The Children's Forest Trail
Length 1.8 mi · Climbing 70 ft
Before 2003 the River Trail extended south from the Garden Club of America Grove to the Children's Forest. The trail was unfortunately closed when this area was burned in the Canoe Fire, the largest old-growth redwood fire in modern times. Today only the very southern end of the trail, which leads to the Children's Forest loop, can be hiked. The trail starts at the Williams Grove parking lot and crosses the Eel River to reach a small old-growth remnant surrounded by logged land. The old-growth remnant is a typical alluvial flat grove and is by far the best part of the hike.
This trail can only be hiked between May and September (depending on how much rain the area receives), when a seasonal footbridge across the Eel River is installed. In October the river is usually about 18–24 inches deep and, though swift, might be fordable. In winter there's no way to cross the river.
Click here to see the trailhead location in Google Maps.
Start at the Williams Grove Day Use Area, which now has an $8 fee. From the main parking lot, a gated dirt road leads a few yards to the gravelly banks of the Eel River. The road ends and then there's often no visible trail, but there's a sign that says "trail" and points to the left. Wandering upstream a ways brings you to a summer footbridge.
Cross the footbridge and look for a faint trail that cuts into the brush and up the sandy hillside. The trail can be hard to find, especially if the bridge is out. The trail enters a rather dismal patch of woods that has been heavily logged and also burned (if this seems familiar, there's a similar river crossing across from Burlington Campground that also leads into a logged area). Fortunately, the trail soon enters old growth. The hush that is so characteristic of old growth, caused by the thick buildup of fallen redwood needles, is immediately evident, but throughout the walk there's quite a bit of whooshing traffic noise from Highway 101.
The trees start out small and get more impressive as you approach the loop trail. The loop trail circles around a small alluvial flat with a scenic pure redwood grove, similar in appearance to the Founders' Grove but with smaller trees. The grove is open, the understory presumably having been burned in the fire, and the trees have been blackened. Quite a bit of invasive grass, an unusual sight in the redwoods, grows among the big trees, and there's also a sparse layer of redwood sorrel and a few small ferns. The loop trail is faint and is marked with small blue flags, presumably to keep visitors from getting lost.
© 2010, 2012 David Baselt