This pretty hike climbs the southernmost portion of the Rhododendron Trail and then descends on Cal Barrel Road. Around mid-June, this section of the Rhododendron Trail is one of the best for viewing the strikingly large blossoms. The best scenery of the hike, however, is on Cal Barrel Road; even though it's a dirt road with occasional car traffic, it still makes a great hike and is a nice complement to the Rhododendron Trail.
For an 8.7-mile-long variation of this hike that's entirely on singletrack trail, see the Rhododendron and Foothill loop.
Start at the Visitor Center and follow the gravel trail on the side of the entrance road to Drury Parkway. Cross Drury Parkway at the crosswalk and continue into the woods. The trail passes through a meadow with a few immense redwoods at its border, then runs between high walls of dense streamside vegetation. If this section gets overgrown, it's easy to lose the trail and get lost.
The trail finally enters the redwood forest just as it begins to climb. The woods in this area are an unusually dense jumble of trees; the understory is also dense, with a lot of small trees, huckleberry, and rhododendron growing among the abundant ferns. As a result, the area doesn't have the orderly, garden-like apearance that's so typical of Prairie Creek.
Interestingly, the redwoods in front of you are a pale grey or striated black-and-grey, while the redwoods behind you are all a uniform dark brown; this is because the side of the trees facing down-valley is exposed to salt air that bleaches the trunks.
The trail passes a short spur to Cal Barrel Road, descends a little, then begins climbing a little more steeply then before, meandering through the forest. The trail is little-used and can become narrow and overgrown with ferns; in a few spots it almost feels like bushwhacking, but the route should still be visible. The trees gradually get smaller and less interesting as the trail climbs. In places a hum of traffic from Highway 101 can be faintly heard. The noise is more intrusive if trucks are descending the grade.
Finally, the trail tops a ridge. Cal-Barrel Road is visible below and the trail soon ends at the road. Turn left and begin descending on the road.
Surprisingly, the road is a lot more scenic than the trail; it has the orderly, garden-like appearance that was missing from the Rhododendron Trail. There seem to be more big trees here, and the forest is more open and less clogged with shrubs and small trees. Especially at higher elevations, the road passes through classic Prairie Creek vistas of huge trees growing from unbroken seas of ferns. The forest becomes less open as you descend, but it's still pretty nice. One stretch of the road gets some traffic noise from Highway 101. Toward the bottom is another run of huge trees.
Pass the Cathedral Trees Trail and turn left at the Foothill Trail, just before Cal-Barrel Road ends at Drury Parkway. The wide, straight Foothill Trail is the former track of Drury Parkway and the pavement, through covered with redwood needles, is still visible. The trail passes through the small but exquisite Rotary Grove, where you'll find some especially spectacular old growth. As you enter the grove, just after passing under a large fallen tree, look up for a great view of some redwoods with impressively reiterated trunks (trunks with really big vertical branches).
© 2006–2012 David Baselt