The park contains erosion canyons with ridges extending southeasterly from Ben Lomond Mountain. Fall Creek drains the main canyon while side canyons are drained by South Fall Creek, Barrel Mill Creek, and Three Shack Creek. The Ben Lomond Fault runs along the base of the Mountain on which large amounts of high-grade limestone are exposed.
Fall Creek is dominated by a second-growth mixed evergreen forest. The redwoods favor the cool, shaded canyons and alluvial flats. A beautiful grove of big-leaf maples can be found near the kilns. The deep, moist, shaded creekside environment yields lush riparian vegetation. Of the 18 different kinds of ferns in Santa Cruz County, 15 are found in Fall Creek. A small chaparral community is found around the parking lot.
The limestone deposit on South Fall Creek was first developed in the early 1870s by the IXL Lime Company. The company built the three granite-block kilns and some of the structures and worked the quarry until 1896. In 1900, after 4 years of idleness, the limestone operation was purchased by Henry Cowell and incorporated into the existing Cowell Lime and Cement Co. under the IXL name. The lime produced was high grade and was used extensively throughout California. Large quantities were used for mortar in rebuilding San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake.
Henry Cowel died in 1903. His son, Samuel, took control of the company in 1911. The quarry was shut down in 1919 after more efficient oil-fired kilns became common. The barrel mill was closed in 1925 and the property deteriorated. On April 5, 1972, the S.H. Cowell Foundation gift-deeded 2,335 acres of forestland to the State of California and the Fall Creek unit was born. Other acquired lands have extended the park boundary north and increased the area to its present 2,390 acres.