This loop can be hiked in a single long, strenuous day, but with four campgrounds it is also a good backpacking route. It can also be ridden on horseback or mountain bike. Unless you happen to visit during the Cuneo Creek trail trial weekend or the Grasshopper Peak Redwoods Run, the loop offers solitude with no traffic noise and few visitors.
Like all the upland trails in Humboldt Redwoods, this hike can be a little monotonous since the scenery is mostly second-growth and non-redwood forest. Nonetheless there are still some interesting features. Although the route is almost entirely wooded, due to the elevation change there's a very gradual evolution in the appearance of the forest. The first third of the hike winds in and out of old-growth redwood uplands, and although it's not especially impressive (in part because the trail mostly skirts the old growth), there is one small scenic patch of big redwoods at Whiskey Flat Trail Camp. Leaving the camp, the trail climbs into mixed-species conifer forest, which in the last few miles before the summit opens up and becomes somewhat more interesting.
The hike has a strenuous elevation and takes at least 7 hours. Except for the short spur trail to the summit, the entire route is on gravel roads. Hiking boots with a deep tread are helpful, as the gravel provides poor footing, especially while descending.
Here's the trailhead location in Google Maps.
To reach the trailhead, drive west on Mattole Road through Bull Creek Flats. Just past the turnoff for Albee Campground, the road crosses a bridge over Bull Creek. Right before the big trees end and Mattole Read emerges into a prairie, turn left onto the unsigned Grasshopper Multi Use Trail (also known as Grasshopper Road) and then park in one of the two pullouts to your right.
Grasshopper Road immediately leaves the big lowland redwoods behind and begins climbing steadily through more mundane, but still old-growth, redwood uplands. Typically of upland redwoods, the forest is dense with huckleberry and tanoak.
Turn right onto Squaw Creek Ridge MUT. The road levels out a little but continues to climb through redwood uplands. The trail breaks out into a more open wooded area but then re-enters the redwoods.
The best redwoods of the hike are at Whiskey Flat, where there's a trail camp located in a small but nice old-growth grove. This is one of the better places to camp among redwoods, except there can be a lot of mosquitoes here.
The old-growth redwoods end almost immediately after Whiskey Flat. The grade picks up again and the road switchbacks up the hillside, finally reaching Hanson Ridge.
(If you have the time and energy for a side trip, Hanson Ridge Road proceeds through a picturesque prairie for a ways before re-entering the woods, eventually entering a nice fir grove that appears to be old-growth (no redwoods though), before ending unceremoniously at a tiny clearing. The road undulates up and down a little but overall is more or less level. Hanson Ridge Trail Camp is a short but steep descent from the road; the isolated campground is in the woods at the edge of a prairie.)
After Hanson Ridge the trail descends somewhat steeply, climbs, and then descends again, crossing several small streams. The road crosses some open meadows.
Turn left onto Grieg Trail, which begins a final, punishing climb. The scenery changes markedly, becoming dry and bare. The road passes a large area of trees that were burned in the Canoe Creek Fire. The devestation at least has the benefit of letting you see some pretty nice views through the dead branches, with (possibly) snow-capped peaks in the distance. Otherwise, almost all the scenic vistas would be hidden by forest.
At the intersection with the Grasshopper Peak Trail is Grasshopper Trail Camp; like Hanson Ridge Trail Camp, it's located in the woods at the edge of a prairie, but it doesn't feel as remote. A singletrack trail leads from this intersection up to the peak, where there's a fire tower and the best views of the hike.
Overall, the ascent, though long, is actually fairly easy given the over-3000 ft elevation gain. There are only a few steep sections and some long, nearly flat sections to break up the climb.
The descent is more heavily-wooded and lush than the ascent. Although the average grade is a reasonable 12%, in fact it feels a little too steep for comfortable walking — so don't expect the descent to be any faster than the ascent. The long flat section after Squaw Creek comes as something of a relief. Small to medium-sized old-growth redwoods begin to appear near the end of the hike.
© 2010 David Baselt