The Damnation Creek Trail
Length 4.0 mi · Climbing 1170 ft
The Damnation Creek Trail is one of the trails most frequently recommended by park staff, visitors, and guidebooks. It is, in fact, a really nice trail, with an 1100-foot elevation drop to add a little challenge, and a variety of pristine and very attractive woodland environments. Since it's on a west-facing hill next to the ocean, the trail is often shrouded in fog from the summer marine layer, adding considerably to the primeval old-growth atmosphere. Even if it's not fogged in, the Damnation Creek Trail makes an exceptional late-afternoon hike; when the sun is too low to illuminate other groves, leaving them in gloomy darkness, Damnation Creek's hillside is still catching the golden light of the setting sun, a splendid sight.
The big drawback of this trail is the presence of Highway 101. The really spectacular redwoods are all at the top of the trail where there's also the most traffic noise. By the time the noise fades away, the redwoods are no longer as impressive. Also, although it's on a steep hillside next to the ocean, the trail is wooded so there are no ocean views. To be fair, though, ocean views aren't very common anywhere in Redwood National and State Parks.
The trail is a little tricky to find since it starts from an unmarked dirt pullout on the west side of Highway 101. The pullout is at mile marker 16.
The trail begins with a climb through an exceptionally attractive grove of big redwoods. There's a lot of variation in the size, texture, and colors of the trees. The redwoods grow out of a dense understory of rhodedendron and the tallest huckleberry shrubs I've ever seen. The huckleberry actually looks more like trees, reaching heights of about 15 feet. This area must be spectacular when the rhodendron is in bloom, although I've never been there at the right time.
The forest is nearly pure redwood, with only a few Douglas-Fir trees mixed in.
The trail then descends through equally nice old-growth redwood forest. There's still a dense understory, which is an unusually brilliant green color, but above that the woods are very open. There are a lot of huge trees here, and all the trees seem to be straight and tall with elegantly fluted trunks, giving the forest a very stately, orderly look. Except for the traffic noise, it's an exceptionally fine grove. The distant hooting of Crescent City's foghorn can sometimes be heard.
The trail briefly runs alongside the Coastal Trail, which is actually a paved road, then crosses it. At this point, the traffic noise fades away and the redwoods get a lot smaller. It's still a very attractive redwood forest, though, resembling the uplands of Prairie Creek with its light-colored redwood trunks and understory of light-green huckleberry and ferns.
As the trail descends, the woods become more open and the giant huckleberry trees are replaced with normal-sized shrubs. The redwoods are a very light grey color, presumably bleached by the salt air; the color complements the light green of the understory.
The redwoods end at around mile 1.5, giving way to big spruce trees. The trail becomes rougher and steeper and slumps precariously in a few places. There's a nice view of a spruce-covered hillside across Damnation Creek, then, almost at its very end, the trail emerges onto a blufftop and the ocean finally comes into view. The final descent is on a rather precarious stairway crudely carved into the rock. At the bottom of the trail is a tiny cove with a narrow, rocky beach. There's no sand and the beach may be completely covered at high tide, but you might be able to walk up and down the beach a little ways. If the tide is unusually low there may be tidepools.
The return trip, although uphill, is actually more enjoyable than the outbound trip. After an initial steep section the trail really isn't that difficult, and the redwoods get progressively more scenic.
© 2008-2012 David Baselt