Grizzly Creek and van Duzen parks are located well off the beaten path, along the van Duzen River about 15 miles east of Highway 101. The sublime Cheatham Grove is the highlight of the region. Although the parks have several other old-growth groves and some nice places to swim, they don’t offer a whole lot of really good hiking. If you’re a Star Wars fan, however, Cheatham Grove might be worth the trip since it’s where the famous steadicam shots from Return of the Jedi were filmed.
The scenic van Duzen River flows through a valley just north of Humboldt Redwoods and the Eel River. The wide, flat western end of the valley is occupied by strikingly verdant dairy fields. Highway 36, a twisty and scenic two-lane road, passes through a series of increasingly rustic towns as it heads east through the valley. Just after the town of Riverside Park, several tight oxbow bends in the river have created a string of alluvial flats, an ideal environment for big redwoods. Here you’ll find van Duzen County Park and Grizzly Creek Redwoods.
Grizzly Creek has two disconnected parts. By far the best redwoods are in Cheatham Grove, which is adjacent to van Duzen County Park. This area is relatively undeveloped, with just a three-quarter-mile-long trail and some environmental campsites.
Most of the park’s facilities are found in the main body of the park, three miles to the east. This area, which is at the inland edge of the redwoods, has a campground, visitors’ center, ranger station, and about two more miles of trails. The van Duzen valley narrows considerably between Cheatham Grove and the main park, so the redwoods are much less impressive in this section, and are restricted to an area only a few yards wide alongside the highway.
Grizzly Creek’s campground is fairly popular. The small campground sits right next to Highway 36, so there’s a little traffic noise, but it’s not too bad — maybe a car every few minutes. The campground has some small redwoods on one side and the Van Duzen River on the other.
Across Highway 36 from the campground are two short loop trails. The Nature Trail circles through typical old-growth redwood upland, climbing up a hillside among medium-sized redwoods. The Hiker’s Trail and Grizzly Creek Trail don’t have many redwoods, except for the stretch that runs alongside Highway 36.
The Fisher-Wouk Trail extends west from the campground into the most impressive redwoods in the main park. In the summer, seasonal footbridges let you cross the van Duzen River and access the Memorial Trail, which has a few old-growth redwoods but, overall, is nothing special.
Van Duzen park has three major redwood groves. The groves are actually pretty impressive, but unfortunately don’t offer very much good hiking. At the west end of the park is Pamplin Grove, which has been heavily developed with campsites. In the middle is the Swimmers’ Delight area, which has another grove that’s also heavily developed with campsites. The park’s east end has the undeveloped Humboldt Grove.
The Van Duzen Nature Trail links the three groves and some smaller stands of redwoods. Unfortunately the Nature Trail is not very well-maintained, which makes hiking less pleasant that it would otherwise be. The trail is often narrow and overgrown, there’s lots of poison oak, and one set of stairs south of Pamplin is out. What’s more, Highway 36 is always nearby.
****Cheatham Grove (0.7 miles)
This stately, cathedral-like grove resembles Humboldt Redwoods but is more photogenic, with lusher groundcover and a more open understory.
From Highway 101, take Highway 36 east. After passing through the towns of Hydesville, Carlotta, and Riverside Park, the road enters second-growth redwoods. As you enter the old-growth you’ll see two gated roads leading into van Duzen County Park (Pamplin Grove and Strong’s Station), then the main van Duzen entrance. Continuing along Highway 36, just after crossing a bridge you’ll see a dirt road heading down into the Cheatham Grove parking area. If you’re headed for the main Grizzly Creek entrance, continue on Highway 36 for three more miles.
© 2008, 2014, 2017 David Baselt