The Big Tree Area is part of Upper Bull Creek Flats, across Bull Creek from Mattole Road. This grove is easiest to access in summer, when a seasonal footbridge puts it just a few steps from the parking lot at the Big Tree Day Use Area. In winter, it's a muddy one-mile hike from Grasshopper Road.
The Big Tree Area is one of the more popular groves in Humboldt Redwoods, mostly because it contains the Giant Tree, which is proclaimed by a sign at its base to be the National Champion Coast Redwood. National Champion status is determined by a somewhat arbitrary combination of factors, including height and trunk diameter. Surprisingly, most people, having driven at least 15 minutes out of their way to get here, only stay long enough to see the Giant Tree and maybe the Flatiron Tree. With just a few minutes extra walking, you can see a lot more of the very attractive redwood forest around these attractions.
Overall, the Big Tree Area is not quite as impressive as the less-visited Tall Tree Grove, which is just across Bull Creek, just west of the parking lot. The Tall Tree Grove has a lot more big trees and more of a classic cathedral-like appearance. On the other hand, the Big Tree Area is in some ways more attractive. It seems more lush, it doesn't get any noise from Mattole Road, and it gets much better lighting on summer afternoons, when the sunlight slants over Bull Creek and lights up the foliage.
There are an unusually large number of downed trees in the Big Tree Area. The Flatiron Tree is the most notable, but many other fallen trees lie near the trail. Typically for the Bull Creek Flats area, the groundcover is a sparse dusting of redwood sorrel dotted with an occasional fern.
Click here to see the trailhead location in Google Maps.
To reach the Big Tree Area: take Mattole Road 4 miles from where it begins at the Avenue of the Giants, just north of the Founders' Grove (Highway 101 Honeydew exit). The Big Tree Day Use Area is accessed by a small but well-marked paved road that branches off to the left.
Start your walk from the Big Tree Day Use Area parking lot. Cross the seasonal footbridge and turn left. The trail follows the bank of Bull Creek for a few yards, offering some impressive views of the redwoods along both sides of the creek. The open swath along the creek lets you see the full height of the redwoods, an unusual sight.
Pass the sign for the Flatiron Tree and continue along the bank until you reach the Giant Tree. The trail dips into the forest at this point, and soon reaches the Bull Creek Flats Trail. Turn right. The woods in this area consist mostly of mid-sized redwoods with a dense tanoak understory. As you follow the trail the understory gets progressively less dense and larger redwoods appear.
Just before the next intersection, the tanoak disappears completely and you find yourself in a very attractive, pure redwood grove that includes some impressive trees. At the intersection, the Bull Creek Flats trail continues to the left, immediately entering a dense grove of mid-sized redwoods that all have the same dull brown color. Turn right onto a spur trail that heads back toward the parking lot. This trail winds between some large downed redwoods near the edge of the forest, including the Flatiron Tree, before reaching Bull Creek. Turn left and cross the footbridge to return to the parking lot.
© 2007 David Baselt