Pristine ancient forest
HIGHLIGHTS: Perhaps more than any single preserve or park, the 7,472 acre Headwaters Forest Reserve stands as a symbol of the titanic struggle to protect the ancient redwood forest. Through the 1980s and much of the 1990s, this magnificent stand of old-growth trees was threatened by clear-cut logging. A landmark settlement created the reserve in 1999, protecting 3,088 acres of ancient trees while providing for the restoration of 4,384 acres of surrounding commercial timberland. The reserve includes the headwaters of the South Fork Elk River and Salmon Creek. Managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the reserve supports a number of endangered redwood-associated species, including marbled murrelets, coho salmon and northern spotted owls. Today, visitors can visit the great cathedral-like stands of the living giants that were protected and witness the ongoing restoration that promises to expand old-growth characteristics in surrounding forestland.
ACTIVITIES: Headwaters has almost 9 miles of hiking trails and limited mountain bike access. Recreation is limited to these trails because the main purposes of the reserve are to conserve old-growth forests and restore previously logged areas.
VISITOR CENTER: None.
TRAILS: The reserve offers almost 9 miles of trails. The Elk River Trail is self-guided, while the Salmon Pass Trail is opened only to hikers accompanied by authorized guides. Mountain bikes are permitted only on the first 3 miles of the Elk River Trail.
MUST-SEE UNIQUE FEATURE OR HIGHLIGHT: The core old-growth reserve is awe-inspiring, and there are two ways to see it: by guided tour on the Salmon Pass Trail and by hiking 11 miles round-trip on the Elk River Trail.
HIDDEN GEM: The Headwaters Education Center is located in the train barn of the abandoned logging settlement of Falk. The town once supported 400 loggers and their family members, and steam-powered locomotives were used to transport the giant logs to the mills. Falk is fascinating as both an historical site and as an exhibit that underscores the ways perceptions of the redwood forest have changed over the years.
FACILITES ACCESSIBLE TO PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: The restrooms, picnic area, and 1 mile of the Elk River Trail are accessible.
DOGS: Allowed under voice control.
ENTRANCE FEE: None.
SPECIAL EVENTS: You can make reservations for guided hikes on the Salmon Pass Trail. Also, each summer, the Bureau of Land Management hosts a series of lectures, hikes and related events at the Headwaters Education Center. Visit Headwaters’ recreation page for details.
MORE INFORMATION: Visit the reserve’s website, or call 707-825-2300
PLACES TO EAT AND STAY: Fortuna and Eureka are both within easy driving distance of the reserve, and offer numerous dining and lodging options.
- Smith River Kayak Tour
- Forest Walk: Meet at Stout Grove Trailhead
- Junior Ranger Program at Jedediah Smith Campground
- Junior Ranger Program: Mill Creek Campground
- Night Sky Viewing
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