[Smith River and Redwood secrets start here — an evolving list of the 10 best, often-unknown locations in the redwood forest and by the Smith River.]
It feels kind of cheesy to compare redwood trails — to pit one against the other, calling out the superficials of tallest, greenest, or most tranquil. Aren’t all trees exquisite and admirable in their own right? Do we really need to assign beauty points and then declare winners and losers? Well, the tendency to create lists and cross-reference traits is how we commonly parse the planet. Tallest, richest, fastest, longest. And I’m as guilty as anyone. So I’ll admit it, I have a new favorite redwood trail with attached superlatives to boot. It might seem cheesy but by gosh this is an easy trail to get excited about!
It’s close to the bnb, at 2.5 miles it’s not too long (with options to loop back early and shorten the distance), is full of tremendous trees (hugely tall trees, trees with massive trunks that seem not to taper at all, massive crowns, and many, many burls), is a trail that climbs and falls and twists unlike others, has open spaces that let in sunlight, has creeks to jump over and footbridges as well, and with more wildlife (birds) than I’ve encountered on any other redwood trail. And it gets very little foot traffic so you’ll often have this beauty to yourself.
It’s the double-looped Leiffer Loop Trail and Ellsworth Loop Trail — a damn sweet path that offers the gentle hillocks and valleys of the Mill Creek Trail, top-down vistas of the James Irvine Trail, heavily burled trees like you might see on the Simpson-Reed Trail and the solitude of the Boy Scout Tree Trail. Many of the trees on the Leiffer portion are Titan-esque in stature. Overall, it is a very beautiful, remote-feeling yet nearby trail that shouldn’t stress too many people out (though there are a few spots in the trail where the pitch of the trail is pronounced). It’s not a tough, tough trail; nor is it a trail to walk wearing flip-flops.
There are two trailheads to choose from, both on Walker Road. For the sake of ease of driving — as Walker Road gets narrower and bumpier as you drive further and further away from 199 — I recommend starting at the first trailhead you see, about three quarters of a mile in on Walker Road on your left. A small but obvious sign marks the starting point.
The first half mile is flat, gentle walking. There are two footbridges over creeks. Plenty of maples. Patches of open sky that let in light. On the winter day I first walked this trail I thought someone had photoshopped in the green of the moss, the lichens and moist bark of the redwood. The lush colors were glisteny and surreal. I took a left at the first T-stop to officially start hiking the Leiffer Loop and shortly after that opted for left again to walk the Ellsworth Loop.
The Ellsworth Loop is usual for this part of the forest due to its rapidly undulating topography and circuitous pathway. Actually, both loop trails, Ellsworth and Leiffer, are unique among trails in the Jed Smith Forest due to the sudden ups and downs as the constant twists and turns as the trail moves further from Walker Road.
Arguably the most drama comes at the distant point of this minor trail system. As of mid-winter 2016 there is a massive, downed redwood that requires bushwacking around. Two strips of surveyor’s tape denote the worst of the fallen trunk and where the forest service likely plans to use saws to open the trail back up for the summer crush of tourists.
For now, the rain, wind, and plethora of windfall makes this trail feel even more remote.
And the bird life is abundant, possibly due to the trail’s proximity to the Smith River. Nowhere else in the forest have I heard so many bird calls or seen so many birds in flight. A most unusual aspect of these trails and one worth noting for birders.
All in all, this medium-length hike in the forest make for an outstanding if not short excursion. Close to town and the bnb, chock full of massive redwoods, water features galore, birdlife, and an utter lack of pressure from other hikers makes this an exceptional trail to aim for.
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