Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Featuring the Avenue of the Giants
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.
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)
*** The Drury-Chaney loop (2.4 miles)
*** The High Rock River Trail (3.0 miles)
** The Allens Trail (2.3 miles)
* Chandler Grove (0.4 miles)
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) **** The Big Tree area (0.6 miles) **** The Rockefeller loop (0.7 miles) *** Bull Creek Flats (10 miles) ** The River Trail (3.4 miles) ** The Peavine Ridge spur (10 miles) 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 *** Founders' Grove (1.3 miles) ** The California Federation of Women's Clubs Grove (0.9 miles) ** The Gould Grove Nature Loop Trail (0.7 miles) ** The Kent-Mather Loop Trail (0.9 miles) Between Phillipsville and Miranda are a few scattered old-growth groves. *** The Stephens Grove Loop Trail (0.7 miles) *** The Children's Forest Trail (1.8 miles)
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)
**** The Big Tree area (0.6 miles)
**** The Rockefeller loop (0.7 miles)
*** Bull Creek Flats (10 miles)
** The River Trail (3.4 miles)
** The Peavine Ridge spur (10 miles)
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
*** Founders' Grove (1.3 miles)
** The California Federation of Women's Clubs Grove (0.9 miles)
** The Gould Grove Nature Loop Trail (0.7 miles)
** The Kent-Mather Loop Trail (0.9 miles)
Between Phillipsville and Miranda are a few scattered old-growth groves.
*** The Stephens Grove Loop Trail (0.7 miles)
*** The Children's Forest Trail (1.8 miles)
** The F.K. Lane Trail (0.4 miles)
* The Dry Creek Horse Trail (3.0 miles)
*** Bolling Grove (no trail)
* Grasshopper Summit and Johnson Camp (16.2 miles)
* Squaw Creek Ridge and Grasshopper Summit (16.9 miles)
* Grasshopper Peak Trail (15.5 miles)
* Look Prairie and Peavine Ridge (13.4 miles)
* The Addie Johnson Trail (2.5 miles)
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.
Printed trail maps of Humboldt Redwoods
As far as I know, there are only three printed trail maps of the park:
© 2007-2011 David Baselt