The Brown Creek Loop
Length 3.5 mi · Climbing 540 ft
The extraordinary Brown Creek Trail runs through an exceptionally dense and lush old-growth redwood forest in a shallow ravine with a little brook. In fact the redwoods here are almost too dense; everywhere you look, all you can see are tree trunks. Nonetheless, on a sunny day before about 3 pm, the woods are brilliant and colorful. Enveloped in its ravine with the pleasant burbling of the brook it almost feels surreal, as if the whole thing were actually a huge garden.
Based just on the sheer size of its trees, the Brown Creek Trail isn't as impressive as the nearby Prairie Creek Trail. But Brown Creek has a major advantage: it's isolated by a low ridge from Drury Parkway and is free of traffic noise.
The Brown Creek Trail forms a short loop with the Rhododendron and South Fork trails. Hiking the loop clockwise provides better views of the Brown Creek redwoods (the downstream sides of the trunks are bleached to varying degrees by salt air, producing an appealing variety of colors; the upstream sides are a uniform drab, dark brown), but counter-clockwise saves the best redwoods for last. My suggestion is to walk counter-clockwise, but be sure to turn around and look behind you a lot, because that's where the best views are.
The Rhododendron and South Fork trails are a little rough and not very well maintained. The hike requires some scrambling over and ducking under fallen trees. Allow a little extra time for this walk.
The trailhead is on Drury Parkway. From the Elk Prairie visitor center, drive north past the Big Tree wayside, then park at the second pullout on your right. The South Fork trailhead is well marked.
The South Fork Trail climbs steeply through attractive redwood uplands. Going in this direction, you'll see a lot of the bleached, light-grey redwoods which on a sunny day can make the forest brilliant. The redwoods are pretty good-sized at first, but as you climb they get smaller and less interesting.
The South Fork Trail ends at a T intersection with the Rhododendron Trail. Turn left. The scenery soon improves as the trail contours into a little ravine where a stand of good-sized redwoods grows. Leaving the ravine, the trail passes through an open area left by the toppling of a big redwood. After this point the redwoods again get larger and more scenic as the trail descends to Brown Creek. You'll have to scramble over a large tree that fell across the trail a few years ago. On a calm day you may hear the distant crashing of the waves as you make your way through the redwoods.
The Rhododendron Trail crosses Brown Creek on a new footbridge and then reaches the Brown Creek Trail. At the four-way trail intersection, the memorial grove trail to your right is cut off by a gigantic tree (which fell in early 2006) about a hundred yards up the trail. Straight ahead, the Rhododendron Trail continues up the hillside. Turn left to follow the Brown Creek Trail.
The trail winds gently downhill alongside the creek. The trees get progressively larger as you get closer to Prairie Creek. About halfway back to the South Fork Trail, a memorial grove trail branches off to the left, crossing Brown Creek on a large footbridge. Somewhat confusingly, the trail is not marked nor is it shown on most maps.
The main trail crosses Brown Creek and curves around a hillside to end at the South Fork Trail. Turn right and take the South Fork Trail back to Drury Parkway.
© 2006, 2009 David Baselt