This short and enjoyable walk around Bull Creek Flats is one of the more serene lowland hikes in Humboldt Redwoods. Just getting to the trailhead is a real treat — a 15-minute drive on a narrow, bumpy road through a forest which is not only the tallest on earth, but also the largest remaining contiguous stretch of old growth redwoods. Near the end of the hike is a prototypical cathedral-like grove that’s among the most spectacular in existence. And the hike is well away from Highway 101 and the Avenue of the Giants so, despite the presence of Mattole Road, you can at least begin to appreciate the serenity of the redwoods.
The loop starts on the Homestead Trail, a lushly vegetated horse trail that skirts the edge of Bull Creek Flat. It returns on the Big Tree Trail, which cuts through the middle of the flat and has much bigger trees. The best parts are the beginning and end, the parts closest to the Big Tree Area. The loop is most enjoyable on winter weekends when there’s little or no horse manure on the Homestead Trail and when Mattole Road has the least traffic.
Here’s the trailhead location in Google Maps.
Start at the Big Tree Area parking lot. Walk back out on the paved acces road to Mattole Road, turn left, and walk a short distance to a pullout on your right. This is one of the more impressive sections of Mattole Road, enveloped in the deep, dark redwood forest.
In the pullout you’ll see a trailhead labeled "Addie Johnson Trail". Take this trail, which dives into the forest a short distance before reaching a “T” intersection with the Homestead Trail. Turn left.
The Homestead Trail gently rises and falls through lush redwood forest. Here at the edge of the alluvial flat, the redwoods aren’t nearly as big as they are along Mattole Road just a few yards away. On the other hand, the vegetation is more lush and the trail winds its way over small rises, making for scenery that’s in some ways more attractive and interesting than the flats. The occasional car or small truck passes by on Mattole Road, but especially in winter the area is very quiet.
Eventually the redwoods get smaller and sparser and the forest opens up, signaling that you’re nearing the end of the old growth. This seems to be a natural boundary and not the result of logging. When you come to the paved access road to Albee Creek Campground, turn left. You’ll soon re-enter the huge old-growth redwoods.
Turn right at the T intersection with Mattole Road and walk along the road a short distance until you reach the Big Tree Trail. Turn left.
The first half-mile of the Big Tree Trail skirts the edge of the area of really big redwoods, running through streamside woodland with relatively small redwoods and a dense understory of huckleberry.
Eventually the trail dives into the cathedral-like center of the grove. For the sheer scale of the forest — the size of the redwoods and well as the overall expansiveness of the grove — this is one of the most impressive redwood walks anywhere. The grove has an amazingly dense collection of huge trees growing from a sparse scattering of redwood sorrel and ferns. The grove is a nearly pure stand of redwood and there is no understory to obstruct views. Even the canopy is relatively open; you can see the tops of the trees. The rushing sounds of Bull Creek fill the grove.
At a trail intersection, turn left to take a short detour past the Tall Tree. Shortly afterward, you’ll reach the Tall Tree Area parking lot where you started.
© 2007, 2010, 2016 David Baselt