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Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Bull Creek Flats Loop Trail

From Rockefeller Forest to Big Trees Area via 8.5 mile loop;
several shorter options possible

Famed Avenue of the Giants offers a good look at Humboldt County’s redwoods. More than a dozen short paths meander through Avenue-adjacent groves named for the famous, the rich and famous, and the just plain rich.

The 32 mile parkway, the parallel scenic alternate to Highway 101, runs the length of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. This park was one of California’s first to be preserved when the state park system was established in the 1920s. Today it protects about one-eighth of all remaining old-growth coast redwoods.

Just off the Avenue of the Giants in Weott is the park visitor center. Stop to pick up maps, inquire about trail conditions and check out the nature exhibits, including an excellent one about the importance of ancient forests.

The matchless old-growth forest along Bull Creek was an early cause celebre with early California conservationists, who struggled to save the redwoods from the mill. Out of this struggle to save Humboldt County’s tall trees came the formation of the Save-the-Redwoods League in 1918.

Thanks to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. quietly funnelling two million dollars to the League, matching state funds, conservationists were able to purchase some 10,000 acres along Bull Creek from the Pacific Lumber Company in 1930.

Today the Bull Creek backcountry forms the heart of the park. Thriving along this creek is more than a redwood grove; it’s truly a forest. The Rockefeller Forest is, without resorting to too many superlatives, the most impressive stand of redwoods found anywhere in the world.

A five mile long road winds through the Bull Creek area, as do several hiking trails. My favorite is the route along Bull Creek itself. This path offers curiosities (Flatiron Tree, Giant Tree and more), as well as swimming in and sunning beside Bull Creek. And, of course, there are the spectacular redwoods—explored by a trail that not only stretches the legs, but the imagination as well.

If you’re pressed for time, both ends of the above-described Bull Creek Flats Loop Trail have shorter, inviting explorations. You can easily walk from the Big Trees parking area to Giant Tree, then stroll along Bull Creek. The half mile Rockefeller Forest Loop Trail is a gem.

From the Avenue of the Giants, there’s easy access to a many short trails into the redwoods. Favorites include Children’s Forest Loop Trail, Founders Grove Trail, Drury-Chaney Trail, Franklin K. Lane Grove Trail.

Directions to trailhead: From the north-central part of the Avenue of the Giants, four miles north of the park visitor center and just south of the hamlet of Redcrest, turn west on Mattole Road and drive 1.5 miles to the parking area for the Rockefeller Forest Loop Trail. (If you want to make this a one-way hike and make car shuttle arrangements, a second trailhead is located at the Big Trees Parking Area, another three miles west on Mattole Road.)

The hike: Begin your walk on the right branch of the Rockefeller Loop (a very pleasant family hike in its own right) and follow it for a short 0.25 mile or so to a junction, bearing right onto Bull Creek Flats Loop Trail.

The path heads up-creek, along a path crowded in places by rushes and horsetail. A mile out, the trail breaks into a clearing and 0.5 mile farther crosses a tributary creek on a bridge; another mile more, a log bench beckons you to take a break.

About a mile from the Big Trees Parking Area, the path climbs to closely parallel Mattole Road. After crossing a couple side creeks on wooden bridges, you arrive at the parking lot.

From here, cross the bridge over Bull Creek and follow the signs to the oddly shaped Flatiron Tree and to Giant Tree. The Giant is not the world’s tallest redwood, but it is the biggest—the champion by virtue of its combined height, diameter and crown size.

Leaving behind the Giant Tree, the path travels through a fern-filled forest, crosses Squaw Creek on a bridge, and soon passes a junction with the right-forking Johnson Camp Trail. Not only do the ancient trees towering above make you feel small, their fallen cousins, which require a 75-yard zig and a 75-yard zag by trail to get around, are also humbling to the hiker.

The trail enters and exits a hollow, hike-through log, then meanders a bit, north and south, with Bull Creek. A mile-and-a-half from the Big Trees area, the path plunges into the fern-filled canyon of Connick Creek, emerging to travel past awesome redwoods, including the so-called Giant Braid, a trio of redwoods twisted together.

For the most part, as you hike along, you’ll hear but not see Bull Creek; that is until 0.5 mile or so from the Rockefeller Loop, when the path drops close to the creek. The trail explores some more magnificent redwoods on the flats above the creek.

Your redwood journey ends when you cross Bull Creek on a seasonal bridge, and reconnect with Rockefeller Loop Trail for the short walk back to the parking area

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at www.thetrailmaster.com.