This short interpretive trail is in a small old-growth grove across from the park visitor center and the main campground. The trail gets a steady stream of visitors; you might see a group every 2–3 minutes or so.
In general the trails south of the visitor’s center are a little less impressive than those to the north, and the Nature Trail is right in the middle in both location and appearance. Although it’s just a mile north of the Kent-Mather trail, the Nature Trail has a more interesting and attractive look. The trees are darker, there seems to be more of a variety of tree sizes, and the groundcover is lusher, with abundant ferns and a smattering of redwood sorrel. On the other hand, the Nature Trail doesn’t have as many big trees as the spectacular groves just to the north, and the grove is small, with signs of logging along the edges and near the trailhead.
Like most trails along the Avenue of the Giants, the Nature Trail gets some traffic noise. The wheelchair-accessible trail is flat and wide, with new, wide footbridges and some very solidly-built benches.
Park in the small visitor center lot. The trail begins across the Avenue of the Giants and enters an unattractive area of logged redwoods. After just a few yards, the trail reaches a T intersection.
Turn right onto the Gould Grove Nature Loop Trail, where the unlogged old growth begins. In a few more yards there’s another intersection where the actual loop begins. The area around this intersection is the most scenic part of the hike, with the biggest redwoods and one especially notable tree that rises through the canopy without seeming to get narrower.
Take the trail to the left which may be a little hard to see. The trail runs along the edge of the forest, where there are a lot of tiny redwoods growing among the bigger trees, creating a very dense understory. At the north end of the loop, a spur descends to the Eel River, where there’s a summer footbridge to the River Trail. A second spur leads to Burlington Campground. There are a few small stumps here at the north end of the loop, and just across the Avenue, Burlington Campground has been heavily logged.
The scenery improves a lot as the trail turns back toward the visitor center, leaving the edge of the woods and diving into the dark, shady heart of the grove, where the trees are a lot bigger. The grove doesn’t have the cathedral-like appearance of the best groves; it’s too small and the understory too dense. But there are still some pretty good-sized trees here. The groundcover is a sparse sprinkle of redwood sorrel with some ferns.
Optional side trip: To see the effects of logging on the redwood forest, check out the Fleishmann Grove Trail. This trail, which is also wheelchair-accessable, branches off from the start of the Nature Trail and runs south along the Avenue of the Giants. It’s is much less enjoyable than the Nature Trail and mainly leads through a narrow strip of logged woods between the Avenue of the Giants and the Eel River. The south end of the trail isn’t as heavily logged, but it still doesn’t have any big trees.
© 2007, 2014, 2018, 2022 David Baselt