This hike is similar to the Tall Trees Grove hike, but adds a pleasant detour along wide, sunny Redwood Creek. Since you'll have to wade through the creek several times this route should only be attempted in summer or early fall, when the creek is about 6–12 inches deep and easily forded. The stroll along the creek makes a nice change from hiking through the woods and provides a fresh perspective on the redwoods. Overall this is a much more enjoyable and memorable hike than the usual out-and-back to the Tall Trees Grove.
The wide, shallow gravel creekbed of Redwood Creek, so typical of Humboldt County, is the result of logging. Erosion and floods have reshaped the stream, which probably used to run in a little channel shaded by maple trees, much like Prairie Creek.
Here's the trailhead location in Google Maps.
To get to the trailhead you first have to get a free Tall Trees Grove permit from any of the other Redwood National and State Park visitor centers. Kuchel Information Center is the most convenient if you're coming from the south, while Prairie Creek is easiest if you're coming from the north. The permit includes a parking pass and a gate combination. A limited number of permits are available each day, but it's unusual for them to run out except on summer holidays. It's about a 45 minute to one-hour drive from Kuchel to the parking lot.
From the parking lot, take the Tall Trees access trail downhill. After a few yards you'll come to an intersection; take the Emerald Ridge Trail. The trail starts out among logged redwoods, but almost immediately enters an old-growth redwood forest. However, the exceptionally dense understory — a green tunnel of rhododendron, huckleberry, and tanoak — hides most of the redwoods, and the redwoods in this upland environment aren't that big anyway. Overall the scenery during the descent is rather mundane, although from time to time, there are glimpses of surprisingly tall and narrow redwood trunks rising straight as an arrow through the foliage.
The Dolason Prairie Trail branches off to the left. If you have the time for an interesting side trip, take the trail a quarter-mile downhill to where it crosses a steep-sided gulch on a high wooden bridge; the steep valley lined with mid-sized old growth redwoods is very typical of Redwood National Park's stream valleys.
Below the Dolason Prairie Trail the woods become darker, with smaller trees and an even denser understory. A half-mile further downhill the Emerald Ridge Trail breaks out of the woods at Redwood Creek.
Turn right and follow the wide, sunny creek downstream (if you have some extra time you can turn left and explore upstream a ways before heading downstream). It's slow going over the gravelly streambed, which is mostly made of smooth rocks about 4–6 inches in diameter. In places, tufts of invasive french broom or other plants grow from the gravel; in recent years the vegetation has become unusually dense and made navigating the creekbed somewhat difficult in a few places. Old-growth redwoods rise dramatically along the banks of the stream, becoming larger as you approach the Tall Trees grove. You'll have to wade across the wide creek six times, which in summer is easy since the creek is only ankle-high.
Look for a short trail marked with a triangular orange sign that leads to the Tall Trees Grove loop trail. In the summer, you'll know if you pass the grove since you'll come to a seasonal bridge across Redwood Creek. Hike the loop trail around the quiet grove; if you go counter-clockwise you'll pass a nice collection of big redwoods, then break out of the redwoods and into a grove of streamside maples. The long climb up the access trail back to the parking lot is slightly more scenic than the descent, but it's still pretty mundane. © 2007, 2015 David Baselt
The long climb up the access trail back to the parking lot is slightly more scenic than the descent, but it's still pretty mundane.
© 2007, 2015 David Baselt