This trail starts at the Williams Grove parking lot and crosses the Eel River to reach an alluvial flat with an exceptionally attractive old-growth grove. The grove’s redwoods aren’t especially big by Eel River standards, but the grove is open, bright, and colorful, with lots of variety in the appearance of the redwoods, and it has an unusually expansive feel. This may be a result of the Canoe Creek fire, which burned the eastern slope of Grasshopper Peak in 2006 and was the largest old-growth redwood fire in modern times.
The grove gets very few visitors, since there aren’t any signs on the Avenue of the Giants to point it out, and also because it’s a bit of a walk from the parking lot. As a result the little-used path has more of a quiet, wild feel than the well-worn trails along the Avenue. The fact that you have to walk here also, I think, makes the grove more interesting.
This trail can only be hiked between May and September (approximately), 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.
Here’s the trailhead location in Google Maps.
Start at the Williams Grove Day Use Area, which has an $8 fee. If you want to save the fee, park on the Avenue of the Giants just outside the gate. From the main parking lot, a gated dirt road leads a few yards to the gravelly banks of the Eel River. There may not be any visible trail, but if you wander upstream a ways you’ll encounter a summer footbridge across the river.
Cross the footbridge and look for a 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 growing on an elevated plain (a bench) above the Eel River. The woods have been heavily logged and also burned and don’t have any groundcover, maybe because the dense canopy doesn’t admit enough light.
Fortunately, the trail soon enters old growth. The hush that’s so characteristic of old growth, caused by the thick buildup of fallen redwood needles, is immediately evident, but there can be quite a bit of traffic noise from Highway 101, a constant bass thrum that echoes through the grove.
The trees become increasingly impressive as the narrow riverside plain widens into a full-blown alluvial flat. The loop trail circles around the sizable flat and its scenic pure redwood grove. Maybe due to the 2006 fire, the grove is open and has an expansive, cathedral-like appearance. At the same time it’s also bright and cheerful, because the trees aren’t so huge or dense that they block out all the sun. The ground is covered with a carpet of redwood sorrel dotted with a few small ferns. The loop trail is somewhat faint.
A faint but easy side trail leads to the Meyers Plaque. The best and biggest redwoods of the hike are found right around the intersection with this trail. However, the side trail quickly leaves the old growth and enters a dark and dismal logged area with dense stands of small redwoods. It’s striking how different the logged area is from the old growth, even 100 years after logging ended.
© 2010, 2012, 2015, 2018 David Baselt