trail. After climbing just a few yards, turn left onto onto the Ridge Trail (or check out the High School Trail first; see below).
The Ridge Trail immediately begins a climb that's incessant if not especially difficult. The redwood-dominated forest soon gives way to a mixture of conifers as the trail meanders up the hillside. The hoots of the Roaring Camp steam trains echo through the valley, and there's also a some traffic noise that eventually fades to a low hum and then disappears completely.
The trail reaches the ridge, then crests and descends slightly before reaching the intersection with the S-Cape Trail. After this point the climb becomes more strenuous until it reaches the Truck Trail.
After a few steep sections, the Truck Trail levels out somewhat and the woods become increasingly attractive. The rest of the climb is an easy stroll through second-growth redwoods with a dense understory of low tanoaks. Look carefully for the Big Ben Trail to your left; the trail is not marked and is easy to miss. In fact, all the signs for the section of the Big Ben Trail north of Fall Creek have been removed. If the Truck Trail starts going downhill for more than a few steps, you've gone too far.
The Big Ben Trail descends steeply through small redwoods with a dense tanoak understory. The trail isn't as interesting as the previous trails, but at least you're going downhill. As you approach the bottom of the trail, the woods become darker, shadier and increasingly lush, and the rushing of the creek can be heard.
Turn left on the Fall Creek Trail, which at first descends steeply through a narrow canyon. The canyon soon opens up and the grade becomes more level. After the Barrel Mill Area, the woods gradually becomes more lush and scenic. The trail crosses Fall Creek on a low footbridge (if this bridge gets washed out during heavy rains, you'd be stranded, but I've yet to see that happen).
At the intersection with the Cape Horn Trail, bear left. The trail crosses the creek four times and passes through a little gorge before joining the South Fork Trail. Continue to the Bennett Creek Trail, then turn right and return to the parking lot.
When hiking the Truck Trail loop, I usually take a detour onto the High School Trail, which descends to a flat with a lush second-growth redwood grove. Besides being the only flat part of Fall Creek, the grove has an unusually high density of redwoods and a relatively open understory; it's a much different appearance from the rest of the park.
© 2006, 2013, 2014 David Baselt