Richardson Grove is a small park that has an exceptional grove of lowland redwoods on an alluvial flat by the Eel River. The main grove is a prototypical cathedral-like grove of tall, straight redwoods with attractive dark-brown trunks. The tiny but dense redwood grove is unusually open, with few trees of other species and no understory trees. The grove is more arid-looking than nearby Humboldt Redwoods, with little or no groundcover, but is nonetheless unusually scenic.
Unfortunately, a major highway runs right through the grove. The most impressive part of the grove is a small area that’s only about 150 yards across, and Highway 101, which is a narrow 2-lane road at this point, runs right through this area. Old photos show that the effect used to be pretty impressive, but today the grove is just a quick flash, a few seconds of redwoods that barely register as you speed by.
As with many early redwood and sequoia parks, Richardson Grove was heavily developed in the 1920s and 30s when the state built a sizeable roadside resort within the grove. A swath of the core grove was cut down to make room for the visitor center and its two parking lots; another large area within the triangle of trails next to the visitor center looks like it’s also been cut. The resort was destroyed in a 1955 flood, so today all that remains of it is the rustic 1920s lodge.
The main grove has the park’s most scenic trails, which are too short to call a hike but are a must-see attraction for any visitor to the park. To see these trails, start at the visitor center, which sits in the middle of the main grove. To the north, right next to the main parking lot, is the most impressive area: a small, cathedral-like grove of big trees with a 0.1 mile loop trail running through it. To the south is a longer loop trail that’s less impressive. The forest on this side is dense with tanoak and lacks the cathedral-like openness found on the north side. About a third of the loop trail runs along the edge of the grove instead of through it.
Despite all the development and the thundering noise of trucks barreling by just a few yards away, the grove is still pretty nice, especially late in the afternoon when the foliage glows with yellow light. The openness of the grove and the uniform straightness of its trees give the old growth a certain nobility that even Humboldt Redwoods can’t quite match.
The park has several longer trails outside the main grove, all of which seem to have been designed by someone who really likes steep hills. The Durphy Trail in particular seems to have been intended solely to inflict maximum pain. There’s no view, no scenery to speak of — just a lot of climbing. A shorter but more pleasant route is the Lookout Point loop.
**Lookout Point Trail (2.4 miles)
This loop trail climbs from the main lowland redwood grove to a fine upland grove.
**Huckleberry, Madrone, and Oak Flat campgrounds ($35, open all year)
Richardson Grove's three campgrounds are mostly wooded with small trees, but a few sites have some pretty impressive lowland redwoods.
Richardson Grove is on Highway 101 just north of the Humboldt County line, 16 miles south of Humboldt Redwoods State Park and 74 miles south of Eureka. If you aren’t camping there, the park charges a day use entrance fee of $8 per car.
© 2008, 2017 David Baselt