From Highway 101, Bald Hills Road climbs at first through redwoods before emerging onto a large hilltop prairie with increasingly broad vistas. The pavement abruptly ends at this point; bumping over the ridgetop with a cloud of dust behind you, you’ll wind your way up a knoll and, 17 miles from Highway 101, arrive at the Lyons Ranch Historic Site trailhead.
The Lyons Ranch area is strikingly different from the rest of Redwood National Park. A cattle and sheep ranch until the 1960s, the area is dominated by grassy prairies with sweeping views of the Redwood Creek watershed. There are sparse oak groves but no redwoods. In contrast with the lush, dense woods of the park’s lower elevations, Lyons Ranch features dramatic wide-open spaces. In winter the arid, windblown prairies and the bare trees can seem a little forlorn. It can also get quite cold, with ice and snow on the trail. In summer, though, the area offers a bright, sunny reprieve from the gloomy weather along the coast. At any time it seems very remote.
The Lyons Ranch Trail is a gravel road that is closed to vehicles and leads to “Home Place” the site of the original Lyons house. The house has burned down and today the area contains only a barn and two bunkhouses. Although the wooded parts of the trail aren’t especially attractive, the views over the Redwood Creek drainage are the best in the park, and the large barn is interesting to explore. Nearby Ranch Road makes a nice loop, leading past the historic Long Ridge Sheep Shed, which dates to the early 1900s. Ranch Road isn’t marked as a trail but seems to be popular with hikers anyway.
Here’s the trailhead location in Google Maps.
Two roads branch off from the trailhead. Straight ahead, the Lyons Ranch Trail proceeds along the ridge, while to your left, a little-used but still well-maintained dirt road heads downhill. Take the Lyons Ranch Trail.
After continuing along the sometimes-windy ridge for a short distance, another road branches off; it leads up a low knoll to a weather station. Stay on the road to the left, which begins to descend through prairie and patches of open oak woods, offering new views as it curves around the knoll. There’s a little valley with the Long Ridge Sheep Shed visible far below, then a wider up-valley view of the Redwood Creek basin. In winter the distant peaks are snow-capped. Next there are dramatic views of Bridge Creek Ridge with its huge square clearcuts. Even at this distance, you can clearly make out how tall the redwoods at the edges of the clearcuts are. Finally, the road ends up at Home Place, which is a little cluster of rustic buildings, a barn and two bunkhouses.
It’s possible to enter all three buildings. The barn, with its sheep and horse pens and hayloft, is the most interesting and is the highlight of the hike. There isn’t as much to see in the bunkhouses, but one of them has some peeling shreds of newspaper from 1912 stuck to the walls.
The shortest way back to the parking lot is the way you came. However, many hikers prefer to make a loop by taking Ranch Road instead, adding a mile and 200 feet of climbing to the hike. The road is unmarked, but it’s not difficult to follow; just start returning on the Lyons Ranch Trail, then take the first dirt road to your right. Follow the road through some woods (which are somewhat less scenic than the woods on the Lyons Ranch Trail), and when you reach the sheep shed, turn left and climb back to the parking lot. The final climb up an open, grassy hillside features some great views.
© 2009, 2011, 2017 David Baselt