This isolated trail, located just south of Crescent City, climbs up to and then runs along a high coastal bluff under alders and second-growth redwoods. After three miles the trail turns inland, leaving behind the constant white noise of the surf to enter a strikingly silent old-growth redwood forest. The redwoods get increasingly impressive until the trail reaches Damnation Creek.
The first three miles of trail is a lot like the Hidden Beach section, except the Last Chance section clearly follows an old alignment of the Redwood Highway. Although it’s mostly covered up and overgrown, in places the pavement with its white center stripe is still visible. In fact the road is so overgrown that at first glance it looks like a singletrack trail, but it’s not as engaging as a purpose-built singletrack would be: the wide, flat roadbed separates you from the forest and is too straight and flat, with fewer curves to leave you wondering what’s around the next bend. Also, a dense understory grows alongside the road and screens views of the trees. On the other hand, much of the understory is made up of rhododendron trees, and there are some rhododendron blooms in May.
There aren’t any ocean views after the first half-mile.
It’s possible to just hike the old-growth part of the trail and skip the non-redwood parts. Start at the south end of the trail, at the Damnation Creek trailhead, and go north until the redwoods end. Return the same way. This makes a fine and mostly flat 10-mile out-and-back hike entirely in old-growth redwoods.
The trail starts at the end of Enderts Beach Road, where there’s a small parking lot. The trail starts out level with some views of the ocean below. After an intersection with a trail to the beach, the trail begins to climb steeply, switchbacking up a hillside covered in a sparse mixture of trees. The route gradually levels off and proceeds through groves of white-barked alder, alternating with second-growth redwood groves and dense blackberry thickets. The dense vegetation blocks the view of the ocean. Much of the trail is heavily overgrown in summer, making the hike slower and more tiring than a normal hike. The distant hooting of the Crescent City foghorn and traffic on Highway 101 can sometimes be heard, but both fade away after the first few miles.
At about mile 3, the trail swings left and enters an old-growth redwood forest. This appears to be a natural boundary and not the result of logging, since the redwoods are at first small and rather plain-looking. A helpful sign explains how salt spray from the surf keeps redwoods from growing near the ocean. As the trail enters the redwoods it becomes much less overgrown and easier to hike.
As the trail progresses inland the redwoods gradually get more impressive, and the forest gets darker and cooler. Typically for a redwood upland, there’s a healthy understory of huckleberry and rhododendron. At one point the trail passes a gully where some large redwoods grow. Near the beginning of the redwoods you can sometimes hear the distant whine of trucks grinding up and down Highway 101, but mostly the woods are silent except for the single-note call of the varied thrush echoing among the big trees.
The scenery abruptly improves as the trail nears Damnation Creek, which flows through a large ravine with an especially fine collection of big redwoods. After crossing a footbridge, the trail widens into a double-tracked road with moss and redwood sorrel growing between the tracks. The redwoods become a little more ordinary as you leave the ravine behind, but there are some nice views of attractive old growth above you on the hillside. The traffic noise from Highway 101 gets increasingly loud after the creek crossing.
The road ascends very gently as it meanders through the lush forest. A few hefty wooden mileposts sit by the side of the road. After a mile or so the woods become more and more impressive, and the best old-growth of the hike is to be found in the last half-mile before the Damnation Creek Trail. There are some great views downhill of a grove located on a less-steep section of the hill.
The hike as shown in the map above ends at the Damnation Creek Trail. Past the Damnation Creek Trail, the road begins a gentle descent. The really big redwoods end in just a few hundred yards, then the forest becomes increasingly open as the redwoods gradually peter out. At the same time, the roar of the surf gets louder. The trail leaves the redwoods completely just a few yards before reaching Highway 101.
© 2008, 2012, 2020 David Baselt