This is a remarkably quiet, remote backcountry loop with a wide variety of scenery, including old-growth redwood uplands, sunny chaparral, and sweeping views of conifer-clad valleys with almost no signs of development.
Much of the loop burned in the August 2020 CZU Lightning Fire and didn’t reopen until October 2022. The full range of fire impacts can be seen along the loop; the beginning and end wasn’t burned at all, while the Doe Ridge Trail experienced a severe crown fire that completely burned away the tree canopy.
Begin at the little parking lot next to the entrance kiosk and Visitor Center, and take the Jackson Flats Trail. The trail climbs through coastal woodland. The area north of the entrance road and west of the campground didn’t burn in 2020 and retains its lush pre-2020 appearance.
Turn left at the Mill Ox Trail, which climbs steeply to the Butano Fire Road.
Turn right onto the Butano Fire Road. This is where the burned region begins. At first, the only sign that there was a fire here is that the bottoms of the trees are charred black.
After the Jackson Flats Trail intersection, the trail breaks out of the woods and begins climbing through sunny scrub. The fire was much more severe in this area. There are some sweeping views of the surrounding hillsides, and you can clearly see that the valley bottoms are still filled with green trees in this area, while the vegetation has completely burned away on the ridgetops.
The road passes an old hilltop airstrip, then descends into a redwood grove with some scattered mid-sized old-growth redwoods. It’s not a spectacular big-tree grove, but it’s still an unusual and interesting sight. The grove is in good condition and was only singed by the fire.
Turn right onto the Olmo Fire Trail, which descends steeply along a redwood-covered ridgetop. The trail then breaks out into scrub that was heavily damaged by the fire. The trail undulates over a few knolls before reaching the Doe Ridge Trail.
The Doe Ridge Trail starts on a steep, heavily-burned hillside. The beginning of the trail used to have an especially lush, jungle-like old-growth grove, but a severe crown fire completely burned away the tree canopy and killed many of the redwoods and almost all of the other trees. A lot of dead trees along the trail have been cut down so that they don’t fall on the trail.
The effects of the fire gradually get less severe over the next few miles. Beginning about a quarter-mile after the start of the Doe Ridge Trail, most redwoods have survived with some crown foliage intact. Even so, the woods are still severely damaged and look nothing like they did before the fire.
The fire damage becomes much less severe right at the point where the trail leaves the old growth. The trees are still blackened, and their lower branches have burned away so the woods are more open than they used to be, but it’s no longer obvious that that there was a fire here recently.
It’s not clear if this is a coincidence; the second-growth area wasn’t heavily logged and, although wasn’t as scenic, had about the same density of trees and understory growth as the old-growth grove. Big Basin’s Gazos Creek Road also enters an area of much lighter fire damage right at the point where the old growth ends. However, there aren’t enough trails open yet to determine if this is a common pattern.
Turn right onto the Goat Hill Trail, which descends through mixed woodland. The fire damage becomes progressively less severe as the trail descends, and the trail enters an attractive redwood grove as it approaches and descends through the campground. The campground itself didn’t burn at all in the fire.
Turn right onto the main park road. The main road, which is open to cars, passes an artificial pond and runs alongside a flume that was built in the 1920s for logging. There are trails that run alongside the paved road, but they’re kind of hilly and dull so it’s easier to just take the road back to the parking lot.
© 2022 David Baselt