This out-and-back hike starts at Wilson Beach and climbs through attractive fir, spruce, and alder groves interspersed with sunny meadows. Although there aren’t any redwoods for the first three and a half miles, the woods nontheless appear to be old growth and include some gigantic spruce trees. Traffic noise over these first few miles detracts a little from the otherwise enjoyable scenery.
The scenery changes dramatically just after DeMartin Campground, as the trail climbs into old-growth redwoods. Compared with the primeval, fogbound forest on the nearby Damnation Creek Trail, this area has relatively small redwoods, but it’s still an exceptionally scenic, lush North Coast redwood upland. It helps that the trail is a purpose-built singletrack, and that it’s free of traffic noise since it’s separated from the freeway by a ridge. As a bonus you’ll probably have the trail to yourself; I’ve never seen anyone else in this area.
Maybe because it’as so little-used, the trail isn’t as well-maintained as the state park trails. The first mile and a half is especially rough, narrow, overgrown and, in winter, muddy, but the trail improves after it crests the first knoll. When the redwoods begin, there tend to be a lot of fallen branches and trees, and some overgrown parts.
Start at the Wilson Creek parking lot, which is on the west side of Highway 101, right where the northbound highway begins to climb into Del Norte Redwoods.
Walk along Highway 101, crossing a large bridge over Wilson Creek, to reach the trailhead. There used to be a short bypass trail that eliminated the need to walk on the highway, but it’s completely disappeared.
The trail climbs a knoll covered in a very attractive, bright and open forest of white-barked red alders and light-grey fir. This first part of the trail has deteriorated a lot over the past 10 years and the rough, overgrown trail, lined with stinging nettles, now takes some extra time to hike.
Fortunately the trail condition improves as it rounds the top of the knoll. There are some glimpses of a large seastack in this area, and traffic noise drifts up from Highway 101. The trail begins to descend, but fortunately not very far; it crosses a saddle and soon begins to climb again. Some huge old-growth spruce trees are scattered along the trail, but no redwoods.
The trail leaves the woods and climbs through a series of open meadows. Grass grows on the trail and there may be no visible tread, but it’s still clear where you’re supposed to go.
There used to be a split in the trail just before the DeMartin campground. The left branch, which bypassed the campground, no longer seems to exist. This is unfortunate since it passed by a scenic little pond, which is still visible through the woods.
The trail passes through the DeMartin Backcountry Camp, which is in an attractive fir grove. It’s one of the nicer environmental campgrounds in RNSP, although it does get a little traffic noise. After the campground the trail descends slightly, then begins an insistent climb. There’s a noticable change in the woods; the dark spruce are gone, replaced with light-colored red alder and fir.
The trail then enters the redwoods. This is a natural redwood boundary so the trees are on the small side for the first half-mile or so, but after the trail crests a ridge it enters full-blown old-growth uplands.
Over the next few miles, the trail contours through a series of shady ravines. The larger ravines host a fairly impressive, open redwood forest with good-sized trees growing amid a lush carpet of ferns and redwood sorrel. Between the ravines, the forest reverts to a typical redwood upland, with small redwoods obscured by a dense layer of huckleberry shrubs and rhododendron. Overall the redwoods gradually get more impressive as the trail approaches Highway 101. Although the highway is nearby there’s no traffic noise on this side of the ridge, except sometimes when a really loud truck passes by.
The trail remains more or less level, but near the end it climbs to a ridgetop. The forest loses its openness as an understory of huckleberry closes in. The trail crests the ridge, where Highway 101 comes into view, then switchbacks down a hillside and passes through a ravine filled with big redwoods before reaching the highway.
The trail emerges at a small pullout by the side of the highway. If you’re driving north on the highway, it’s the second pullout on the right after the highway enters the redwoods; there aren’t any signs and you won’t be able to see the trail from your car. It’s just a quarter-mile south of the big Damnation Creek pullout.
© 2008, 2011, 2015, 2018, 2023 David Baselt