Backpacking Redwood Creek & Tall Trees

Backpacking Redwood Creek & Tall Trees

Redwood National Park

Type: 2-day Backpacking Reverse Lollipop Loop
Distance: Overall 6.8 miles (10.9 km).  Day 1 – 2.6 miles (4.2 km).  Day 2 – 4.2 miles (6.7 km).
Cumulative Elevation Gain/Loss: 973 feet (297 m)
Date Visited: July 19, 2017 – July 20, 2017
Redwood Creek & Tall Trees Trail Map (KTNP)

Planning

There are plenty of places to backpack in Redwood National & State Parks. All backcountry camping must be done at designated campsites – except for Redwood Creek, located in southern Redwood National Park. Along the creek, camping on gravel bars is allowed. We only had time to do one backpacking trip in the park, and Redwood Creek was our choice.

There are two possible entry points to Redwood Creek – Redwood Creek trailhead and Tall Trees trailhead. Redwood Creek trailhead, which is near highway 101, has had several reported car break-ins. A ranger at Kuchel Visitor Center recommended starting from Tall Trees trailhead, since the parking lot is beyond a locked gate. We decided on Tall Trees for security and so we could include Tall Trees Grove, which has some of the largest redwood trees in the park.

We decided on a relatively easy-going route that was only 6.8 miles, and 971 feet of elevation gain. It included Tall Trees Grove, then hiking on the Redwood Creeks’ gravel bars. There are no trails along the creek, and we often found ourselves wading through the water. Water shoes are critical for the hike, and trekking poles are highly recommended. With the right equipment, this hike is a fun experience.

Backpacking permits in Redwood are free (honestly they *should* charge a nominal fee). Permits can be obtained up to 24 hours before your trip at Hiouchi or Kuchel Visitor Centers. They are limited and first-come-first-served. The park allows 50 visitors per night to camp along the gravel bars by Redwood Creek. When we picked up our permit, the rangers provided a code for the locked gate that allows only permitted hikers into Tall Trees Grove.

Redwood: Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center
Picking up our backcountry permit at Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center

Day 1 – To the Trailhead

We took Bald Hills Road to Tall Trees trailhead – the same road we drove to Lyons Ranch a few days prior. After a few tries, we managed to unlock the gate, drove through, and hopped out again to lock the gate behind us. Beyond the gate is a six-mile winding gravel road.

Once we parked, we got our packs, and headed to Tall Trees Trail. There’s supposed to be an interpretive trail guide at the trailhead, but sadly none were available. We started on Tall Trees trail, which only goes for 100 feet before coming to a fork. Tall Trees trail continues on the right. The following day, we returned via Emerald Ridge Trail on the left.

Redwood: Tall Trees Access Gate
Kristin unlocking the Tall Trees Access Gate
Redwood: Tall Trees Trailhead Kiosk
Shelter at Tall Trees Trailhead

Day 1 – Tall Trees Trail

Tall Trees Trail descends steadily among redwoods and other trees. Some of the redwood trees that had fallen on the trail had neat cutouts for us to travel through. We took our time, stopping occasionally to rest on a bench, and just enjoyed the scenery and peacefulness. Shortly before reaching Tall Trees Grove, there’s a pretty area with large redwood trees and benches.

After 1.4 miles, we reached Tall Trees Grove, and started exploring the upper part of Tall Trees Loop. Some trees are marked with a wooden post with a number etched into it. This matches up with the interpretive guide (if it’s available at the trailhead). Since we didn’t have the guide, we felt a bit lost, but we still appreciated the enormity of the trees.

Redwood: Through a Fallen Redwood
A tunnel through a fallen redwood
Redwood: Tree with Marker Sign
If you can get your hands on a brochure, you can look up the number on the post to learn more about each feature
Redwood: Redwood Trees near Tall Trees Grove
Large redwoods before we arrive at Tall Trees Loop
Redwood: Looking up at Redwoods
Looking up in Tall Trees Grove

The previous record holder of “world’s tallest tree” is in Tall Trees Grove. Howard Libby Tree, also called “Tall Tree,” held the title until 1994 when the top died back. It’s currently 368 feet tall and is the 34th tallest tree in the world. Since we didn’t have a trail brochure (a recurring theme) we didn’t know exactly which tree it was at the time, though we would find it on the lower part of Tall Trees Loop.

Day 1 – Redwood Creek

As we made our way through the grove, we passed a few other groups, and then saw our first glimpse of Redwood Creek through the trees. The trail led us onto a gravel bar for a better view. We took a break on the rocky beach. It was a gorgeous day – sunny with very blue sky.

A seasonal bridge crosses Redwood Creek from June-September. As we crossed it, we looked down through crystal clear, yet blue-green water, to the colorful rocks on the creek bed. We passed a trail on our left that leads to 44 camp (a backcountry campground), but we continued downstream on the gravel bars to make camp. Camping is allowed as long as your site is at least 1/4 mile from Tall Trees Grove.

Redwood: Seasonal Bridge Across Redwood Creek
Immediately after Tall Trees Grove, this seasonal bridge crosses Redwood Creek from June to September
Redwood: Seasonal Bridge Crossing Redwood Creek
Time to cross the bridge

It was about 3:30 p.m. and several groups had already set up camp nearby. They were well-spaced for privacy, and each stretch of beach has a good spot to camp. Fire rings are scattered around, generally near sandier areas. Fires are only allowed on Redwood Creek gravel bars. We reached our first stream crossing, and decided it was time to change into our water shoes. The water was cool, and the rocks were a bit slippery, but we made it across easily. The water was about a foot deep.

Immediately after crossing the stream, Kristin noticed something ahead of us. Small animals running from the shore toward the trees. She called out to me, and I grabbed my camera and managed to snap some photos. They were so small we initially thought they were squirrels. We don’t know exactly what they were – river otters or maybe minks? If anyone knows, please add a comment!

We hiked downstream along Redwood Creek’s gravel bars in search of the perfect campsite
Redwood: Kristin Crossing Redwood Creek
Kristin crossing Redwood Creek for this first time
Redwood: Small Animals in Distance
Small mammals running to the woods
Redwood: Closer Picture of Animals Running Away From Creek
Any idea as to what animal these are?

These were not the only animals we saw either. As we hiked, we saw tadpoles in a small, secluded part of the creek. Naturally, where there are tadpoles, there are frogs and toads. We started seeing a lot of them. They were small, about an inch wide, so they were probably juveniles. They blend in quite well so watch where you step!

As we went downstream, we crossed a few places (glad to have water shoes) until we found a sunny, sandy spot to set up camp. It was soon after the creek turned around a bend, so we had some privacy. The curve in the creek also allowed some sunlight in, which helped dry our damp clothing and shoes. We set up our tent and relaxed.

Redwood: Tadpoles in Creek
All those black dots are tadpoles!
Redwood: Juvenile Foothill Yellow-legged Frog near Redwood Creek
This juvenile foothill yellow-legged frog (Rana boylii) is a species of concern, which means it’s at risk of becoming endangered
Redwood: Juvenile California Toad near Redwood Creek
A juvenile California toad (Anaxyrus boreas halophilus), which is a subspecies of the western toad
Redwood: Camping Spot by Redwood Creek
Our campsite on a sandy gravel bar

While we were relaxing, some other hikers came carrying a large cooler… we stared a bit. They continued past our campsite further downstream and we wondered how they would bear-proof the cooler. We had trouble ourselves finding a spot to hang our bear bag – there weren’t a lot of good branches along the creek bank. Eventually we found one, less than ideal, but the best we could do.

We loved camping on the beach. It was private, and we got to have dinner by the creek. There was easy access to a water source to filter. The park actually recommends filtering water from tributaries, rather than directly from Redwood Creek (see the Backcountry Guide). We weren’t aware of that when we were there, and we’re not sure why that is. We fell asleep to the sounds of the creek gurgling and frogs croaking.

Redwood: Redwood Creek at Sunset
Redwood Creek at sunset
Redwood: Banana Slug on Log Near Creek
Banana slug near Redwood Creek

Day 2 – Redwood Creek

The next morning we retrieved our bear bag, and enjoyed some oatmeal by the creek. There was lingering fog and it took a long time for the sun to burn it away. We packed our things, said goodbye, and headed back the way we came. The creek was colder than yesterday, and the sky threatened to rain – luckily it only amounted to a few brief showers.

When we reached the seasonal bridge back to Tall Trees Grove, we saw a group camping right outside the grove. Whoops. The park service provides info about campsite restrictions when you request a permit, but signs might help too. It was a bit awkward also, as we passed a group eating breakfast next to the trail.

Ducking back into the forest, we went through the lower portion of Tall Trees Loop. Like the upper portion, it boasts many large redwood trees. However, the lower portion has more of a prehistoric feel with its moss-covered maple trees and lush ferns.

Along much of the trail, we could see Redwood Creek to our right. Along this section is the Howard Libby Tree, once the world’s tallest tree (now the 34th tallest). In addition to the Libby Tree there is also Nugget, the world’s 3rd tallest tree and Paul Zahl, the world’s 17th tallest tree.

Soon we came to an intersection, and a sign that said “To Emerald Ridge Trail – Summer Use Only – Extensive Wading.” Yeah, that sounds about right. We turned onto the trail and were back on a rocky beach, similar to where we had camped. Our plan was to hike along (and in) the creek for 1.6 miles until we reached Emerald Ridge Trail.

Redwood: Back in Tall Trees Grove
Re-entering Tall Trees Grove
Redwood: Moss Covered Maple Tree
A moss-covered maple tree (I think) with lush ferns below
Redwood: Howard Libby Tree
The Howard Libby Tree is one of the world’s tallest trees. Can you tell by looking at it? Probably not.
Redwood: Sign to Redwood Creek and Emerald Ridge Trail
Follow the sign to Redwood Creek and prepare to get wet

This section of trail has more creek crossings. The first crossing was freezing cold as a inland shaded stream flowed into Redwood Creek. Around here, we passed the only group of people we’d see on this section of Redwood Creek. They were a group of 12 people from Australia and we chatted for a bit. They had 6 adults and 6 kids and had camped near the Emerald Ridge Trail. Since the water was deep in some places, some of them hiked out twice – once to carry gear, and once to carry their kids!

Continuing, we came upon longer crossings, with deeper water. Sometimes we had to walk in the creek for several hundred feet before getting to a bank. Other times it was like a maze. There were downed trees in the creek that we had to climb over. Reflections on the water prevented us from discerning its depth. It was a lot of fun!

Redwood: View Upstream on Redwood Creek
Our view upstream on Redwood Creek as we started wading
Redwood: Water Shoes in Redwood Creek
Highly recommend water shoes for wading through the creek!
Fire rings are scattered along the gravel bars
Redwood: Fast Flowing Redwood Creek
Redwood Creek flows quickly here through the gravel bars

At one point we couldn’t see any beach ahead of us, just water. We found what might be a path through bushes on land, but it became too dense. We went back in the water and went along the left side. Then it got too deep.  So, we doubled back and went on the right side, which worked for a while.  Then it got too deep, so we headed diagonally forward, back to the left side! 

We picked our way through slowly, and eventually made it to the next beach area. Even though we rolled our shorts up, they still got wet – giving us an idea of how deep the water was in some spots. We were in the water for maybe 15 minutes during this stretch. Trekking poles were necessary to help stabilize us and gauge water depth. Water shoes also helped us keep our balance.

Redwood: Kristin Wading Redwood Creek
There are stretches where we were in the water for an extended period of time
Redwood: Clear Green-Blue Waters of Redwood Creek
The clear blue-green waters of Redwood Creek

Day 2 – Emerald Ridge Trail

Eventually we stopped and checked the map, and compared it to where our phone GPS placed us. That way we wouldn’t get lost and miss the left turn onto Emerald Ridge Trail. Judging by the map, we were almost there. Soon enough we spotted a tree with an orange marker, and headed toward it. As we got closer, we could read the word “TRAIL” on it. An adjacent sign told us this was Emerald Ridge Trail.

It had gotten quite warm and sunny – different from the foggy, drizzly morning. It was time to swap out our water shoes for hiking boots. Warm dry socks felt so good on our chilled feet. We clipped our soggy water shoes to our backpacks and continued.

Redwood: Sunny Redwood Creek Finally
At the end of our wading adventure, it finally got sunny and warm. Better late than never!
Redwood: Start of Emerald Ridge Trail
Emerald Ridge Trail begins to the left of Redwood Creek – look for the tree with the orange marker

Emerald Ridge Trail ascended through a tunnel of small trees and shrubs. The trail has some signs of erosion, due to its elevation gain, as it heads back to the parking lot. We came upon a recently downed tree that we climbed over. It’s a pleasant trail, but there’s not much else to note. We passed Dolason Prairie Trail and lamented that we wouldn’t have time to hike it.

We were getting a bit tired due to the incline, but we finally returned to the parking lot. Happy with our trip, we got in the car and headed out along the gravel road. When we got to the gate, there was a couple entering and they asked us if we had left the gate open. We had not, but apparently whoever entered the area before them neglected to lock the gate. Exiting could be a problem for parties who enter without the combination, so make sure you close and lock the gate!

Redwood: Western Rattlesnake Plantain on Emerald Ridge Trail
A western rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera oblongifolia), a type of orchid, on Emerald Ridge Trail. We have the eastern variety back home in Virginia, so it was interesting to see the western one. It usually flowers in the late summer or early fall.

This was our favorite hike in Redwood National & State Parks. It’s different than any hike we’d ever done. Hiking through a creek and seeing the large redwood trees was an experience. The animals we saw only added to the splendor of the trail. So yeah, we recommend this trip wholeheartedly. You won’t regret it (unless you get lost).

Backpacking Redwood Creek & Tall Trees Trail

Redwood Creek Trail Map (1:19,000)

Date Visited:July 19, 2017 – July 20, 2017
Type:
Reverse Lollipop Loop
Total Distance:
6.8 miles (10.9 km) round trip
Cumulative Elevation Gain/Loss:
973 feet (297 m)

  • Day 1 (estimates depend on campsite):
    • Distance: 2.6 miles (4.2 km)
    • Overall Cumulative Gain and Loss: 204 feet (62 m) gain, 916 feet (279 m) loss
    • Time: 3.5 hours hiking which includes occasional breaks
    • Overnight: A site along Redwood Creek
  • Day 2 (estimates depend on campsite):
    • Distance: 4.2 miles (6.7 km)
    • Overall Cumulative Gain and Loss: 769 feet (234 m) gain, 57 feet (17 m) loss
    • Time: 5.5 hours hiking which includes lunch and breaks

Trail Markings: Trail signs at intersections. No markings along Redwood Creek.
Difficulty: Moderate, as long as you have the right equipment.
Crowds: About a half dozen groups along Redwood Creek; more near Tall Trees Grove.
Water: Redwood Creek, streams
Highlights: Large redwood trees, primeval forests, solitude, wildlife, streams, rocky beaches, wading through Redwood Creek
Note: There are many ways you can do this hike. The distances and elevations are just estimates based on what we did. Make sure you camp at least 1/4 mile from Tall Trees Grove. Water shoes and trekking poles are highly recommended for wading.
Directions to Tall Trees Trailhead: Google Maps Directions

Trail Directions

  • Mile 0.0 – From Tall Trees Trailhead, take Tall Trees Trail. After 100 feet, the trail splits. Stay right on Tall Trees Trail.
  • Mile 1.4 – At the intersection with Tall Trees Loop, head right onto the upper portion of Tall Trees Trail.
  • Mile 1.8 – Turn right onto the Redwood Creek Trail, that leads out of the forest. Once you get to the creek, you’ll see a seasonal bridge (in summer), across the creek. Cross the bridge and head right (downstream). Walk along the creek until you find a campsite.
  • Mile 2.6 – This was around where we camped, but feel free to camp anywhere (at least 1/4 mile from Tall Trees Grove). Enjoy the river, and head back the same way in the morning.
  • Mile 3.4 – Go back into Tall Trees Grove. This time, head right at the intersection with Tall Trees Trail – you’ll walk through the lower part of Tall Trees Loop. Near the end of this section is the Libby Tree.
  • Mile 3.9 – Turn right at this intersection that heads toward Redwood Creek. A sign warns “To Emerald Ridge Trail – Summer Use Only – Extensive Wading.” Once at the creek, follow it upstream for 1.6 miles. There is no defined trail here, you’ll be wading from gravel bar to gravel bar.
  • Mile 5.5 – Look for an orange marker on the left that says “TRAIL.” Turn left onto Emerald Ridge Trail, and leave the creek behind.
  • Mile 5.9 – Continue straight, as you pass the intersection with Dolason Prairie Trail.
  • Mile 6.8 – Intersection with Tall Trees Trail. Continue right for 100 feet and you’re back at the parking lot.

Places

Maps

Links

Elevation Graph

Interactive Map

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