The Children’s Forest is a large, peaceful, and exceptionally scenic alluvial flat redwood grove. The redwoods aren’t especially big by Eel River standards, but the grove is open, bright, and colorful, with an unusually expansive feel and lots of variety in the appearance of the trees. That 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.
Given how scenic it is, the grove gets very few visitors; in fact I’ve never seen anyone else there, probably because no signs to point the way to the grove, and it’s a bit of a walk from the parking lot. The walk, however, helps to make the grove more interesting; the little-used path has more of a quiet, wild feel than the well-worn trails along the Avenue.
The trail to the grove starts at the Williams Grove parking lot, which is a popular destination among locals who on hot summer days drive onto the gravel banks of the Eel River to hang out. The trail can only be hiked between June 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’s no visible trail, but if you go a few hundred yards to the left you’ll encounter a summer footbridge across the river.
Cross the footbridge and look for an unmarked trail that dives into the brush and climbs up the sandy hillside. The trail is almost completely overgrown by brush, but it should start at a point directly in line with the bridge; that is, after you cross the bridge, just keep going straight until you see a very faint way through the brush. Push through the brush for a few yards and the trail will become clearer; there is, however, some poison oak in this area.
The trail emerges from the brush into a rather dismal patch of woods 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 enters old growth after just a few yards. 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. A faint loop trail circles around the sizable flat and its very scenic pure redwood grove. Maybe due to the 2006 fire, the grove is open and has a expansive, cathedral-like appearance with an unusually bright, cheerful feel. This is especially apparent around the two scenic creek crossings with their stout new wooden footbridges. The ground is covered with a carpet of redwood sorrel dotted with a few small ferns.
A nearly invisible 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 completely different the logged area is from the old growth, even 100 years after logging ended.
© 2010, 2012, 2015, 2018, 2020 David Baselt