Rugged coastline and ancient redwood forests
HIGHLIGHTS: Tall trees meet the sea at Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. Just south of Crescent City, Mill Creek Campground is the perfect basecamp for exploring this remote, eight-mile-long swath of coastline, as well as the three other parks that make up the Redwood National and State Parks group. With up to 100 inches of rain a year, these North Coast parks grow the tallest trees in the world. They also protect 45 percent of Earth’s last remaining old-growth redwood forests.
In two short, steep miles, Del Norte’s Damnation Creek Trail leads from fern-festooned redwoods down to rocky tidepools and crashing waves. A scenic stretch of California’s 1,200-mile-long Coastal Trail runs the length of the park as well, a treat for bicyclists as well as hikers.
ACTIVITIES: Hiking, biking, beach walking, picnicking, scenic drives, camping, birdwatching, fishing, plant studying, and tide pooling.
- Known as one of the best mountain biking experiences in northern California, the rugged Coastal Trail follows the route of old U.S. 101 as it winds along ocean bluffs through giant redwoods. The “Last Chance” section of the trail, mostly in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, begins at the Crescent Beach Overlook at the south end of Endert’s Beach Road. In half a mile, you pass Nickel Creek backcountry camp and Endert’s Beach. From there you head gradually up along the coast and into the old-growth forest, until you reach the junction with the Damnation Creek Trail. This 13-mile round trip showcases some of California’s finest backcountry coast and redwood forest landscapes.
- Bikers can also explore the old logging roads of Mill Creek Day Use Area—a good place to see a few remaining old-growth stands with logged areas in different phases of regrowth and restoration. It’s open Saturdays and Sundays year-round, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. from Labor Day to Memorial Day, and 9 a.m.–8 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Hikers and dogs are welcome, too.
Just for Kids
- When you arrive, pick up a self-guided Junior Ranger Adventure Guide and a schedule of events at any one of five visitor centers.
- Most of the park’s ranger- or docent-led programs (including campfire talks, forest walks, and Junior Ranger programs) start up on Memorial Day weekend and end after Labor Day. Check the schedule for days and times. Aimed at kids age 7 through 12, these programs offer games, crafts, hiking, and exploring with other children. Some start from Mill Creek Campground; others at neighboring parks. For information, call 707-465-7335.
- If you prefer activities centered around your own family or if you come in the off-season, you and your kids can work your way through the Adventure Guide together. Download the guide, pick it up at the visitor center, or call 916-653-8959 to order a copy.
- Redwood EdVentures: Fun for the entire family. Take a self-guided treasure hunt in many North Coast redwood state parks, including Prairie Creek and Jedediah Smith. Find the final clue and win a cool patch!
- Before heading to the park, explore the Redwoods Learning Center. It offers fun, redwood-themed activities, classroom tools, and ways to get involved in redwoods protection. Redwoods bingo, anyone?
VISITOR CENTERS: From south to north, the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center for all four parks at Orick; Prairie Creek Visitor Center in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park; the Jedediah Smith and Hiouchi centers (open May to September only) on Highway 199; and the Crescent City Information Center in Crescent City.
Car and RV Camping
- There’s no visitor center in the park, so Mill Creek Campground is the hub of park activities, including seasonally guided walks, campfire programs, and of course, camping (145 sites). Open from May through September, Mill Creek’s trails are a good place to enjoy wildflowers in spring and colorful bigleaf and vine maples in the fall. Amenities include bear-resistant lockers and restrooms with showers. To make a reservation, call 800-444-7275 or visit www.reserveamerica.com. The campground is about seven miles south of Crescent City, two miles off Highway 101.
- Backcountry camping at Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park and the rest of Redwood National and State Parks is allowed at designated sites only. There are two designated sites in Del Norte, Nickel Creek (five sites) and DeMartin (10 sites), both along the Coastal Trail. Permits are available at the parks’ Crescent City, Orick, and Houchi information centers.
- Mill Creek Day Use Area — restoration in action: See this League restoration project and learn about North Coast history on a 2.4-mile walk at the Mill Creek Day Use Area 3 miles south of Crescent City on Hamilton Road, just east of Highway 101. From the parking area, walk up the road to the stop sign. In the distance you’ll see some off-limits old Rellim Redwood Company mill buildings. Continue right on Hamilton Road to view restoration science in action, including gloomy control plots (in which trees planted by timber companies are crammed so tightly together that little light gets to the forest floor) and sunnier, more productive-looking spaces that have been thinned from 800 or more trees per acre to 75 or 150 trees per acre. At a fork in the road at 1.2 miles, turn right onto Rock Creek Road. Within 100 yards, you’ll reach a bridge over the East Fork of Mill Creek. Downstream, you can see places where logs added to the stream are creating more diverse habitat for coho salmon and other aquatic species.
- Mill Creek Campground — lush foliage and logging history: The 1.3-mile-long Trestle Trail loop encircles the campground, with lush foliage and traces of logging that dates back to the 1930s. Start just northeast of the bridge in the middle of the campground. At times you’ll follow the old railbed used by Hobbs, Wall & Company to haul logs to Crescent City. A lush understory, interesting birds, and circles of “cathedral” trees sprouting from huge stumps are among the highlights of this pleasant stroll.
- Damnation Creek — from tall trees to the sea: The Damnation Creek Trail is steep. The work it takes to get there and back—1,100 feet of down and up—offers big rewards, including a chance to hear the intricate call of the winter wren and the soulful, sustained notes of the varied thrush. Think of the Damnation Creek Trail, at the 16-mile marker on the west side of Highway 101, as an ecosystem elevator. In a four-mile round trip, you pass through a forest first dominated by ancient redwoods, then Douglas fir, Sitka spruce and coastal scrub. You’ll also get exquisite ocean views—and in May and June, masses of rhododendrons in bloom. If you start your hike about an hour before low tide you’ll also be able to explore a tidepool zone full of crabs, sea stars and sea anemones. (Look, but don’t disturb!) Allow three hours or so.
- Coastal Trail — ocean bluffs and giant redwoods: Follow the rugged Coastal Trail as it winds along ocean bluffs and giant redwood groves.On the east side of Highway 101, you can start amid the ancient giants near mile marker 15.6 and head down to Wilson Beach, a trek about three miles long and 1,500 feet down (one way). In May and early June, up to 30-foot-tall rhododendrons are in full blush. Highway noise taints the first mile and a half, but you soon arrive at the hushed land of breezes and birdsong. No bikes on this strenuous stretch. The “Last Chance” section of the Coastal Trail begins at the Crescent Beach Overlook at the south end of Endert’s Beach Road. After an easy half mile of walking or biking, you’ll arrive at Nickel Creek backcountry camp and Endert’s Beach. Stop there at low tide to see sea stars and crabs. Or climb steeply up and into old-growth forest. Turn around at the junction with the Damnation Creek Trail. This 13-mile round trip showcases some of California’s finest backcountry coast and redwood forest landscapes.
MUST-SEE UNIQUE FEATURE OR SEASONAL HIGHLIGHT: With Save the Redwoods League’s help, 25,000 acres were added to the park in 2003 to protect Chinook and coho salmon. Ask at the parks headquarters (see “More Information” below) about guided walks along Mill Creek to see the salmon spawn in December and January.
HIDDEN GEM: If you start your Damnation Creek hike about an hour before low tide, you’ll have good conditions for tide pooling, and you may be able to add crabs, sea stars and sea anemones to your species list.
FEATURES ACCESSIBLE TO PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: Restrooms and picnic area. Limited trail segments.
DOGS: On leash.
ENTRANCE FEE: $8 for day-use vehicle entry; no charge to walk or bike into the park.
- You can visit the Del Norte Redwoods State Park (external link) webpage for more detailed information about this park.
- The Redwood National and State Parks (external link) website provides additional information on Del Norte.
- Redwood Parks Association (external link) has helpful information and ways to get involved.
- More information about the California Coastal Trail is available here (external link).
- If you have an hour, enjoy a picnic lunch beside your car at Wilson Beach. Swimming is unsafe, but you can walk beside the glistening water, gaze at the sea stacks along the coast, and watch pelicans and cormorants fishing in the surf.
- If you have half a day, hike from the redwoods to the sea on the Damnation Creek Trail.
- If you have a full day, hike Damnation Creek Trail in the morning and explore a stretch of the Coastal Trail in the afternoon. Watch the sunset at Crescent City Overlook before or after a fish dinner in Crescent City. Take an evening walk at Crescent Beach Overlook. On summer weekends, enjoy a campfire program at the campground.
EAT: Christine Aralia, Land Project Manager, recommends eating at Good Harvest Cafe (external link) in Crescent City. It offers large portions and fresh ingredients.
STOP: Megan Ferreira Derhammer, former League staffer, suggests a stop in Arcata to pick up a picnic lunch at Wildberries market (external link).
FAVORITE HIKE: Christine prefers the Damnation Creek Trail (external link), which plunges through a virgin redwood forest to a hidden rocky beach.
FAVORITE PARK ATTRACTION: Megan says “The Mill Creek Campground is wonderful. There are campfires almost every night at the amphitheater and they’re quite enjoyable for campers of all ages.”
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