Humboldt Redwoods State Park


Featuring the Avenue of the Giants
California > Southern Humboldt County

*** The Drury-Chaney Loop **** The Grieg-French-Bell Grove ** The Peavine Ridge Spur *** The High Rock River Trail ** The Allens Trail * Look Prairie and Peavine Ridge **** The Homestead and Big Tree Loop **** The Big Tree Area *** Bull Creek Flats *** Founders' Grove **** The Rockefeller Loop * Grasshopper Summit and Johnson Camp * Squaw Creek Ridge and Grasshopper Summit ** The Gould Grove Nature Loop Trail * The Grasshopper Peak Trail *** Canoe Creek ** The Kent-Mather Loop Trail ** The Children's Forest Trail ** The River Trail * The Addie Johnson Trail

Overall Rating Distance, miles Climbing, feet Trail name
* * * * Humboldt Redwoods State Park
* * * * 2.4 110 Homestead and Big Tree Loop
* * * * 0.6 10 Big Tree Area
* * * * 0.7 20 Rockefeller Loop
* * * * 0.3 10 Grieg-French-Bell Grove
* * * 10.0 300 Bull Creek Flats
* * * 4.1 560 Canoe Creek
* * * 3.0 280 High Rock Trail
* * * 2.4 30 Drury-Chaney Loop
* * * 1.3 20 Founders' Grove
* * * 0.7 30 Stephens Grove Loop Trail
* * 2.3 790 Allens Trail
* * 3.4 450 River Trail
* * 1.8 70 Children's Forest Trail
* * 0.7 10 Gould Grove Nature Loop Trail
* * 0.4 20 F.K. Lane Trail
* * 0.4 40 Kent-Mather Loop Trail
* * 10.5 2870 Peavine Ridge spur
* 3.0 750 Dry Creek Horse Trail
* 16.2 3200 Grasshopper Summit and Johnson Camp
* 16.9 3650 Squaw Creek Ridge and Grasshopper Summit
* 15.5 3170 Grasshopper Peak Trail
* 13.4 2610 Look Prairie and Peavine Ridge
* 2.5 580 Addie Johnson Trail

 

Overview

For the sheer size of its trees, no redwood park can beat Humboldt Redwoods. The world's densest and most impressive stands of big trees grow here, along Bull Creek and the Eel River. Many of the most iconic images of the redwood forest come from Humboldt Redwoods - roads meandering through tall narrow canyons formed from huge trees, dark cathedral-like groves, plush carpets of redwood sorrel. Surprisingly, these monster redwoods grow well inland, in an environment that's much drier than the other Humboldt County redwood parks. A 3,000-foot-tall ridge to the west shields the park from ocean breezes, making for hot and dry summer days, but a tendril of ocean fog creeps south along the Eel River valley most summer nights to sustain the redwoods.

Humboldt Redwoods' main attraction is the Avenue of the Giants, which follows the Eel River for 30 miles. The Avenue passes through a string of old-growth groves interspersed with hardwood forests, open fields, and the deteriorating remnants of logging towns. Because the summertime fog creeps in from the north, the groves on the north end of the Avenue tend to be lusher and more attractive than the groves to the south. The trees also seem to be larger in the north, although the difference is subtle. The best groves on the Avenue include the Founders' Grove, at the confluence of Bull Creek and the Eel River, and the strikingly plush Grieg-French-Bell and Drury-Chaney groves.

Branching off from the Eel River is Bull Creek. The broad alluvial flat created by this small creek is the most pristine and impressive part of the park. The bumpy, narrow Mattole Road follows the flat through five miles of old growth and is one of the world's best redwood drives. The largest trees in the park are found here; of the world's ten tallest trees, three are on Bull Creek Flats, although their exact location is a secret.

Serious hikers looking for an all-day walk among the serenity of old-growth redwoods might find Humboldt Redwoods a little disappointing. The miles of backcountry trails are mostly second-growth redwoods, while traffic noise from Highway 101 and the Avenue plagues the many short trails along the Eel River. The best option is the Bull Creek area, but its trails mostly run along the edges of the flats where the big trees grow. Nonetheless, I'd still recommend this area since the sections of trail that do run through the middle of the flats are spectacular and very enjoyable.

The Eel River

History

Between 1909 and 1923, the Redwood Highway was built as part of a new statewide highway system. The road, together with the strong 1920s economy, accelerated logging of the previously-remote Eel River valley. In 1917, three natural scientists from San Francisco drove up the Redwood Highway and into Bull Creek Flats to investigate the extent of the logging (see this fascinating 1919 account of a follow-up trip). Dismayed at the rapid destruction of the magnificent roadside groves, they started the Save-the-Redwoods League, which quickly became the foremost organization devoted to preserving North Coast redwoods.

Relations between preservationists and timber companies were mostly good at that time, and the League soon purchased pristine groves in the future Prairie Creek and Del Norte parks. However, Pacific Lumber, the biggest owner of the future Humboldt Redwoods parkland, was not willing to sell. With the incomparable groves along the Redwood Highway being rapidly logged, in 1924 the League convinced Humboldt County to use its power of eminent domain to acquire the old-growth groves along Bull Creek and the Eel River. Despite matching funds provided by the state, the acquisition was not free and relied on donations from private citizens whose names now adorn numerous plaques throughout the park. Most notably, John D. Rockefeller donated $1 million to purchase Bull Creek Flats and the Founders' Grove, which today is the largest contiguous stretch of old-growth redwoods in the world.

The slopes above Bull Creek remained opened to logging, and clearcutting during the post-World War II construction boom lead to catastrophic floods in 1955 and again in 1964. Also in 1955, construction began on Highway 101. This four-lane freeway was originally going to pass through the most scenic portion of each North Coast redwood park. The League couldn't stop the freeway from passing through the Eel River Valley, but did at least convince the Highway Commission not to bulldoze the Founders' Grove. As built, the freeway mostly skirts Humboldt's old-growth redwoods, but the traffic noise still permeates the groves along the Eel River.

Despite the traffic noise, the logged groves, and the limited old-growth hiking, Humboldt Redwoods today is a absolute must-see for anyone interested in redwoods. Bull Creek Flats in particular remains matchless for its serene cathedral-like groves, which have a dark, stately character unlike any other redwood park.

Mattole Road and Lower Bull Creek Flat

Old-growth redwood hikes

Northern Avenue of the Giants

The Avenue of the Giants is at its best to the north of Founders' Grove, where a lush landscape of impressive redwoods lines the road.

**** The Grieg-French-Bell grove (0.3 miles)
This little grove features a network of unofficial trails that cut through an extraordinarily plush carpet of redwood sorrel. One of the highlights of Humboldt Redwoods.

*** The Drury-Chaney loop (2.4 miles)
Adjacent to the Grieg-French-Bell grove, this trail also has extraordinarily lush sorrel groundcover, especially near the trailhead. Further in, the sorrel is not as plush but there are some large redwoods.

*** The High Rock River Trail (3.0 miles)
This trail runs through some very nice redwoods next to the Avenue of the Giants. The best redwoods are near the parking area at the north end of the trail.

** The Allens Trail (2.3 miles)
This trail, also known as the Five Allens Trail, climbs steeply through uninteresting redwood uplands and eventually reaches a little valley that shelters an attractive redwood grove.

Panoramic view of the Bull Creek area (click to see larger version)

Bull Creek

The best and most unspoiled part of Humboldt Redwoods, the large alluvial flat of Bull Creek has some of the world's most impressive redwood groves.

**** The Homestead and Big Tree loop (2.4 miles)
This superb hike around Upper Bull Creek Flat starts on the Homestead Trail, which runs along the edge of the flat through lush but relatively small redwoods, then returns through the center of the flat, through an outstanding lowland redwood grove.

**** The Big Tree area (0.6 miles)
The Big Tree Area features the Giant Tree and the fallen Flatiron Tree. It doesn't have the huge trees and the open, cathedral-like look of the Rockefeller or Homestead loops, but in some ways it's more attractive.

**** The Rockefeller loop (0.7 miles)
If you want to see big trees, this is a great place to do it. The trail passes through a very dense stand of large redwoods that grow on an alluvial flat alongside Bull Creek. The grove is not far from the Avenue of the Giants, yet traffic noise is minimal, so you can actually appreciate the serenity of the grove.

*** Bull Creek Flats (10 miles)
This grand tour of the Bull Creek lowlands loops between the sublime groves of Upper and Lower Bull Creek Flats, and is Humboldt Redwoods' best long-distance hike. It can only be completed in the summer.

** The River Trail (3.4 miles)
An extended version of the Rockefeller Loop walk that explores five old-growth redwood groves south of Bull Creek. Can only be hiked in the summer.

** The Peavine Ridge spur (10 miles)
This remote, little-visited road turns out to have a surprisingly nice old-growth Douglas fir and redwood grove.

Central Avenue of the Giants

The area around the visitors' center includes the very impressive Founders' Grove and Canoe Creek areas, plus some smaller and less scenic groves.

*** Canoe Creek
The magnificent grove on the banks of Canoe Creek is one of the park's best, but due to a 2003 fire only a few yards of unmaintained trail can still be accessed. Summer only.

*** Founders' Grove (1.3 miles)
This is Humboldt Redwoods' largest and most impressive grove and is by far the most popular attraction in the park, but it's unfortunately filled with the constant roar of traffic from a 4-lane freeway that skirts the grove.

** The Gould Grove Nature Loop Trail (0.7 miles)
Located in a small patch of old growth just across from the visitors' center, this short, level loop is nice but doesn't have a whole lot of big trees.

** The Kent-Mather Loop Trail (0.9 miles)
This loop passes through a thin strip of old growth next to the Avenue of the Giants. The trail starts in a heavily-logged area but then passes some big trees. The woods have a dry, scraggly appearance.

Upper Bull Creek Flat from Mattole Road

Southern Avenue of the Giants

Between Phillipsville and Miranda are a few scattered old-growth groves.

*** The Stephens Grove Loop Trail (0.7 miles)
This is a very nice grove on a thin strip of land between the Avenue of the Giants and the Eel River, just north of Miranda. At the beginning of the loop is a striking area with especially large trees and little or no groundcover; further in, the woods are more lush. There's some traffic noise from Highway 101, which is just across the Eel River.

** The Children's Forest Trail (1.8 miles)
This trail crosses the Eel River and then runs along the river a short distance to reach a small remnant old-growth grove. Summer only.

** The F.K. Lane Trail (0.4 miles)
Humboldt Redwoods' southernmost redwood grove is surprisingly lush. There are a few big redwoods near the beginning of the loop, but most of the other trees here are small and embedded in a dense understory.

* The Dry Creek Horse Trail (3.0 miles)
This trail starts in the impressive Jensen Grove, but quickly climbs into rather mundane upland redwoods before descending back to the Avenue of the Giants.

*** Bolling Grove (no trail)
This grove has an impressive collection of perhaps half a dozen huge trees just off the Avenue of the Giants. It looks like a very short loop trail might have once wound through the grove, but the loop is now cut in two by a densely-vegetated creek and there is no way to walk the entire loop. There's also a lot of poison oak along the trail.

Other hikes

* Grasshopper Summit and Johnson Camp (16.2 miles)
This hike climbs the somewhat dull Grasshopper Multi Use Trail to the top of Grasshopper Mountain, then returns by way of the Johnson Camp Trail and an exceptionally scenic grove of upland redwoods.

* Squaw Creek Ridge and Grasshopper Summit (16.9 miles)
This is the longest and most challenging route to the top of Grasshopper Mountain. There are four trail camps on the way but only one brief stretch of big redwoods.

* Grasshopper Peak Trail (15.5 miles)
This long climb up the east side of Grasshopper Mountain starts from the Visitors' Center. Summer only.

* Look Prairie and Peavine Ridge (13.4 miles)
This long loop through Humboldt Redwoods' backcountry is mostly pleasant if unspectacular non-redwood forest. However, it also includes about four miles of old-growth redwoods, including a remote and very attractive ridgetop grove.

* The Addie Johnson Trail (2.5 miles)
This trail starts in Bull Creek Flats but almost immediately leaves the huge redwoods behind, instead climbing through a bright upland canyon populated with small redwoods. The trail ends at a 19th-century gravesite.

The Avenue of the Giants and Jensen Grove

Places to stay

I usually stay in Arcata, an hour north of the park. The much smaller town of Ferndale is about half an hour north of the park and would also be a good choice.

The three state park campgrounds cost $35/night. Reservations are made through ReserveAmerica.

  • Albee Creek is the park's smallest and nicest campground, with a quiet and remote location at the western edge of Bull Creek Flats. The westernmost campsites are in an open meadow, with the rest under second-growth redwoods. It's possible to hike Bull Creek Flats and Peavine Ridge starting from the campground.
  • Burlington campground is on the Avenue of the Giants right next to the visitor's center. It's the only campground open in the winter. It's in a rather dismal second-growth forest, with huge stumps scattered around, but some pretty nice old-growth is just across the Avenue.
  • Hidden Springs is the park's largest campground. Part of it is actually in old-growth uplands, but the rest is in second growth. The nearest old-growth trails are about three miles away. It's an attractive campground, but it does get some traffic noise from Highway 101, a quarter-mile away.

Printed trail maps of Humboldt Redwoods

As far as I know, there are only three printed trail maps of the park:

  • The trail maps on this website are based on the trail map of Humboldt Redwoods State Park from Redwood Hikes Press. Scale 1:25,000, 39 x 26 inches, 2011. $6.95 + tax and shipping if ordered from Redwood Hikes Press.
  • The official trail map is only available from the park visitors' center. An online version can be seen at the Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association website. Scale 1:42,000, 25.5 x 22 inches, 2008. $2.80 + tax.
  • The park brochure also shows most of the trails in the park, but it's so small that I wouldn't recommend using it for any serious hiking. Scale 1:100,000, 8.5 x 11 inches, 2011. Free.

 


 

© 2007-2011 David Baselt