Rockefeller, not just a redwood grove but a redwood forest in Humboldt Redwoods State Park (courtesy CDPR)

Thriving along Bull Creek in the heart of Humboldt Redwoods State Park is more than a redwood grove; it’s truly a forest. The Rockefeller Forest is, without resorting to too many superlatives, the most impressive stand of redwoods found anywhere in the world.

Rockefeller, not just a redwood grove but a redwood forest in Humboldt Redwoods State Park (courtesy CDPR)
Rockefeller, not just a redwood grove but a redwood forest in Humboldt Redwoods State Park (courtesy CDPR)

My favorite hike is the route along Bull Creek itself. This path offers curiosities (Flatiron Tree, Giant Tree and more), as well as swimming in and sunning beside Bull Creek. And, of course, there are the spectacular redwoods–explored by a trail that not only stretches the legs, but the imagination as well.

It’s a 9-mile loop. A seasonally installed footbridge over Eel River makes this loop trip easiest in summer. Trails open all year, but don’t attempt crossing Eel in times of high water. Click here for more information about Humboldt Redwood State Park.

Directions: From the north-central part of the Avenue of the Giants, four miles north of the park visitor center and just south of the hamlet of Redcrest, turn west on Mattole Road and drive 1.5 miles to the parking area for the Rockefeller Forest Loop Trail. (If you want to make this a one-way hike and make car shuttle arrangements, a second trailhead is located at the Big Trees Parking Area, another three miles west on Mattole Road.)

The hike: Begin the hike on the right branch of the Rockefeller Loop (a very pleasant family hike in its own right) and follow it for a short quarter-mile or so to a junction, bearing right onto Bull Creek Flats Loop Trail.

The path heads up-creek, along a path crowded in places by rushes and horsetail. A mile out, the trail breaks into a clearing, a half-mile farther crosses a tributary creek on a bridge; another mile more, a log bench beckons you to take a break.

About a mile from the Big Trees Parking Area, the path climbs to closely parallel Mattole Road. After crossing a couple side creeks on wooden bridges, you arrive at the parking lot.

From here, cross the (summer-only) footbridge over Bull Creek; at other times, if the water level is low, carefully wade across the Eel River. Follow the signs to the oddly shaped Flatiron Tree and to Giant Tree. The Giant is not the world’s tallest redwood, but it is the biggest–the champion by virtue of its combined height, diameter and crown size.

Leaving behind the Giant Tree, the path travels through a fern-filled forest, crosses Squaw Creek on a bridge, and soon passes a junction with the right-forking Johnson Camp Trail. Not only do the ancient trees towering above make you feel small, their fallen cousins, which require a 75-yard zig and a 75-yard zag by trail to get around, are also humbling to the hiker.

The matchless old-growth forest along Bull Creek was an early cause celebre with early California conservationists, who struggled to save the redwoods from the mill. Out of this struggle to save Humboldt County’s tall trees came the formation of the Save-the-Redwoods League in 1918.

Thanks to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. quietly funneling two million dollars to the League, matching state funds, conservationists were able to purchase some 10,000 acres along Bull Creek from the Pacific Lumber Company in 1930.

The trail enters and exits a hollow, hike-through log, then meanders a bit, north and south, with Bull Creek. A mile-and-a-half from the Big Trees area, the path plunges into the fern-filled canyon of Connick Creek, emerging to travel past awesome redwoods, including the so-called Giant Braid, a trio of redwoods twisted together, located two miles from the Big Trees Parking Area.

For the most part, as you hike along, you’ll hear but not see Bull Creek; that is until a half-mile or so from the Rockefeller Loop, when the path drops close to the creek. The trail explores some more magnificent redwoods on the flats above the creek.

Your redwood journey ends when you cross Bull Creek on a redwood log that spans the creek and reconnect with Rockefeller Loop Trail for the short walk back to the parking area.