This hike is similar to the Tall Trees Grove hike, but adds a pleasant detour along sunny Redwood Creek. Since you have to wade through the creek this route should only be attempted in summer or early fall, when the creek is about 6–12 inches deep and easily forded. The stroll along the wide rocky banks makes a nice change from hiking through the woods and offers a fresh perspective on the redwoods. Overall this is a much more enjoyable and memorable hike than the usual out-and-back to the Tall Trees Grove.
The amount of wading required can vary a lot from year to year. Usually the creek is shallow and just a few steps across. In recent years, though, the creek has turned into a series of large, calm pools, some of which completely fill the channel even in late summer. The banks are heavily overgrown, so hikers have to wade through water up to waist deep (but more often 5–12 inches deep) for stretches of a quarter-mile. I thought the pools made the hike extra fun, but some people have resorted to crashing through the dense woods to avoid getting wet.
The loop is little-used. After the initial descent to the the Tall Trees Grove, you might see a total of two or three groups on the busiest days; in the off-season you probably won't see anyone.
The wide, shallow gravel creekbed of Redwood Creek, so typical of Humboldt County, is the result of logging. Erosion and floods have reshaped the stream, which probably used to run in a little channel shaded by maple trees, much like Prairie Creek.
Here’s the trailhead location in Google Maps.
To get to the trailhead you first have to get a free Tall Trees Grove permit from any of the other Redwood National and State Park visitor centers. Kuchel Information Center is the most convenient if you’re coming from the south, while Prairie Creek is easiest if you’re coming from the north. The permit includes a parking pass and a gate combination. A limited number of permits are available each day, but it’s unusual for them to run out except on summer holidays. It’s about a 45 minute to one-hour drive from Kuchel to the parking lot.
From the parking lot, take the Tall Trees access trail downhill. After a few yards you’ll come to an intersection; turn left onto the Emerald Ridge Trail. The trail starts out among logged redwoods, but almost immediately enters an old-growth redwood forest. The redwoods aren't that big and are partially obscured by a dense tunnel of rhododendron, huckleberry, and tanoak, but the surprisingly tall, straight, light-colored trunks rising traught as an arrow through the foliage are are an attractive sight.
The Dolason Prairie Trail branches off to the left. If you have the time for an interesting side trip, take the trail a quarter-mile downhill to where it crosses a steep-sided gulch on a high wooden bridge; the steep valley lined with mid-sized old growth redwoods is very typical of Redwood National Park’s stream valleys.
Below the Dolason Prairie Trail the woods become darker, with smaller trees and an even denser understory. A half-mile further downhill the Emerald Ridge Trail breaks out of the woods at Redwood Creek. If you do this hike in reverse, the trail is almost impossible to see from the creek; the triangular orange sign that marks the start of the trail has become pretty well hidden over the years.
Turn right and follow the wide, sunny creek downstream (if you have some extra time you can turn left and explore upstream a ways before heading downstream). It’s slow going over the gravelly streambed, which is mostly made of smooth rocks about 4–6 inches in diameter. In places, tufts of invasive french broom or other plants grow from the gravel; over the past 10 years the vegetation has become increasingly dense, requiring more and more wading through the creek. Old-growth redwoods rise dramatically along the banks of the stream, becoming larger as you approach the Tall Trees grove.
Look for a short trail marked with a triangular orange sign that leads to the Tall Trees Grove loop trail. In the summer, the grove is easy to spot since there are usually people hanging around the creek at the entrance. In summer it will be obvious if you miss the trail, since three-quarters of a mile further downstream you'll encounter the seasonal bridge across Redwood Creek. Hike the loop trail around the quiet grove; if you go counter-clockwise you’ll pass a nice collection of big redwoods, then break out of the redwoods and into a grove of streamside maples. The long climb up the access trail back to the parking lot is pretty mundane. © 2007, 2015, 2019 David Baselt
The long climb up the access trail back to the parking lot is pretty mundane.
© 2007, 2015, 2019 David Baselt