“The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.”
~ John Steinbeck, “Travels With Charley – In Search of America”
The Redwood Creek Trail is an out-and-back hike that can be done as either a day trip or an overnight backpacking excursion. The scenic highlight of the walk is the Tall Trees Grove, a remarkable collection of ancient redwoods that was famously featured in National Geographic in 1963. The widespread attention created by the article helped the area to eventually be designated a National Park in 1968.
I hiked the Redwood Creek Trail in mid-September 2021, as part of a series of short walks in the Redwoods region (including the James Irvine and Miner’s Ridge Loop, the Boy Scout Trail in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, and a combo of the Prairie Creek, Brown Creek, Foothill Trail & Rhododendron Trails). I was joined on the trip by good friends Mike Unger, Naomi Hudetz, and Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa.
At a Glance
Distance: 25.4 km (15.8 mi)
Average Duration: 1 or 2 days
Difficulty Level: Easy
Start/Finish: Redwood Creek Trailhead Parking (41.2992260, -124.0337130)
Getting There & Away:
- To access the Redwood Creek Trailhead, take HWY 101 north from the tiny town of Orick. After just over a mile, head east on Bald Hills Road for another 0.4 miles to a signed junction. Turn right, and take this paved road for another 0.5 miles to the trailhead parking area (Facilities – restrooms, trash cans, and trail register).
- All-year-round. June to September offers the best chance of sunny weather. The rest of the year is cooler and wetter, but on the flip side is less crowded and permits are usually not an issue. Tip: Try to avoid weekends and school holidays. Late spring and early fall offer a great balance between generally clear conditions, mild temps, and relatively few people on the trail.
- Permits: If you’re doing the hike in one day, you’ll need a permit for the Tall Trees Grove. If you plan to camp on the Redwood Creek gravel bar (see Sleeping below) you’ll also require a backcountry permit from the Redwood National and State Parks website. Both permits need to be organized in advance.
- GPX Data: Redwood Creek Trail – Alltrails, GaiaGPS
- Character: The Redwood Creek Trail follows its namesake watercourse, passing through a lush riparian corridor of hemlock, spruce, bigleaf maples, and, of course, old and second-growth redwoods. The trail is very well maintained and marked; indeed, you’d have to try hard in order to get lost on this one.
- Foot Traffic & Alternate Route: During our mid-September hike, we only saw a couple of other people doing the whole Redwood Creek Trail. It seems that most folks that visit the Tall Trees Grove, do so via the Tall Trees Access Road Trailhead. This alternative involves a four-mile (6.4 km) loop hike that includes approximately 1,600 ft (487m) of elevation change.
- Landmarks (approx. distances from Trailhead Carpark): 1. Redwood Creek Crossing (1.6 mi/2.6 km); 2. Junction to Elan Camp (2.7 mi (4.4 km); 3. 44 Creek Bridge (6.7 mi/10.8 km); 4. Junction to 44 Camp (7.3 mi/11.7 km), and; 4. Beginning of Tall Trees Grove Loop (7.6 mi/12.2 km)
- Mother Nature’s Pantheon: The Redwoods was the final destination of my 2021 US trip. I couldn’t have wished for a more memorable finale. These primordial behemoths have been known to live up to 3000 years, and are not only the world’s tallest trees but also the largest living organisms on the planet. The Redwood region is one of those places – like the Grand Canyon, Iguazu Falls, or the Great Barrier Reef – where no matter how much you may have heard beforehand, no matter how many mind-blowing photos you may have seen in books or online, the reality will always exceed your expectations. During the four days we spent hiking in the Redwoods, I’m sure I spent as much time gazing up in awe, as I did looking at the trail in front of me. Indeed, I can’t recall a place that produces more toe-stubbings and neck strains per mile than these ancient coastal forests.
Tall Trees Grove
After approximately 7 miles (11.3 km) the trail emerges from the forest onto the Redwood Creek gravel bed. At this point head SSE and cross the watercourse – during the summer there’s a seasonal footbridge – and re-enter the forest. You’re now in the Tall Trees Grove, which involves a 1.2 mile (1.9 km) neck-straining loop among some of the most incredible redwoods in the entire region. It was so extraordinary I did it twice – once around sunset on day 1, and again the following morning.
Hyperion – The World’s Tallest Tree
The world’s tallest tree, a coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) called Hyperion (115.5 m [379 ft]), is located in the Redwood Creek watershed. The location is somewhat of a secret (albeit not a very well kept one), but due to the fact that you need to head off the beaten track to get there, it remains infrequently visited. On the second morning of the hike, after some enjoyable splishing, splashing, and scrambling, we were fortunate enough to pay our respects to the mighty tree, before making the return journey back to the Redwood Creek trailhead.
- Dispersed Camping: Redwood Creek is the only place in the Redwood National park where “dispersed camping” is permitted. Backpackers can camp anywhere along the gravel creekbed as long as it’s upstream of the first creek crossing (1.6 mi/2.6 km from the trailhead), and no closer than a quarter-mile (400 m) to the hike’s turnaround point at the Tall Trees Grove.
Side Trip/Bonus Trek: Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail
Located less than three miles (4.8 km) drive away from the Redwood Creek Trailhead is the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail. At only 1.4 miles (2.3 km) in length, this beautiful, gently-graded pathway is well worth an hour of your time either pre or post-hike. It is named after the former first lady, who during her husband’s time in office, actively promoted the protection and creation of natural habitats. Here are some images from the short walk:
Gear List – Redwoods (September 2021)
|ITEM||WT. (OZ)||SUB (oz)||SUB (kg)||COMMENTS|
|MLD Burn (38L/DCF)||16||Frameless backpack of choice since the 2000s. A little heavier, with more bells and whistles than the original models, but the slim profile still fits me perfectly. Overall I’ve hiked more than 20,000 miles carrying the Burn, and am now on my third model.|
|Trash compactor bag (pack liner)||2|
|Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo||26||Thumbs up. Light, easy to pitch, plenty of space for one person, holds up well in a storm.|
|Pad – Thermarest NeoAir XLite – Large (resized to just under 150cm/5ft)||11.9||Converted to wide model a couple of years ago – extra width has been worth weight penalty/ Resizing cut weight from 16 oz to just under 12 oz / Click here fo long-term review of the small model.|
|Quilt – Katabatic Alsek 22F||23.1||I’d generally go with my synthetic MLD quilt or the Katabatic Palisade 30F for the Redwoods. In this case, I had the Alsek with me because that was what I used up in northern Alaska earlier in the summer.|
|KITCHEN / H2O|
|LokSak 20×12 (Food Bag)||1.2||Food storage bag of choice since the 2000s. I often hear people complain about the seals breaking quickly, but I’ve always found them to be fairly durable (4 to 6 weeks of daily use) if you don’t overfill them.|
|Toaks 700ml Titanium Pot||3.1|
|SOTO Windmaster||3.4||After all these years I finally bought a canister stove. My hiking partners – AG, Mike & Naomi – all recommended the SOTO, and after using it for a month or so, I’d have to concur. Super quick, light, and efficient. A keeper.|
|Toaks Titanium Long Handled Spoon||0.7||Top-end wrapped in orange tape so I won’t lose it.|
|Reconstituted sports drink bottles (2)||2.4|
|FIRST AID / HYGIENE|
|Sunscreen (repackaged in tiny bottle)|
|Hand Sanitizer (repackaged in a dropper bottle)||I haven’t had a case of the backcountry trots since 1999 – I think a big reason is the diligent use of hand sanitizer.|
|Aquamira (repackaged in dropper bottles)|
|Toothpaste (mini tube)|
|Dental Floss||Doubles as sewing thread|
|Antiseptic Wipes (2)||Clean cuts and wounds|
|Triple Antibiotic Cream (tiny tube)|
|3M Micropore Medical Tape||Breathable, paper tape / Adheres well.|
|Sewing Needle||One-armed blind folks can sew better than me.|
|Tenacious Tape, Mini Tube Super Glue (repairs)||To compensate for lack of sewing skills|
|Lip Balm SPF 30||Kept with sunscreen & hand sanitizer in shoulder pocket.|
|Rain Pants – Montbell Versalite (Lge)||3.6||Lightweight, quick-drying, and a surprising amount of warmth for something that weighs less than 4oz / Not super durable, but fine for on-trail hiking.|
|Rain Jacket – Montbell Versalite (Lge)||7||After the Peak Dry Shell, my favorite Montbell rain jacket.|
|Insulation – Montane Allez Micro Hoodie (Lge)||6.7||Can’t say enough about this hoodie. Made from Polartec Power Grid, I wore it daily during my month up in Denali and Gates of the Arctic. Found it to be an ideal insulation layer for cold/wet temps between low 30s to low 50s F (0°C-12°C).|
|Extra Socks – Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew||2.6|
|Dirty Girl Gaiters||1.3|
|Montbell Chameece Gloves||0.9||All-time favorite liner gloves. Very durable – I’ve had the same pair since 2016.|
|Camera – Sony a6400 (18-135mm lens)||27.2||After (too) many hours of research, I finally took the plunge and bought a fancy(ish) camera. Still lots to learn regarding optimal settings.|
|Camera Case – MegaGear Neoprene||2.2|
|Phone – iPhone 11||7.1|
|Otter Symmetry case for iPhone 11 (orange)||1.3|
|Trekking Pole – Montbell Alpine Carbon Pole Cam Lock||7.1||I put this flip-lock pole through the wringer up in the tussocks and river crossings of Denali & Gates of the Arctic. Double thumbs up.|
|Small DCF stuff sack – Hyperlite Mountain Gear (2)||0.6||Ditty bag / First Aid / Toiletries|
|Six Moon Designs Pack Pod||1||Multi-use. At night fill it with extra clothes and use it as a pillow.|
|Headlamp – Nitecore NU25||1.8||Excellent rechargeable headlamp. Most of the time I tend to use the low red setting to preserve night vision.|
|Swiss Army Classic||0.7|
|Small LokSaks for Valuables (2)||1||Protection for phone, passport, etc.|
|Potty Trowel – Deuce of Spades||0.6|
|BASE WEIGHT||TOTAL||10.5 lb||4.8 kg|
|Shorts – Patagonia Baggies 7″||6.7||Hiking shorts of choice since 2015/16. Click here for my long-term review.|
|Base layer – Montbell Merino Long Sleeve Zip Neck||7.6||I’ve used this merino wool base layer (160g/m2) since 2016 for most of my hikes in cold/wet conditions (e.g. Tasmania, Scotland, New Zealand) / Not too thick/not too thin, warmer than synthetic equivalents when damp.|
|REI Merino Wool Liner socks||1.6||Still my favourite Merino liners after more than a decade / Cheaper and more durable than the big sock companies (Note: Though not as durable as the pre-2013 models)|
|Hat – Baseball cap||2.8|
|Shoes – Brooks Cascadia 15 (size 12)||24.2||After using the La Sportiva Ultra Raptors up in Alaska, I switched back to the Cascadias for the PNW. Been a regular user of the Cascadias since the 3rd edition. See here for long-term review.|
|Watch – Suunto Ambit3||3||Picked up last year on special. User-friendly, rechargeable battery, GPS, and altimeter (when calibrated) very accurate. That said, I tend to leave the GPS off so the battery typically lasts a few weeks before needing to be recharged.|
|TOTAL WEIGHT||13.2 lb||6 kg|
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