The Founders' Grove is the most-visited grove in Humboldt Redwoods and a major North Coast redwood attraction. It's popular because it's conveniently (maybe too conveniently) located right next to a Highway 101 offramp on the Avenue of the Giants, and it's also truly an exceptional sight.
The grove is perhaps most notable for its sheer size. From most locations on the loop trail, the big redwoods extend as far as you can see in every direction. No other lowland grove feels quite so expansive.
Located on an exceptionally large alluvial flat at the intersection of two rivers, the grove is shielded from storms by 3000-foot-tall mountains to the west, yet is still immersed in the summer fog that flows up the Eel River Valley. As a result the grove has a lot of huge trees, which combined with its large area and openness make it one of the most impressive there is; it's really the quintessential redwood grove.
The downside of the Founders' Grove is that a major four-lane highway runs right next to it, so a constant roar of high-speed traffic fills the forest. The Avenue of the Giants, which cuts through the middle of the grove, adds its own traffic noise. So if you only have time to visit one grove, consider visiting Rockefeller Grove instead. It's only a five-minute drive away and although it's not as big, the quieter, more contemplative atmosphere makes it more rewarding.
Nonetheless, the Founders' Grove is one of the most iconic of all redwood groves, and if you're spending a day or more in Humboldt Redwoods it's certainly worth a visit. If possible, go before about 8 am or in winter, when the traffic is more subdued, to really appreciate the remarkable beauty of this place.
The grove is at its best in winter, when the redwoods grow out of an attractive and unusually dense layer of redwood sorrel that looks a lot like a plush carpet; the sorrel is in turn covered with a sparse layer of ferns. Despite the fog, summers are unusually hot and dry for a north coast redwood forest, and the grove can become somewhat dry and dull-looking by late summer.
The grove is difficult to photograph because most of the tree trunks have a drab brown color and little late-afternoon sunlight reaches the forest floor. There seem to be an unusually large number of really big fallen redwoods here, most notably the immense Dyerville Giant.
Here's the trailhead location in Google Maps.
Three loop trails run through the Founders' Grove. Closest to the parking lot is the Founders' Grove loop, a half-mile-long trail with the Founders' Tree at the near end and the fallen Dyerville Giant at the far end. This is by far the most popular loop.
A connecting trail leads from the Founders' Loop to the less-visited but equally impressive Mahan Loop. The connecting trail is actually the best part of the Founders' Grove, with a cluster of large redwoods alongside the trail and views of immense trees in the distance rising through the dense foliage. The Mahan Plaque itself marks the location where several exceptionally large trees were cut in the start of a logging operation that would have destroyed the entire grove, had two hikers not seen the damage and taken action to preserve the grove. A short stretch of the Mahan Loop runs along the base of a hill that defines the edge of the alluvial flat; the redwoods are noticably smaller here.
A lot of side trails have been worn into the groundcover, so it's easy to get lost around the Mahan Loop. The southernmost side trail begins at a short triangular post and connects the Founders' Grove to the rest of Humboldt Redwoods' trail network. The redwoods end almost immediately on this unexceptional side trail as it climbs to a cut above Highway 101. Two other trails lead to the Avenue of the Giants.
The third loop trail is across the Avenue of the Giants from the Founders' and Mahan Loops. Although it has no trailhead marker to indicate its name, it's an official trail and is called the Goosepen Loop on the official park map. Although the forest looks much the same as on the Founders' Loop, Highway 101 runs immediately adjacent to the trail on a high berm. In the shadow of the berm with cars and trucks constantly roaring by, the forest seems rather dark and depressing, so this loop is not included in the recommended hike.
© 2007, 2010, 2014, 2017 David Baselt