The Big Trees Day Use Area is one of Humboldt Redwoods’ more popular destinations, mainly because of the Giant Tree (previously known as the Big Tree). In 1991 this tree was considered the world’s biggest coast redwood according to the National Champion point system (a tree’s point count is its trunk circumference, plus its height, plus ¼ of its average crown spread in feet). Bigger redwoods have since been found, but the Giant Tree is still pretty impressive, and almost everyone who pulls into the Big Trees parking lot is here to see it. In summer a docent is sometimes stationed next to the tree to answer questions.
The Giant Tree is on the south side of Bull Creek. From the parking lot it can clearly be seen rising above the other trees on the far side of the creek. In summer it can be reached by a seasonal footbridge, but in winter, the footbridge is removed and the tree can only be reached by a muddy one-mile hike from Grasshopper Road.
Most visitors only look at the Giant Tree and then leave, but they’re missing one of Humboldt Redwoods’ most spectacular redwood groves, which can be seen in the easy 10-minute walk described below. The large alluvial-flat grove has huge trees, a remarkably expansive appearance, and is relatively unspoiled by roads or traffic noise. In summer the scenery is enhanced by the brilliant late-afternoon sunshine that slants across Bull Creek and into the grove.
Another notable tree near the parking lot is the Tall Tree, also known as the Rockefeller Tree or the Tallest Tree. In 1957 it was the world’s tallest known tree, and at 366.5 feet, it’s still pretty close. From the ground it’s less impressive that the Giant Tree, so it gets a lot fewer visitors. It’s a few yards west of the parking lot on the Big Trees Trail (near the “JDR” marker on the map below), and you don’t need to cross the creek to get there. If you walk about a quarter-mile past the tree, there’s another spectacular redwood grove; see the Homestead and Big Trees page for a longer hike that includes this grove.
Here’s the trailhead location in Google Maps.
To reach the Big Trees Area, take Mattole Road 4 miles from where it begins at the Avenue of the Giants, just north of the Founders’ Grove (Highway 101 Honeydew exit). The Big Trees Day Use Area is accessed by a small but well-marked paved road that branches off to the left. There are almost always a few other cars there, but it’s usually not difficult to find parking.
Cross the seasonal footbridge (which is currently next to a large fallen redwood that spans the creek) and turn left. The trail follows the bank of Bull Creek for a few yards, offering some impressive views of the huge redwoods along both sides of the creek. The open swath along the creek lets you see the full height of the redwoods, an unusual sight.
Pass the sign for the Flatiron Tree and continue along the bank until you reach the Giant Tree. The trail dips into the forest at this point, and soon reaches the Bull Creek Flats Trail. Turn right. The woods in this area consist mostly of mid-sized redwoods with a dense tanoak understory. As you follow the trail the alluvial flat that it passes through seems to get wider; at the same time the woods become more open and the redwoods get bigger.
Just before the next intersection, the tanoak disappears completely and you find yourself in a very attractive, pure redwood grove that includes some really impressive trees. The grove is quite open and expansive, with great views of huge, arrow-straight redwoods in the distance rising into the sky. Typically for the Bull Creek Flats area, the groundcover is a sparse dusting of redwood sorrel dotted with an occasional fern.
At the intersection, the Bull Creek Flats trail continues to the left; it’s not part of the recommended hike, but it passes through an interesting and remarkably dense grove of mid-sized redwoods, all with the same dark brown color.
For the recommended hike, turn right onto a spur trail. This trail passes some large redwoods before entering an area with an unusually large number of downed trees. The Flatiron Tree is the most notable, but many other fallen trees lie near the trail.
Continue back to Bull Creek cross the footbridge and return to the parking lot. To visit the Tall Tree, when you get back to the parking lot look for a trail to your left. The Tall Tree is on the little loop that starts just a few yards into the woods.
© 2007, 2012, 2017, 2018 David Baselt