This short roadside loop circles around a flat along the banks of the Smith River. At one time it was the most popular trail in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, but in 2011 the trailhead was moved from a very visible location on the side of Highway 199 to a well-hidden location on nearby Walker Road. Two small signs at the old Highway 199 pullout redirect visitors to Walker Road, but the new trailhead is currently unmarked. As a result the trail is much less-used than before. It is, however, more enjoyable now that it doesn’t start and end at the busy highway.
Although it’s a nice trail, it’s a little surprising how different it is from all the other trails in the park. In contrast to the open, cathedral-like appearance of Stout Grove or the Boy Scout Tree Trail, the Simpson-Reed Trail has an unusually dense, jungle-like look, with greenery covering almost every available surface. In addition, for a lowland redwood grove, the Simpson-Reed area has an unusually large number of different kinds of plants. There are, of course, lots of big redwoods, although except for one monster tree they don’t seem to be quite as big as the redwoods along Howland Hill Road. Underneath the redwoods is a layer of hemlock trees so encrusted in moss and lichens that it’s amazing they can survive (the redwoods don’t have this problem because they shed their bark). It’s these hemlocks that really give this grove its distinctive look. Underneath the hemlocks are small maple trees with brilliant green foliage, a common sight near streams. Finally, the ground is covered with a dense layer of sword ferns, and underneath those are abundant, clover-like redwood sorrel.
Although the trail is right next to Highway 199, the traffic noise drops off surprisingly fast (depending on the wind and other factors) as you get further from the highway, and usually isn’t an issue. The path is compacted gravel, is flat and level throughout, and is wheelchair-accessible. A few interpretive signs discuss forest ecology.
Park in one of the two small pullouts at the beginning of Walker Road and walk a few yards along the road to the trailhead itself, where there’s a handicapped parking area and a small restroom building. Take the trail, turning right when you reach the first T intersection in a few yards. Follow the loop, turning right at each intersection.
The scenery is pretty consistent throughout the loop, but the biggest trees seem to be mostly around the beginning and end of the loop, with the Peterson Memorial Trail being maybe a little less impressive than the Simpson-Reed Trail. Near the end of the loop, look for an especially large dark tree with its top broken off.
Hidden in the woods just a few yards further up Walker Road from the Simpson-Reed Trail is a short, unmarked path with the same excessive jungle-like lushness. There are lichens hanging from tree branches, foliage everywhere, and some pretty impressive trees. But the meandering, little-visited track through Metcalf Grove feels more wild than the wide gravel path of Simpson-Reed (although sometimes it’s surprising how many people find their way here). There are also some nice views of the little creek, and a few paths have been worn by people going down to the gravel-lined creekbed.
The little-known trail can be reached by driving a few yards up the bumpy dirt Walker Road. Just a few yards past the bridge, look carefully for the trail to your right. There’s a small pullout just after the trail. Walker Road continues past this point for about a mile and makes a nice old-growth drive, similar to Howland Hill Road but with the characteristic lushness of the lowlands. The road is a dead-end and dumps you onto a sandy flat by the side of the Smith River; you’ll have to make a U-turn in the sand if you go that far.
A few yards north of the trail is an apparently natural break in the redwood canopy that runs roughly east-west and lets in some extra sun. So at 5 pm when Simpson-Reed is getting depressingly dark, Metcalf Grove is still lit by golden late-afternoon rays. The official part of the trail meanders past a bench and ends when it reaches a second bench. After this point an unofficial trail continues into the woods, becoming increasingly faint.
© 2007, 2012, 2017 David Baselt