This trail starts in the old-growth redwoods near Stout Grove and climbs to a pine-studded ridge. Along the way there’s a nice variety of scenery, including some exceptionally lush fir groves. However, this isn’t primarily an old-growth trail, and even the old-growth redwoods at the trail’s base can’t compare with those in other parts of the park.
The trail has a lot of climbing but it’s not especially steep or difficult, and the grade isn’t quite as unrelenting as it looks from the elevation profile. This is the only trail in Jed Smith where mountain biking is allowed, and the trail is fairly popular with bicyclists, who sometimes barrel down the trail at high speed. Hardly any hikers use the trail, though.
The trail starts among the extravagantly lush lowland redwoods typical of Jed Smith. The trail is more or less level at first and lined with 12-foot-tall walls of huckleberry shrubs and rhododendron trees. Despite the lushness, the trees aren’t especially big.
The trail soon gets steeper and climbs into more mundane old-growth uplands. The redwoods and the huckleberry shrubs become much smaller and small Douglas-Fir trees, their trunks spotted with white lichens, grow among the redwoods. The woods are dark and dense.
The woods open up near the end of the old growth, becoming bright and sunny with some nice mid-sized redwoods. As the old growth ends, a small sign marks the boundary of the state park.
The trail cuts across a panhandle of Redwood National Park. The entire panhandle seems to have been logged and has a very dark, dismal, and disheveled look, with a lot of stumps among the small second-growth redwoods. Fortunately the logged area soon ends as the woods open up and the trail passes through a narrow band of scrub.
A bypass trail has been built around a Port-Orford-Cedar root rot infestation. The gravel-surfaced bypass runs through a bright and strikingly pure grove of small Douglas-Fir trees, one of the more interesting parts of the trail. The trees increase a bit in size toward the top of the grove.
After rejoining the original alignment, the trail passes through some especially lush Douglas-Fir and redwood forest before reaching a spur trail to the backcountry camp. The backcountry camp is located at the edge of a field and the four sites are fairly well spaced out. Despite being labeled a primitive camp on the official park map, there’s a horse corral, running nonpotable water, and an outhouse.
Soon after the camp, the trail becomes less well-maintained and climbs into a grassy meadow, which is actually more of a sparse pine forest. The hilltop is broad and flat, and with the trees all around there’s no view to speak of, just a few brief glimpses of the Mill Creek Watershed’s hills to the south and, at one spot, a tiny glimpse of the ocean. The trail gently rises and falls, passing through a few little groves of pine trees. A few wildflowers dot the grassy hills in summer, and butterflies fly about. It’s a strikingly quiet area that feels very remote.
For the recommended hike shown on the map above, turn around at the large wooden sign that marks the Redwood National Park boundary.
It’s possible to hike or ride a 17.3-mile loop by continuing through the Smith River National Recreation Area and turning left onto the Paradise Trail to reach South Fork Road.
After entering the Smith River NRA, the trail descends through an attractive, open plateau for a while before dropping into denser woodland. For the next few miles the trail is mostly wooded, but there are also some long sections of scrub with nice views over the Smith River valley. These are a scenic highlight and the only views on the entire trail.
The Smith River section of the trail is wide, well-used, and very well maintained.
At one point the trail passes a rock face with water seeping from it. At its base, a rather bizzare-looking cluster of pitcher plants (Darlingtonia Californica or cobra lily) grows on boths sides of the trail. If you don’t want to hike all the way up here to see the plants, more of them can be found on the 16N23 road just off South Fork Road.
Almost everyone turns onto the Paradise Trail, which descends a pleasantly wooded hillside to Sand Camp. If you instead continue straight on the Little Bald Hills Trail, the trail becomes over-grown and little-used. It ends in a ford of sizable Rock Creek, which is usually too deep to cross in the rainy season.
© 2011, 2015, 2019 David Baselt