Breaking news redwood aficionados. I have a new favorite trail in the redwoods.
My first favorite National Park trail was the Boy Scout Tree Trail. The BSTT is still a crowd pleaser and one where the thrill of being in the redwood forest starts with the very first step. After a few months of tramping the trials of Hiouchi, however, I made a new best friend. That was James Irvine Trail, which scored high due to the giant trees and perspective the raised elevation of the trail afforded — more of a top-down view of the forest vs that near-cliché view from the forest floor.
Well, the forest has done it again and jumbled my “favorites” line-up, and given me cause to praise anew the redwoods.
The Brown Creek Trail in Prairie Creek State Park is a medium-length hike which is but one portion of a loop trail comprised of the entirety of South Fork Trail, a less-than-one-mile portion of the much longer Rhododendron Trail, and the main event, the full-length of the Brown Creek Trail that meanders alongside Brown Creek for a single digit One mile.
We walked the three-mile loop in the counter clockwise direction from the roadway so the steep pitch of South Fork was navigated walking upward (gaining elevation and easier on the knees).
Each of the loop’s portions offers something of interest, and something unique.
The South Fork Trail tests your lungs as it gains 500 feet in a brisk walk of a mile. The trees aren’t spectacular but they are numerous. The trail here has the feel of the Boy Scout Tree Trail but with better views from up high, and except for one or two spots on the BSTT, consistently more trees.
At the junction with the Rhododendron Trail go left. The trail here gets a bit rough around the edges and unkempt with fallen trees to maneuver around and finally a wonderfully dysfunctional footbridge that is slowly degrading into the earth. Not to worry as the depression it crosses can be easily managed on a worn alternate route to the bridge’s right. Not the sort of thing Grandma will enjoy crossing but any hiking enthusiast will make fast work of this downed bridge.
The beauty of the Brown Creek Trail starts when you veer left at the junction of the Brown Creek Trail and Rhododendron. The trail, generally a drop in elevation on the Rhododendron Trail evens out as it parallels the creek.
This is the loop’s high point. For just over a mile you’ll be in a small valley dotted with enormous redwoods and some spectacular fir (some as impressive as the redwoods). Fern carpets the valley here, unrestricted by terrain or hillside. Imagine Fern Canyon laid flat and you’ll have an idea of the dense and deep green fern here.
Fern and sorrel, often moist with the mist kicked up by the nearby creek, trees and shrub, as well as patches of sky that occasionally invade all create a wet-paint world of greens, browns, greys, and blues. The silence is equally awe-inspiring — a small ridge that lies midway between the trail and roadway cuts off all sound.
All in all, this trail stuns the hiker with tall trees, pervasive fern, a slithering and silken creek to walk beside and even a dash of fantastic fir to complement the outstanding and very dense forest of coast redwood.
(From the Visitor’s Center in Prairie Creek the trail head to the full loop is at mile marker 129 (the second, large turnout as you drive north on the roadway. Look for the South Fork Trail marker.)
(Map courtesy of redwoodhikes.com)