Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area
Big Tree, Mill Creek Trails
2 mile loop via Big Tree Trail; 6 mile loop via Mill Creek Trail
The redwood groves (mostly second-growth) are pleasant enough, but it’s not the trees that attract visitors year after year, it’s the river.
The Eel River, that is.
Occupying both banks of the Eel’s South Fork, the recreation area offers a swimming hole, three campgrounds, steelhead and salmon ﬁshing in winter, and some good hiking.
The Eel passes through some inspiring scenery on its long journey from its headwaters in the Yolla Bolly Wilderness to its mouth at Eureka’s Humboldt Bay. In redwood country, the Eel has sculpted some impressive towering bluffs, particularly along the two mile stretch within Standish-Hickey.
The park’s premier arboreal attraction is the Captain Miles Standish Tree, a scarred 225-foot tall, 13-feet-in-diameter giant, estimated to be 1,200 years old. The tree honors one of the early Pilgrims; his descendants, the Standish family, along with the Hickey family, donated much of the acreage to form the park.
Because the rain-swollen Eel River ﬂoods so often, its banks, bottom and swimming holes change each year. All the park’s Eel-spanning footbridges are removed during the winter, effectively making most of the trail system inaccessible. In fact, sometimes high water knocks out the bridge in late spring and early summer as well.
Standish-Hickey’s three mile round trip Lookout Trail offers a pretty good look down at the Eel, but I prefer the more intimate view of the park offered by two loop trails—Big Tree and Mill Creek.
Directions to the trailhead: From Highway 101, a mile north of Leggett, take the Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area exit. Once inside the park, continue straight past the entrance station, taking the very steep road down to the seasonal bridge across the Eel River and over to Redwood Campground. Bear right after campsite #108 to the day use parking lot.
The hike: Join signed Big Tree Trail for a short distance to a fork and bear left. The path soon leaves the banks of the Eel and begins a mellow ascent through the redwoods.
A mile out, the trail passes a junction with the other leg of Big Tree Trail, crosses Page & Gates Logging Road, and arrives at the impressive Captain Miles Standish Tree. While admiring the redwood, you can choose whether to return via the other branch of Big Tree Trail and complete your hike, or join Mill Creek Loop Trail.
The latter path crosses meadowland and ascends through the woods to a slightly scary-looking landslide area above Mill Creek. The trail descends to cross the creek, then climbs again, traveling along a ridge, then descending again toward the Eel River.
The path meets Page & Gates Road, very close to the mouth of Mill Creek where it ﬂows into the Eel River. Go right on the road for a short distance. Follow the trail signs which take you back into the creekbed for a short detour around the now-unsafe bridge over Mill Creek, then resume walking on Mill Creek Loop Trail, which ascends a bit at ﬁrst before leveling out through lovely Big Tree Meadow.
Back at Miles Standish Tree, you’ll join Big Tree Trail’s left fork on the other side of Page & Gates descending to the river and crossing Cabin Meadow. When you reach the banks of the Eel, near the park’s swimming area, you’ll cross a little log bridge, then follow the trail over the opposite gravel bar to a second wooden bridge to Redwood Campground and the trailhead.
© 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.