The McArthur Creek Loop


Length 14.1 mi · Climbing 2600 ft
California > Redwood National and State Parks > Redwood National Park

A red alder grove on the one short doubletrack stretch of the McArthur Creek Loop

Background

This loop and its abbreviated version, the Ridge Loop, is the least-heavily logged and the most enjoyable of the Redwood Creek horse trails. Although built for horseback riding, it also makes a pretty good walk, especially if you feel like a long hike. The entire loop is in lush forest, with a lot of sunny groves of white-barked red alders and even a few patches of old-growth redwoods. The trail is a bit overgrown but is a fairly easy hike since there aren't any especially steep or difficult sections. There are a lot of muddy sections in the spring.

It's possible to shorten this hike to 7 miles by taking only the Ridge Loop portion of the route. This option includes most of the old growth of the longer hike, but is still mostly second growth.

The trail was originally called the Six Hour Loop. In fact, all the Orick horse trails used to be named for their expected riding times but have now been renamed. At the moment, though, all the trail signs still have the old names. At a brisk pace it actually takes about seven hours to hike this trail.

A company called Redwood Outfitters conducts popular horseback rides, mostly through the old growth along the Ridge Loop, so you may encounter large groups of slow-moving riders in this area. Otherwise, the trail is little-used; in fact, I've never seen another hiker on any of the Orick Horse Trails.

Click map to show all roads and trails
Part of the Trail Map of Redwood National and State Parks (Redwood Hikes Press, 2013)

Hike description

Click here to see the trailhead location in Google Maps or in Google Street View.

The trail begins at the Orick Rodeo Grounds. Park in the grassy field just past a gate labeled with a "private property" sign. Pay the $5 parking fee to the camp host, who's in a trailer at the end of the dirt road. You can save the $5 by parking about half a mile down Drydens Road and walking along the levee or the road to the rodeo grounds.

The trail starts as a dirt road that runs along a levee above Redwood Creek. There are nice views of the Orick valley, with its green cow pastures surrounded by redwood-covered hills.

The dirt road along the levee turns into a wide and well-used trail as it enters the woods and begins to climb. This part of the trail is in very good condition because of the horseback tours, although it also has a lot of horse manure.

The trail briefly passes through a band of moss-encrusted alders, then enters a dark, lush redwood forest. As the trail climbs, the forest becomes brighter and more open until, near the top, it takes on a distinctive look, with an unusually open canopy and very little foliage beneath the canopy. The grove looks so open in part because there's a low density of redwoods, but also because many of the trunks rise straight up without any branches for hundreds of feet. The lack of foliage gives the trees a strikingly tall, straight, column-like appearance, with large sections of some redwood trunks exposed to sunlight, an unusual sight. The overall effect is very similar to giant sequoia groves in which all of the non-sequoia trees have been logged. In any case, this is a handsome grove with some striking trees.

Red alders just above McArthur Creek

When the trail splits after 1.7 miles, go right. The right branch is the less-used of the two trails and is not marked. The redwoods end at the point where the trail splits and the trail proceeds through typical Humboldt County woodlands, with an attractive mix of small trees among lush groundcover. This part of the trail actually skirts the edge of some old growth, but other than a few trunks in the distance you can't see very much of it. The National Park Service likes to build trails along the edge of old growth because, I presume, it lets you see the old growth without damaging it. The result, though, at best only reminds you of how great it would be to be hiking through old growth, and more often looks just like a non-old-growth trail.

After several miles the trail descends to an intersection with a dirt road. Turn right. When you see the outhouse to your left, turn left onto a trail. The trail crosses tiny McArthur Creek on a culvert and begins to climb. The trail increasingly begins to look like a dirt road.

When you come to a T intersection with a well-maintained dirt road (the Elam Creek Loop), turn left. After a short distance, turn right onto a singletrack trail. The trail runs over a heavily-logged plateau containing a dense forest of small trees and many huge stumps. This is the least attractive part of the hike.

Old-growth redwoods on the Ridge Loop

As it approaches the trail to Elam Camp, the trail abruptly enters a more pleasant, old-growth redwood forest. This area has the same openness and the same perfectly straight, tall, and column-like redwoods as the Ridge Trail. However, this grove is somewhat disappointing because very few of the trees are near the trail; they're all at least 10 or 20 yards off the trail, so you can only see them at a distance.

The trail descends through old growth until it reaches McArthur Creek. As the trail crosses the creek on a footbridge and then begins to climb again, thet redwoods give way to a lush green forest of alders and rhododendron. Wildflowers are especially abundunt here, and the best rhododendron display I've ever seen was on this trail in mid-May (other trails probably have equally impressive displays, but I just happened to be here at the right time).

Apparently, this trail used to be a dirt road, and as the trail climbs it zig-zags back and forth many times across the width of the former roadbed. These micro-switchbacks are kind of annoying although they do look attractive, a little like San Francisco's Lombard Street but on a smaller scale.

After cresting at the cutoff trail, the trail begins to descend, soon entering another very open ridgetop grove of old-growth redwoods. Alrthough it's brief, this is an exceptionally scenic stretch of redwoods. Unusually, the groundcover is a dense and tall layer of salal.

The trail leaves the redwoods again before reaching the Ridge Trail intersection. Turn right and return to the rodeo grounds.

More photos

  • Click here to see some more photos of the McArthur Creek Loop.

 

© 2009, 2013 David Baselt