This trail was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and opened in October 2010. Running mostly through a remnant strip of old-growth redwood forest, it connects the easily-accessible Elk Meadow parking lot with the popular Lady Bird Johnson Grove. The trail is well-built and offers some nice scenery as well as a good climb. The redwoods are pretty impressive for upland redwoods. Although for most of the hike the trail is high up on a hill, there aren’t any panoramic views.
The wide smooth trail contrasts sharply with the decades-old trails of Prairie Creek, which with their narrow, root-covered surfaces and constant meandering, seem to fit organically into the forest and exude a sense of age.
Start from the Elk Meadow Day Use Area, which is on Davison Road just north of Orick. Driving either direction on Highway 101, look for a sign that says “Elk Meadow / Gold Bluffs Beach / Fern Canyon” . In the winter, the paved road that leads to the day use area (Davison Road) is often flooded with a few inches of water. When this happens it’s tempting to park in the large pullout on the side of Highway 101 just south of Davison Road, but it and the nearby red house are actually private property.
Starting at the Elk Meadow Day Use Area, proceed downhill on the paved trail toward the meadow. Turn right onto a paved road that soon becomes dirt. Leaving the meadow behind, the road passes under an attractive steamside stand of red alder trees that lean out over the road. Cross a large wooden footbridge over Prairie Creek.
Cross Highway 101. On the other side, continue for just a few yards before turning right onto another old road, clearly marked as the Berry Glen Trail. The road passes under a small stand of alders. Look for a trail that breaks off to the left and begins to climb the hillside. As you climb, the whoosh of cars emanates through the forest from Highway 101 below.
At first, the redwood forest is attractive but not spectacular, although there are a few good-sized trees. The trail switchbacks steeply up the hill, soon enteing a disheveled-looking logged area, dense with huckleberry. The old growth then resumes for a stretch. As the trail climbs along a ridge, there’s old-growth to the right and an old clearcut, filled with small trees, to the left.
Finally the trail leaves the ridge, leveling out and cutting through the middle of the grove where the true big-tree old-growth is. From this point on, the rest of the climb is in attractive old growth and the woods are much more open. The traffic noise also gets a lot quieter, although it doesn’t go away completely for a while longer. There’s a groundcover of huckleberry and 6 foot tall ferns.
The trail curves around a shallow hollow filled with big redwoods. There’s an interesting, very open grove of small and very light-colored redwoods, then the bigger, darker redwoods resume. The trail also passes a few small openings in the woods that resemble meadows but with ferns instead of grass. Similar openings can be seen on the Orick Horse Trail.
The trail joins the route of an old road. From this point on the climb is less engaging; although the old road has become so overgrown that it’s no longer visible, the large gap that it cut through the forest is still apparent. The trail, running through that gap, seems to be distanced from the forest, less interesting and more predictable. Nonetheless, there are a lot of big trees here.
The trail reaches the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Nature Trail just a few yards below the dedication plaque. Continue around the Nature Trail and then return the way you came.
© 2010, 2013, 2017 David Baselt