A brilliantly designed trail system to the south provides access to a fantasy forest of redwood, oak and fir.
It feels like forever that 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 short. One can easily hike Stout Grove or the Simpson-Reed loop trail before breakfast. I’ve 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 (as well as a shorter loop that taps a connecting trail, the Clintonia Trail — is, in its entirety or in part, the finest trail-walking experience in the northern redwood forest. This either twelve or 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 straight 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.
The trails not only rise and fall but they simultaneously curve and switch back and forth and back again, providing so many fantastic perspectives and with a depth of field I found unique 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, but heed my bolder strokes — this is a trail that will challenge, entertain, and deliver a wealth of ah-ha moments.
A few caveats will improve your chances of a joyful jaunt on either the shorter Irvine-Clintonia-Miners’ Ridge loop or the longer Irvine to Fern Canyon to Gold Bluff Beach to Miners’ Ridge hike:
1. You’ll want to get to the trailhead early (11am latest) so you can walk unrushed and maintain the option to linger when the mood to strikes.
2. Bring food and water enough to sate an appetite and quench thirst for 5-6 hours of off-the-grid living.
3. Check the camera battery before leaving the bnb.
4. Bring flip-flops or Tevas for navigating the watery floor of Fern Canyon.
5. And pack sun block for the walk along the beach (and even a few band-aids to manage a complaining callous).
Follow my advice and the payoff on the longer hike will be extreme. You will see massive redwoods, some solitary, some in vast groves, most standing but many thrown and scattered like toothpicks after being toppled by wind or lightening. You will pass through landscapes filled with spruce and cedar. You will climb over and pick your way through spine-chilling debris fields filled with upper trunk limbs torn from skyward-reaching redwoods. You will walk through a canyon of fern hemmed in by 100-foot high walls dripping with runoff. You might even see the park’s many but reclusive resident elk as you navigate the oceanfront leg of the hike.
If your plans include the bnb and time allows it, think seriously about adding this epic redwood hike to your to-do list.
James Irvine-Miners’ Ridge Loop
(including Fern Canyon and Gold Bluffs Beach)
Length: 11.6 miles (figure on six hours of trail walking)
Trail Type: loop
Difficulty: Moderate with gentle climbs throughout. Trail is mostly hardpack gravel though some sections are veined with roots. Pavement/roadway/beach sand options along Gold Bluffs Beach. Fern Canyon presents a challenge as rivulets and pools of water that meander and dot the canyon floor need to be navigated.
Change in elevation/climbing: Approx 1,350 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. Take the turnoff on to Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway after the town of Klamath. Take the parkway south through Prairie Creek State Park to the Visitor Center near Elk Meadow. Park near the Visitor Center — the trailhead is behind the visitor’s center. Signposts will direct you to the James Irvine trail. At the fork about a mile in, choose either direction. Most of the literature describes the trail taken in a counter-clockwise direction.
Snapshot description: This eleven-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 spruce, cedar and fir. 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, ocean beach and a diverse range of trees and shrubs on the trail.
For a shorter experience, circle back earlier by taking the Clintonia Trail, which connects with the James Irvine trail about 2.6 miles from the Visitor Center. All descriptions assume a counter-clockwise direction (from the Visitor Center) on this trail system.