|Old-growth redwood trails|
|* * * *||2.4||110||Homestead and Big Trees Loop|
|* * * *||0.6||10||Big Trees Area|
|* * * *||0.7||20||Rockefeller Loop|
|* * * *||0.3||10||Grieg-French-Bell Grove|
|* * *||10.0||300||Bull Creek Flats|
|* * *||3.0||280||High Rock Trail|
|* * *||2.4||30||Drury-Chaney Loop|
|* * *||1.8||70||Children’s Forest Trail|
|* * *||1.3||20||Founders’ Grove|
|* * *||0.7||30||Stephens Grove Loop Trail|
|* * *||0.0||0||Bolling Grove|
|* *||2.3||790||Allens Trail|
|* *||3.4||450||River Trail|
|* *||0.9||0||California Federation of Women’s Clubs Grove|
|* *||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|
|* *||1.3||100||Nelson Grove|
|*||3.0||750||Dry Creek Horse Trail|
|*||3.8||420||The Garden Club of America Grove|
|*||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|
|* * * * *||May–Sep||$20 + $8||Baxter and Hamilton Barn Environmental Camps|
|* * * *||May–Oct||$35 + $8||Albee Creek Campground|
|* * *||May–Sep||$35 + $8||Hidden Springs Campground|
|* *||All year||$35 + $8||Burlington Campground|
|*||All year||$5/person||Johnson Camp|
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.
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.
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 but eventually reaches a little valley that shelters an attractive redwood grove.
* Chandler Grove (0.4 miles)
This grove has an unusually prominent parking area on the Avenue of the Giants, but the grove itself is actually pretty dull, with no big trees or noteworthy sights. The best part is an unofficial trail that leads to an attractive little glen.
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 Trees 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 Trees area (0.6 miles)
The Big Trees 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.
The area around the visitors’ center includes the very impressive Founders’ Grove and Canoe Creek areas, plus some smaller and less scenic groves.
*** 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 California Federation of Women’s Clubs Grove (0.9 miles)
This fine grove is in a prime part of Humboldt Redwoods. It doesn’t have any trails to speak of, but you can take a short walk along the road to the parking lot.
** 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.
* The Garden Club of America Grove
This new trail runs through mundane old growth uplands on the west side of the Eel River. It replaces an old trail through the spectacular Canoe Creek lowlands that’s unfortunately no longer accessible. Summer only.
Between Phillipsville and Miranda are a few scattered old-growth groves.
*** The Stephens Grove Loop Trail (0.7 miles)
This short, level loop trail winds through the southernmost of the really impressive alluvial-flat lowland groves along the Avenue of the Giants.
*** 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 an isolated old-growth grove. Summer only.
*** Bolling Grove (no trail)
This little grove has an impressive collection of perhaps half a dozen huge trees right next to the Avenue of the Giants. Easy access to the big trees makes this one of the more popular groves.
** 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.
** Nelson Grove (1.3 miles)
Starting on an old alignment of the Avenue of the Giants, this loop leads through a small lowland redwood grove to a gravelly beach on the Eel River.
* 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.
* 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.
**** Albee Creek Campground
This small, quiet campground in Humboldt Redwoods is way out on Mattole Road just past the end of the old-growth redwoods. It’s mostly in the deep shade of small second-growth redwoods, but a few sites are at the edge of a sunny meadow.
*** Hidden Springs Campground
Hidden Springs is a large, sprawling suburb of a campground: it’s very spread out and offers lots of privacy, but it’s not centrally located so you have to drive to visit the redwood groves.
** Burlington Campground
Burlington is clean, well-maintained, and in a convenient location, but it gets a lot of traffic noise and isn’t as attractive as the other Humboldt Redwoods campgrounds.
There’s no cell phone coverage in the main body and north end of the park, even in the towns; only the south end (Miranda and Phillipsville) has cell phone coverage. So it’s not possible to use websites like Google Maps in the park.
As far as I know, there are only three printed trail maps of the park:
© 2006, 2011, 2018 David Baselt