The Garden Club of America Grove is one of Humboldt Redwoods’ more prominent groves: at eight square miles, it’s one of the largest dedicated redwood groves, and it’s prominently signed on the Avenue of the Giants with its own short access road.
Although the grove is almost entirely old growth, what can be seen of it from the trail isn’t all that impressive. The grove is located on the west bank of the Eel River, which is generally steeper than the east bank and therefore has fewer of the big lowland redwoods that the Eel River Valley is famous for. Most of the grove is rather mundane uplands.
There is, however, one notable exception: tucked away on the banks of Canoe Creek is a little glen that contains some of Humboldt Redwoods’ most magnificent old growth. A trail named the Canoe Creek Trail once looped through the cathedral-like alluvial flats on either side of the creek, but it was closed after a major fire in 2003. A new trail, funded in part by the Garden Club of America, was finally opened in 2015, but unfortunately it goes around the flats instead of through them, offering only a few distant glimpses of huge trees to hint at the grove’s magnificence. The original trail has almost completely disappeared, leaving only a short stub that leads to the edge of the flat and a tantalizing view of the spectacular landscape. Canoe Creek joins Bull Creek Flats and Prairie Creek’s Godwood Creek as the latest area where a trail has been rerouted away from big lowland redwoods to much less spectacular uplands.
But although the new trail might no longer be one of the best in the park, it’s still a huge improvement over the 3-mile gap in the trail system that existed in the years before it was built. It’s very well built and easy to hike, the forest is old growth and quite pleasant, and the one view of the alluvial flat makes a nice destination for a short hike.
This hike can only be done in the summer, since at other times of year the Eel River is too deep to cross.
Here’s the trailhead location in Google Maps.
Look for the Garden Club of America Grove signs two miles south of the park visitor center. A short access road leads to a picnic area in a dark, dismal logged grove. The parking area at the end of the road is mainly used by locals who come to hang out by the river.
Park here and take the access trail marked with a small “GCA” marker. The trail leads downhill and quickly emerges onto the wide sunny gravel banks of the Eel River.
The trail over the gravel is hard to see, but it makes a sharp turn to the left, where in summer a footbridge crosses the river. The trail then climbs steeply into the redwoods on the other side, reaching an intersection with the River Trail. To the left is an open flat populated with small redwoods and almost completely devoid of any groundcover.
Before heading to Canoe Creek, it’s worth wandering down the trail to the left for a few yards, since the biggest redwoods in the area are here, on a flat bench above the Eel. It’s quite a scenic area; in fact, one of the signs on the trail implies that this area is the Garden Club of America grove. As the trail goes over a series of big new footbridges the flat bench becomes narrower and the redwoods become less spectacular. Turn around and head north.
North of the access trail, the River Trail climbs a hill, rising high above the southern half of the alluvial flat formed where Canoe Creek flows into the Eel River. The very open flat can be clearly seen below, populated with medium-sized redwoods and again almost entirely lacking groundcover. If you look carefully, you can see the much larger trees rising high above the north bank of Canoe Creek.
The trail descends to the alluvial flat. Although this peripherial part of the flat only has small redwoods, it’s still exceptionally attractive old growth and a highlight of the hike. The lively and sizable Canoe Creek runs through the flat.
After crossing Canoe Creek on a seasonal footbridge, the trail climbs an open hillside dotted with a few redwoods. There are a few glimpses of the alluvial flat below, but the flat’s magnificence isn’t at all apparent from the trail, as from this viewpoint you can only see the small redwoods around the edge of the flat.
The trail reaches an intersection with an old dirt road that climbs toward Grasshopper Peak. To your right, a faint remnant of the now-closed Canoe Creek Trail descends a few yards and then peters out on a small knoll overlooking a spectacular collection of old-growth redwoods. The remnant trail vanishes completely as it reaches the flat.
As recently as 2010 the trail continued for a few hundred more yards through the Canoe Creek flat. The area somehow seemed more wild than most other groves in Humboldt Redwoods. In contrast to the open, expansive groves around Bull Creek, Canoe Creek is unusually dense and is also much smaller. There’s a lush carpet of redwood sorrel. On the left side of the trail, Canoe Creek is just out of sight but fills the grove with a pleasant burbling sound. There’s a break in the canopy above the creek and you can see more tall trees rising up on the opposite bank of the creek. On the right side of the trail, the hillside rises steeply, marking the edge of the grove.
Here are a few more photos of the old Canoe Creek Trail.
© 2015, 2020 David Baselt