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Azalea State Reserve

East and West Loop Trails

0.5 and 0.75 mile loops

The wondrous western azalea (Rhododendron occidentale) lights up this reserve located on the north bank of the Mad River. During May and June, pink and white blossoms burst forth to perfume the air and delight the eye.

Wild azaleas are typically a come-and-go phenomena; the flowers often arrive en masse after a major environmental disturbance, such as a fire. In the wild, azaleas are naturally replaced by other flora as the woodland matures in process called forest succession.

Azaleas flourish in open areas where there is ample space and plenty of access to light. To ensure that the state reserve remains to the azalea’s liking, park resource managers control competing vegetation, sometimes even using controlled burns to create the appropriate environmental conditions. (Most parks revere trees; this one considers them competitive species.)

The azalea reserve is one of many special environments along the Mad River, which flows some 110 miles northwest from its headwaters in the Coast Range to empty into the Pacific near McKinleyville. The reserve’s azaleas are bordered by such Mad River-typical conifers as Sitka spruce and Douglas fir.

Directions to trailhead: From Highway 101, a few miles north of Arcata, exit on North Bank Road. Head inland (east) 0.75 mile to the turnoff for Azalea State Reserve.

You can also reach the park by way of Highway 299.

West loop trails begin from the small parking area; east loop trails start on the opposite side of North Bank Road.

The hike: East Loop Trail, a trio of interconnecting loops, begins by plunging right into thickets of azaleas. Continue on a counterclockwise loop by ascending some stairs, then a trail up a wooded slope and gain a great view of the azalea show.

West Loop (0.5 mile) first tours an intriguing collection of north coast flora, including ferns (licorice and sword), salmonberry, elderberry, myrtle and Sitka spruce. Halfway along, the path delivers hikers to the azaleas.

© 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