Hobbs Wall and Saddler Skyline
Length 7.0 mi · Climbing 1260 ft
Every state park with a campground seems to have a trail that starts in the campground. Usually the trail is nothing special, since the main attraction of the trail isn't its scenery but its convenience for campers. Del Norte Coast's Mill Creek campground is a perfect example, with an entire trail network on a steep hillside above the campground. Except for a short stretch at the top of the Hobbs Wall Trail, the entire hillside seems to have been clearcut and is now covered in dense second-growth forest, which is not nearly as scenic as the park's old-growth forests. This loop explores most of the campground trail network.
The most interesting and scenic part of the loop is the section at the bottom of the hill, around the campground, where the trail winds through the lush and varied terrain alongside Mill Creek. Climbing up and away from the campground, the scenery enters a rather homogeneous forest of small firs and redwoods. Most of the trail is very quiet, with little traffic noise and few visitors.
If you're staying at the campground and can drive, keep in mind there are much better hiking choices just a few minutes away. Just a five minute drive south, for example, the Damnation Creek Trail and the DeMartin Section of the Coastal Trail both have extensive old-growth. 15 minutes to the north are the even more scenic, world-class trails of Jedediah Smith.
During the summer, non-campers who want to hike here should park in a small parking area near the entrance kiosk, for which the park charges a fee. From October 1st to April 30th the campground's main gate is locked, meaning that you have to park by the highway. However, although the park website says that it's OK to park by the highway during this time, the only places to park are on the narrow paved shoulder of the highway, where your car will probably be rear-ended, or in a muddy verge to the right of the gate, where your car will probably become stuck in the mud.
Ironically, these trails are at their best in winter, when the foliage is a strikingly rich green and numerous little creeks flow alongside the trails.
Start on the part of the Hobbs Wall Trail north of the access road. This is the best part of the trail; it's cut into a steep hillside, and the dramatic terrain makes the trek more interesting . From the access road, the trail descends through a ravine alongside, in winter, a little creek. At first quite a few redwood stumps are visible; most are small but there are a few huge ones. As the trail descends into a mixed Douglas-Fir forest the stumps become less common.
The trail levels out and meanders through more ravines. Cut into the side of a hill, the trail offers a few brief glimpses through the trees of the hills of the Mill Creek Watershed.
The trail climbs to an intersection with the Saddler Skyline Trail. To the right, it climbs to reach the campground access road just downhill of the entrace kiosk. Straight ahead, the trail continues its descent, crossing the access road.
The Alder Basin and Trestle Loop Trails are the most scenic in the campground trail system. The Alder Basin Trail climbs steeply into the lush second-growth redwoods behind the campground. The trail winds through some small ravines for what seems a surprisingly long time (given how short it looks on the map) before making a steep descent back to the campground.
The first half-mile of the Trestle Loop is flat. The trail is especially enjoyable because it's close to Mill Creek, offering a change of scenery from the rest of the campground trails. It runs through the scrub alongside the creek for a ways before entering an attractive fir grove. It then crosses Mill Creek; in winter there's no bridge and you have to wade the 18 inch deep creek. In summer the creek is dry and you can just walk across.
There's supposedly an old railroad trestle somewhere around here, but I've never seen it.
Past the creek, the trail is not as well maintained, and it begins to climb again. Turn left onto the Saddler Skyline Trail, which passes through a broad, brush-filled ravine, then ascends through the same ravine through lush second-growth redwoods. This is one of the more interesting parts of the hike.
The ravine gives way to an ordinary and less-interesting hillside. The lush groundcover of ferns is replaced with huckleberry bushes. Soon the trail descends to an intersection with the Nature Trail, which is distinguished by the numerous stands for interpretive signs, all of which are now empty - the signs either haven't been installed or have been removed. The trail curves past the campground entrance kiosk; at the next trail intersection, turn left onto the Hobbs Wall Trail.
The trail climbs through redwood and fir groves nearly to Highway 101, then levels out again and runs parallel to the highway. At one point you can see a wall consisting of the ends of redwood trunks to your left; the highway at this point is literally a redwood highway, built on a fill of redwood trunks that spans a small depression. Immediately after this point, the trail enters an old-growth area. The old growth is a very narrow strip, just a few feet wide, but it has some pretty good-sized trees. It's interesting to think that the entire hillside once looked like this.
© 2011 David Baselt