A brilliantly designed trail system to the south provides access to a fantasy forest of redwood, oak and fir.
For two years I’ve been advocating the local trails of Hiouchi and the Jed Smith Forest. And for good reason. These nearby trails are varied and uncrowded, the trees enormous, and the time needed to travel from the bnb to trailhead is unbelievably short. One can easily hike Stout Grove or the Simpson-Reed loop trail before breakfast; I’ve even hosted people who have trail run the Boy Scout Tree Trail and made it back for hot muffins by 9am.
I still hold fast to this approach. I concur with mapmaker and writer David Baselt in his assessment that the redwood groves of Jedediah Smith State Park, where we are located, are the most scenic; that the park itself is the most unspoiled, and that Howland Hill Road which cuts a gravel and dirt lane through the forest from Hiouchi to Crescent City is one of the best redwood drives anywhere. The superlatives are deserved.
But I have been bitten by the bug of a trio of trails to the south. This loop walk — consisting of parts of the James Irvine and Miner’s Ridge trails, and the Clintonia Trail in its entirety — is in my opinion the finest trail-walking experience in the redwood forest. This seven-mile hike is not only a masterful example of trail making, it almost continuously entertaining and engaging with its vast and panoramic views of the trees . The redwoods along the trail are enormous but they are also wildly diverse in their body types (excuse me, but as you walk and walk and walk these trails in the National Park it does appear that trees have body types as varied as us humans). Some are stately tall with smooth bark, others have torqued trunks and cork-screwed bark. Some shoot strait to the sky while others appear ready to tumble they lean so severely to their side. Some are heavily burled with bulbous blobs of woody outgrowth while others are pockmarked with baseball mitt-sized blips of burls that stud their length from forest floor to canopy.
Trails not only rise and fall but they simultaneously curve and switch back and forth and back again, providing so many fantastic perspectives, with a depth of field I found singular among the trails I’ve hiked in any of the Redwood state parks.
It would be sacrilege to say these trails are superior to those closer to the bnb, but these trails are worth the 50 minute drive it takes to get to the trailhead at the Prairie Creek State Park Visitor’s Center.
There are more complete descriptions of this hike in a number of other sources (Baselt’s included), but heed my bolder strokes — this is a trail that will challenge, entertain, and deliver a wealth of ah-ha moments.
James Irvine-Clintonia-Miner’s Ridge Loop
Length: 7.3 miles
Trail Type: loop
Difficulty: Moderate with some gentle climbs throughout. Trail is mostly hardpack gravel though some sections are veined with roots.
Change in elevation/climbing: Approx 500 feet.
Location, distance from bnb~hiouchi: trailhead and parking is 35 miles south of the bnb at the Prairie Creek State Park Visitor’s Center. Driving directions: from the bnb make a left on 199 toward Crescent City; merge on to 101 going south to the the turnoff on to Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. Take the parkway south through Prairie Creek State Park to the Visitor Center near Elk Meadow. Park near to the visitor’s center — the trailhead is behind the visitor’s center. Signposts will direct you to the James Irvine trail. At the fork ahead, choose either direction knowing you will take the Clintonia Trail to connect and return to the parking area and your car.
Snapshot description: This seven-mile loop hike in Redwood National Park is an expansive and rich introduction to a varied and highly visual forest of old-growth redwood as well as stands of douglas fir and oak. With a trail system that often situates hikers mid-level on the sides of ridges, it offers a unique perspective from which to observe the coast redwood — instead of looking up into the canopy, straining to see the full breadth of the trees, one can see these giants from a higher point of view. There are bridges, water features and a diverse range of trees and shrub on the trails.