The Nickerson Ranch Trail cuts through the redwood lowlands just across from the Boy Scout Tree Trail. Because it has a dense understory of small trees, it’s not as spectacular than the Boy Scout Tree Trail, but it gets a lot fewer visitors, and on a busy summer weekend it’s remarkable how much more quiet and serene it is.
This hike combines the Nickerson Ranch Trail with the southern half of the Mill Creek Trail. It’s a nice add-on to either the Mill Creek or Boy Scout Tree Trail hikes.
The hike starts with three short sections of the Mill Creek Trail alongside Howland Hill Road. The first segment is rather poorly-maintained; after passing a massive spiral-trunked tree, it becomes narrow and eroded, then climbs a short and very steep slope to reach Howland Hill Road. Turn left and walk up the road for a few yards to find the unmarked continuation of the trail, which at first looks like it’s just a parking spot. The trail passes through a small flat populated with mid-sized redwoods before crossing Howland Hill Road. The trail parallels the road and then crosses it a last time.
The scenery begins to improve as the trail pulls away from Howland Hill Road and dips down toward the creek. To the right are some large redwoods in an impressively lush setting. The trail cuts through some thorny streamside scrub, where for about 20 yards it can get heavily overgrown to the point of being almost impassable. It then dives under the redwood canopy and skirts a good-sized alluvial flat. The redwoods are small at first, but gradually get bigger as the trail climbs gently. At the end of the Mill Creek Trail, turn right onto the Nickerson Ranch Trail, which cuts through the middle of the alluvial flat and is one of Jedediah Smith’s most magnificent trails. The huge, varied trees set in a lush, jungle-like forest are a remarkable sight.
It’s easiest to return along Howland Hill Road, although it isn’t quite as interesting as the trail. In summer the road is now kept wet so that the cars that pass by frequently don't raise huge clouds of dust.
© 2007, 2012, 2017, 2021 David Baselt