Mill Creek Watershed
Length 15.8 mi · Climbing 2000 ft
The Mill Creek Addition or Mill Creek Watershed is a 40 square mile property that was extensively logged until it was added to Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park in 2002.
There aren't any really noteworthy sights here and the watershed gets very few visitors. In fact, except for the area right around the parking lot, I've never seen another hiker here. All the same, I kind of like the watershed. The woods are pleasant and attractive, and don't, for the most part, have the dismal look of a lot of second-growth forests, mainly because many of the roads are lined with such dense vegetation that you can't really see into the woods; it's just a green corridor of foliage. The roads are in good condition, with no steep grades, making for very fast hiking. The mainline roads are open to the sky and it's nice to be able to see the blue sky and sunshine. The watershed is very quiet except for the rushing creeks.
A good map and a GPS are absolutely essential in the Mill Creek Watershed. Don't use the State Park's free brochure; it's not nearly detailed enough. The current, temporary trail system is just part of an extensive network of logging roads. There are a lot of intersections with other logging roads and there aren't any signs to indicate which way to go. Often the correct road is much fainter than the other options, and it may even be marked "closed" (to vehicular traffic). Some of the roads are still marked with old signs put up by the logging company, but others aren't marked at all, so it's easy to make a wrong turn onto a road that goes on for miles. The park is gradually removing the excess logging roads and eventually a more permanent trail system is supposed to be built.
Four trail loops are currently open to hikers and bikers. The route described below combines the two longest loops for a challenging all-day hike or bike ride. This is the best part of the watershed; the loops north of Hamilton Road are much less interesting.
Click here to see the trailhead location in Google Maps.
The Mill Creek Watershed is only open Saturday and Sunday from 9 to 5. After passing the entrance kiosk, continue along the paved road until it's blocked by a gate, then park in the large paved area to the left.
Arrive early, since if you don't leave by 5:00 you'll be locked in.
From the parking lot, continue up Hamilton Road, walking around the gate that blocks it. On the steep hillside to your right is a small old-growth redwood grove, one of the ornamental groves that logging companies sometimes leave next to sawmills. If you want to get a better look at the grove, walk a few yards down Section 5 Road, which is the first dirt road to your right, then return to Hamilton Road. While the grove clearly has an old growth look that's much different from the surrounding logged areas, it doesn't have any especially big trees. There were some pretty good-sized trees at the base of the hill, but they've all been logged.
Cross Mill Creek on an auto bridge and turn right onto Hamilton Road. The old mill and some other logging company buildings stand in a large, partially paved clearing. Next to one of the buildings is a little fenced-in area where trays of redwood seedlings grow.
The pavement ends and the road turns into Childs Hill Road. The level road follows roaring Mill Creek for several miles through a lightly forested stream valley. After crossing a bridge the road begins a long but gentle climb. Typically for a mainline logging road, the wide, gravel-surfaced road feels isolated from the forest.
Turn right onto the Crossover Road, which is only marked with a deteriorated and barely readable sign that's about to fall down; it may not be marked at all in the near future. The road is much less well-maintained than Childs Hill Road and is easy to miss; if you miss the turnoff you can keep going forever on Childs Hill Road.
Crossover Road is the most scenic part of the hike. It's much more immersed in the forest than the mainline roads, and the forest is especially attractive, with a lot of lush, attractive stands of fir trees with white-tinged trunks. The road is mostly clear, but in places thorny vines have crept across it.
There's a short side road, Crossover 2, that leads to a flat, open area. This area used to have a nice view over the watershed that was a highlight of the hike, but the perimeter has become overgrown with pine trees and cattails that mostly block the view. But it's still worth the short side trip, just because it's so different from the rest of the hike.
Turn right onto Rock Creek Road. Although it's a mainline logging road, it's not as wide or as well maintained as Childs Hill Road.
Turn left onto the 12% road. This road looks similar to Crossover Road although it's not quite as scenic. As the name it descends at a relatively steep 12% grade. At the next intersection turn right onto West Branch Road.
West Branch Road is another mainline road that descends into a creek valley filled with a dense stand of redwoods. This is the one part of the hike where a lot of redwood stumps can be seen; the slope to your left has a dark second-growth forest with some very large stumps.
After crossing Mill Creek on a steel auto bridge, return to the parking lot using Childs Hill and Hamilton Roads.
© 2014 David Baselt