Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Cheatham Grove

Redwoods rising above the fern understory of Cheatham Grove
0.7 miles loop, 10 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Paved road to trailhead, no fee required

Three hundred-foot tall coast redwoods tower above a lush understory of redwood sorrel and ferns in Cheatham Grove, one of the most beautiful groves of these skyscraping trees in Northern California. Outside of the main tourist circuit of Redwood National Park and Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Cheatham Grove, which lies within Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park in an alluvial flat on a bend of the Van Duzen River, is far quieter than better known groves while being every bit as beautiful. In fact, Cheatham Grove's forest scenery was so otherworldly that George Lucas filmed scenes of the forest moon of Endor from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi here. The hike through this grove is entirely flat and can be done in a leisurely hour and the trailhead is just a short drive down Highway 36 from the main arterial of Highway 101 along the Northern California coast. 

Cheatham Grove is closer to the Humboldt Redwoods region than Redwood National and State Parks; it is south of Eureka and east of Fortuna. Most visitors will from Highway 101; to reach the grove, exit Highway 101 onto Highway 36 just south of Fortuna (or north of Rio Dell) and follow Highway 36 east for just under 13 miles through Hydesville and Carlotta. Immediately after the first bridge over the Van Duzen River, turn left into a small and easily missable parking lot on the left side of the road with a sign for Owen Cheatham Grove. There are no bathroom facilities at the trailhead, which has a tiny parking area sandwiched between the redwood forest and the river with enough room for only about six or so cars. I visited Cheatham Grove in a September trip to the Humboldt Redwoods region, choosing to focus on redwoods at a time of year when wildfire smoke made most of the alpine hiking in California unpleasant.

The trail into Cheatham Grove leaves the parking lot by the river and drops just slightly downhill into this magnficent grove. The magic of the grove is apparent from the start of the hike: the vertical trunks of stately redwoods appeared like the columns of a great cathedral. The soft mulch tread of the trail cut through a sea of ferns and redwood sorrel covering the ground. The understory of the forest was open enough that faraway trees were visible, but still had enough growth to add more pleasant greenery at eye level.

A few meters into the forest, the trail split at the start of the loop through the grove. I chose to travel counterclockwise through the grove, taking the right fork to start; there's no particular rationale to travel one way or the other.

Trail through redwood sorrel in Cheatham Grove
The right fork cut through the heart of the grove. There were a few truly massive trees here, although overall I found the trees here smaller than the ones in the more famous parks to the north and south; the attraction of this grove is really in the overall beauty of the grove. Owen Cheatham certainly thought so: Cheatham was the founder of the lumber and paper company Georgia-Pacific, which expanded beyond its traditional East Coast holdings to encompass redwood forests in the California by the 1940s. Although Cheatham's company was otherwise engaged in the obliteration of old growth forests, Cheatham was impressed by the beauty of his namesake grove and donated this plot of land to the State of California. It's interesting how many of California's redwood parks are named after the men who spared small patches of forest after being primarily engaged in their destruction: Hendy Woods and Samuel P. Taylor State Park, for instance, have similar histories behind their names.

Verdant Cheatham Grove
The trail looped through the grove, which occupied a wide bend in the Van Duzen River. A few spur trails split off to the sides of the main trail at times and it was sometimes unclear what was the main trail and what was a spur; however, as the grove is quite contained, all spur trails were fairly short and I simply backtracked and took the other fork at the last junction whenever I reached a dead end.

Cheatham Grove
About halfway through the loop, I passed a spot where a thin fallen trunk arched across the forest at just above head height. This spot was immortalized in film history in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, in which a stormtrooper is knocked off his speedbike by this trunk while chasing Luke and Leia. This splendid forest was George Lucas's forest moon of Endor, home of fuzzy Ewoks.

Cheatham Grove
Cheatham Grove is part of the remnant 5% of old growth redwood forests that have survived two centuries after European-American colonization of California. Old growth redwood forests once stretched across the coastal plains near Eureka and Fortuna, but 95% of the old growth redwoods that would have been found here in 1850 have been felled by timber companies. 

Redwoods of Cheatham Grove

Cheatham Grove

Soaring redwoods in Cheatham Grove
One of the most unexpected sights in the grove was a massive, branching maple tree that grew sideways in the middle of the redwoods, with a sprawling footprint and canopy to match. The maple was reached via a short detour path off to the right of the main trail; after checking out the maple, I returned to the main loop and continued counterclockwise and soon found myself at the start of the loop and the end of the hike.

Giant maple in Cheatham Grove
I saw just two other hikers during my morning stroll through Cheatham Grove- granted, I was here shortly after sunrise on a Sunday morning, so most people probably weren't out of bed yet. All in all, I found this grove to be extremely scenic and enjoyed its Star Wars connection; swing by if you have extra time between visiting Humboldt Redwoods and Redwood National Park!

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Tall Trees Grove

Soaring redwoods of Tall Trees Grove
3.6 miles loop, 720 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy-moderate
Access: Potholed, muddy gravel road to trailhead, no fee, Tall Trees Day Use Permit required

The discovery of a 369-foot tall coast redwood known as the Libbey Tree- the tallest known tree in the world at the time - in the Tall Trees Grove of the far north of the California Coast in 1963 by a National Geographic expedition prompted the establishment of Redwood National Park just a few years later. While the Libbey Tree has since been eclipsed by the discovery of other trees, the Tall Trees Grove still lives up to its name and is home to a number of extraordinarily tall trees that break 350 feet in height. The height of the trees here is the main attraction of this grove, which is otherwise less scenic than the more atmospheric and lush redwood forests at Jedediah State Redwoods, Prairie Creek Redwoods, and Humboldt Redwoods State Parks. Unfortunately, from the ground level, any redwood that breaks 200 feet looks extremely impressive and visitors will not get any more visceral sense of the height of the trees here than they would at many of the other parks along the Redwood Coast. Nonetheless, this is a sought-after destination due to the unique statistics of the grove's trees; to limit visitor impact to the grove, the National Park Service issues permits for just 50 groups to visit the grove daily.

Is it worth visiting? As I've just outlined, Tall Trees Grove is not the most scenic redwood grove; on a short visit to Redwood National Park you should concentrate your energy elsewhere, although it's worth seeing the grove if you have more time. Make sure you reserve your day use permit at least 48 hours in advance before you go: the road to the trailhead is controlled by a locked gate. Also, note that you'll have to descend from the trailhead to reach the grove: make sure you're in at least okay shape for the return ascent.

I hiked to the Tall Trees Grove during a January visit to Redwood National Park. The grove is far from any city; in fact, it's one of the more remote day hikes in the park, as it's most of an hour's drive from Orick. North of Orick, I turned off US 101 onto Bald Hills Road, which was a paved but narrow and highly potholed road that ascended past the Lady Bird Johnson Grove trailhead. I followed the Bald Hills Road for 7 miles, passing a large amount of logging traffic and the Redwood Creek Overlook. Shortly after passing the Redwood Creek Overlook, I came to a signed turnoff on the right for the Tall Trees Grove: turning right here, I entered the code to unlock the gate and then followed a decent gravel road downhill for the next seven miles to the parking lot for the Tall Trees Grove. There was limited parking at the trailhead.

I left the trailhead and began a steady descent on the Tall Trees Trail, immediately passing a turnoff on the left for the Emerald Ridge Trail, which provided alternate access to Redwood Creek. The forest near the trailhead was not particularly interesting or impressive: although there were a few redwoods mixed in, some of which might have been old-growth, the forest here was largely mixed and seemed to have been at least partially logged in the past.

The 1.4 miles from the trailhead down to the alluvial flats of Redwood Creek were really not much to write home about. Trailside vegetation alternated between a drier setting with berry bushes and a more lush setting with ferns. A few old growth redwoods grew near the trail but the forest seemed at least partially second growth and there were plenty of other species mixed in with the redwoods. A more notable stretch of trail passed beneath two massive but fallen old growth giants.

Fallen giant along the descent to the Tall Trees Grove
At slightly over a mile from the trailhead, the descent began to level out a bit as the trail crossed a forested bench with a dense understory. The trail straightened out as it crossed this bench, then made a final, short drop to reach the start of the Tall Trees Loop Trail at 1.4 miles.

Trail down into the Tall Trees Grove
The truly impressive redwoods did not start until the trail made its final descent down into the Tall Trees Grove. Upon reaching the alluvial flats of Redwood Creek, I was transported to a forest of soaring wood pillars, many taller than the Statue of Liberty. The loop trail through the alluvial flat started here: I took the right fork to hike the loop counterclockwise.

Redwoods of the Tall Trees Grove
Taking the loop through Tall Trees Grove counterclockwise, I encountered some of the most impressive trees first. Tall Trees Grove was quite small, covering an alluvial flat that is only about a third of a mile long with only about a hundred meters of space for the trees to grow between the hillslope and the creek. However, the trees that grew in this small area included some incredible giants. 

Tall Trees Grove
The tallest tree in Tall Trees Grove today is the Nugget Tree, an unmarked tree that is nearly 374 feet tall that briefly held the title of the tallest tree in the world in the 1990s. Nugget Tree, like other champion redwoods, is not identified for its own protection; as the Nugget Tree does not appear superlative from ground level, I was not able to identify it while I hiked through the grove.

Grove along Redwood Creek
The most visibly impressive tree in the grove was perhaps Redwood Creek Giant, a massive but unmarked tree to the right of the trail that is recognizable by its unrivaled girth in this grove. Redwood Creek Giant is the third largest tree in Redwood National Park and it is no slouch in the height department, either, at a skyscraping 360 feet. As a few feet of difference of the 360+ feet giants in this grove are generally not discernable from ground level, Redwood Creek Giant's incredible mass ends up making it one of the most notable trees in the grove.

Redwood Creek Giant
The understory of the grove was packed with ferns, but was also unusually busy with scattered smaller trees. This made the forest floor less open, detracting somewhat from the atmosphere of the grove. The forest here was not as lush as the fern-coated gulches of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park just a few miles away and the tall nearby ridges blocked the grove from receiving the copious sun that shines into Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park's Stout Grove. As a result, even though this grove was generally quite beautiful, the less inspiring understory and the relatively limited area of the grove made it a less compelling redwood forest than some of the groves found in other, nearby parks.

Tall Trees Grove
At 1.7 miles, the trail came to a junction: here, the Redwood Creek Trail split to the right, while the Tall Trees Grove Loop turned to the left and started its counterclockwise return. In summer, when flow is low in Redwood Creek, hikers can ford Redwood Creek and follow it downstream to a trailhead near Orick; in winter, after rains arrive, the creek is impassable. Thus, I stayed on the Tall Trees Grove Loop by taking a left at the junction. Shortly after passing the junction, I came to a social path down and to the right across the gravel bar of Redwood Creek to the banks of Redwood Creek itself. I took a short detour here to explore the banks of the creek. 

Redwood Creek flowed placidly through its valley here; looking back, I could see soaring redwoods on this bank of the river. Looking across, I was surprised by how much smaller the trees looked. In fact, much of the land across Redwood Creek was logged in the lead up to Redwood National Park's establishment- a reminder of how close we were to losing these redwoods altogether.

Redwood Creek
The return leg of the Tall Trees Loop had far fewer coast redwoods than the first half of the loop; the trail stayed close to the creek, where the vegetation was dominated by far smaller deciduous trees, many of which were overgrown with moss and ferns in this extremely moist environment. While the scenery here was still pretty here, it was nowhere near as spectacular as the great-girthed redwoods that hikers travel out here for. 

Lush environs along Redwood Creek
At about 2.1 miles, the trail reentered the redwood grove. Here, another social path led down to a second gravel bar along Redwood Creek. Walking out to the edge of the creek at his gravel bar, I looked back and had a great view of the redwoods of Tall Trees Grove soaring above the alluvial flats. Among the trees visible from here was the Libbey Tree, perhaps the best known redwood of Tall Trees Grove.

Tall Trees Grove from the banks of Redwood Creek
Returning to the trail, I soon arrived at a plaque at the base of the Libbey Tree, one of the few named trees in the grove that is publicly identified and that was once thought to be the tallest tree in the world, a tree that played an integral role in the creation of Redwood National Park. The Libbey Tree was 369 feet tall at the time of its first measurement in the 1960s but has been measured to be just 363 feet tall more recently, potentially due to loss of a segment of its crown.

Base of the Libbey Tree
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Libbey Tree was how utterly unremarkable it was compared to the other forest giants around it. Its base was not particularly wide and both trunks of the tree were slender for an old-growth coast redwood; the girth of the tree was slight compared to the nearby Redwood Creek Giant. Yet this tree was thought for over two decades to be the world's tallest, although it is now known that the Nugget Tree within this very same Tall Trees Grove is even taller. Still, the Libbey Tree is an extraordinary arboreal height specimen and is only 16 feet shorter than the current known champion, Hyperion; it remains the tallest tree with a publicly identified location in the world. Hyperion, the world's current height champion at 379 feet tall, also lies within the boundaries of Redwood National Park and is across Redwood Creek from the Tall Trees Grove area. Hyperion's precise location is not disclosed to protect this rare and superlative tree; as large portions of the slopes across Redwood Creek were logged prior to the establishment of the park, it is incredible that Hyperion was able to escape the chainsaw and the lumber mill. It made me wonder whether taller redwoods had once existed only to fall victim to the axe and the saw and whether what once would've been the tallest tree on Earth was now a cabinet or long-discarded paper.

As I later found out, my thoughts were not idle ones: taller trees have almost certainly existed in the past along the West Coast of the United States, until European American arrivals in the nineteenth century decimated these great expanses of timber. 95% of old growth coast redwoods have been logged in the past two centuries, but many tall champion redwoods like the ones in Tall Trees Grove escaped logging because of their remoteness. The forests of Douglas Fir in Washington State and British Columbia were not so lucky. In 1924, the tallest known measurement for a tree was made by a former US Forest Service chief near Mineral, Washington; he found a Douglas Fir that measured 393 feet tall, 14 feet taller than Hyperion today. The Nooksack Giant, a massive tree that grew in the shadow of Mount Baker near the Washington-British Columbia border, was purportedly 465 feet tall at the time it was logged. While the veracity of that claim is unclear, photographic evidence and reported numbers on marketable lumber from the tree are not inconsistent with the superlative claims. At any rate, taller trees have almost certainly existed on the West Coast of North America within the past two centuries.

Libbey Tree
The Libbey Tree is, ironically, named for Howard Libbey, the founder of the Arcata Redwood Company (ARCo). ARCo was one of the major logging operators in the Redwood Creek valley prior to the establishment of the park and fought the formation of the park, so it's hard to think that Libbey's name is an appropriate name for what was once the tallest known tree in the world.

Shortly after I left the Libbey Tree, I closed the loop around this soaring redwood grove on the alluvial flat. Connecting back to the main Tall Trees Trail, I followed the path uphill back to the trailhead. On my drive back to the Bald Hills Road, I had to reopen the gate for Tall Trees Road, making sure to relock it before I continued on with my day.

Tall Trees Grove can be somewhat hard to visit during summer or on a weekend, when the fifty daily permits to the grove are snatched up in advance; at the same time, the limited number of permits means that the grove is never too crowded. The grove is beautiful and noteworthy for its especially tall trees, but despite its beauty it ultimately doesn't deliver the same ethereal scenery as the cathedral-like forests of Bull Creek Flats in Humboldt Redwoods, the fern-choked watersheds of the James Irvine Trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods, or the sun-dappled majesty of Stout Grove in Jedidiah Smith Redwoods. Hikers who love redwood forests will undoubtedly be enraptured by this grove, but skip this grove if you have limited time in your Redwood country visit.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Upland redwoods of Lady Bird Johnson Grove
1.5 miles loop, 150 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Potholed paved road to trailhead, no fee required

In 1968, Lady Bird Johnson dedicated the newly established Redwood National Park in this sunny, upland forest of soaring trees that was later named after her. Attaching the former first lady's name to this grove has made it a fairly popular tourist stop: this is perhaps the most frequented grove within the official federal boundaries of Redwood National Park. It is indeed a beautiful spot, with plenty of massive trees towering a groundcover of rhododendron and ferns; however, visitors to the larger Redwood National and State Parks complex will find more impressive forests and trees in Prairie Creek Redwoods and Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Parks. Visitors with limited time are encouraged to concentrate their efforts at Stout Grove or the Big Tree Loop, but those with a bit more time or who are determined to see the national park proper will find this to be an enjoyable and easy hike as well.

I hiked to Lady Bird Johnson Grove during a January visit to Redwood National and State Parks. The hike is far from any major metropolitan area, at about six hours driving from San Francisco and six and a half hours from Portland, but is just an hour away from either Eureka or Crescent City on US 101. The closest inhabited area is Orick; from Orick, I reached the trailhead for the LBJ Grove by taking US 101 north for a mile and then turning right onto Bald Hills Road. I followed Bald Hills Road- a paved but steep and sometimes potholed road- for three miles uphill until reaching a well-marked turnoff on the right for Lady Bird Johnson Grove. There was ample parking here, perhaps enough for around 40 cars; in summer, this trailhead is likely to be crowded, but in January there was only one other car parked here.

The trail started by crossing a well-built pedestrian bridge with wooden planking that spanned Bald Hills Road, allowing hikers to avoid having to walk across a road frequented by large logging trucks. The forest at the trailhead is not impressive, with the landscape dominated by a dense and thin second growth forest. Five decades ago, at the time of the park's establishment, visitors hiking this trail would encountered hills stripped of their mighty forests overlooking vast swaths of largely denuded mountains. 

Pedestrian bridge over Bald Hills Road at the start of the trail
A largely-logged landscape might seem antithetical to a national park, but in the case of Redwood National Park, the logging here was exactly the reason the national park was needed. When European Americans first arrived on the northern California coast, about 2 million acres of old growth redwood forest covered the coastal plains, alluvial flats, and mountains along the coast. By the 1960s, after nearly a century of aggressive logging, only about 5% of those forests remained. While much of this remaining forest was protected in a series of state parks stretching from Humboldt Redwoods along the Eel River to Jedidiah Smith Redwoods just short of the Oregon border, the largest remaining unprotected tract of redwoods remained along the Redwood Creek watershed outside Orick. A National Geographic Expedition that reported the tallest known trees on the planet in this watershed, along with a concerted push by the Save the Redwoods League and the Sierra Club, helped get a bill establishing Redwood National Park to President Lyndon Johnson's desk. As Congress and the Johnson Administration worked to preserve these trees, local logging companies- such as the Arcata Redwood Company (ARCo) raced against time to harvest as many trees as possible. As a result, many lands incorporated into the new national park were either logged or directly bordered forest that had been logged at the last minute.

Luckily, Lady Bird Johnson Grove- as well as some of the tallest trees along Redwood Creek- escaped the chainsaws and the sawmill. As I followed the trail across the bridge over the Bald Hills Road and gently down the crest of the ridge for about 200 meters, I finally left the second growth and arrived among the giant trees saved by the establishment of Redwood National Park. At a fifth of a mile from the trailhead, the trail forked at the point where the two legs of the loop split; this junction was marked by a massive coast redwood of astonishing girth.

Massive redwoods in Lady Bird Johnson Grove
I did the loop clockwise, choosing to the take the left fork along the ridge first. The trail along the ridge traveled through a bright upland redwood forest, which had a much different feel than the lowland alluvial flat redwood forests that tend to make for the most famous groves. The understory composition was different here, with rhododendron, evergreen huckleberry, Oregon grape, and salmonberry growing in lieu of the more aggresively lush fern and sorrel understory found in the lowland forests. With no mountains blocking low angle sunlight, morning rays poured into the grove, casting elongated shadows of the canopy onto the forest floor.

At 0.6 miles from the trailhead, after a stretch of gentle descent along the trail, I came to a junction with the Berry Glen Trail. The Berry Glen Trail led to the left downhill towards Highway 101 while the Lady Bird Johnson Trail headed to the right. This junction was marked by a plaque noting that Lady Bird Johnson dedicated the newly formed Redwood National Park at this very spot in 1969, a year after her husband had signed into law this national park. Redwoods of extraordinary height soared above the ridge here, giving this spot a hushed and cathedral-like feel.

Redwoods at the heart of Lady Bird Johnson Grove
I stayed on the Lady Bird Johnson Grove at the junction with the Berry Glen Trail. The trail turned to the right and began to loop back to the east just below the top of the ridge. Here, the understory composition shifted, with a return of ferns. The trail wove amongst the bases of these living skyscrapers over the next 0.6 miles until it returned to the junction where the loop had split; at that junction, I took the left fork and returned over the bridge to the trailhead.

Lady Bird Johnson Grove
Coast redwoods are the tallest known trees on Earth today, with the very tallest specimens found just a few miles away from the Lady Bird Johnson Grove in the Redwood Creek drainage. The importance of preservationist advocacy in saving these trees for us to see today cannot be understated. Great expanses of old growth forests once blanketed the West Coast of the United States before the arrival of European American immigrants; Douglas Fir trees up to 400 feet tall may have once dotted the Pacific Northwest. In Chile and Argentina, old growth alerce forests in Patagonia once rose to unmeasured heights. Yet most of the old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest and Patagonia, lacking human advocates at the time of their greatest vulnerability, fell victim to axes and chainsaws. Today, we still have Lady Bird Johnson Grove and these soaring redwoods because environmental organizations spoke up in the 1960s. We must remember, too, that the long term health of these lands is now our responsibility.

Redwoods of Lady Bird Johnson Grove
Lady Bird Johnson Grove
Lady Bird Johnson Grove is one of the best known hikes in Redwood National Park, so it is typically quite busy during tourist season. However, arriving early on a weekday morning during the middle of January, I saw only a handful of other hikes over the course of the hour that I spent in this hushed and lovely grove. At the height of tourist season, there are certainly better and quieter hikes in Redwood National Park, but when this hike isn't crowded it's certainly extremely beautiful with its unique upland forest feel.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Trinidad Head

View south to the Lost Coast from Trinidad Head
1.5 miles loop, 350 feet elevation gain 
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Paved road to trailhead, no fee required

Trinidad Head is a mighty headland jutting out into the Pacific Ocean, rising above one of the oldest European-American settlements on the far northern coast of Northern California and providing stunning views of Humboldt Bay and the Lost Coast to the south. The loop hike around this great rock is short but still a bit of a workout and provides a couple of very nice views. This is a nice stop for travelers on their way to or from Redwood National Park while traveling on US 101 along the coast.

I hiked Trinidad Head during a January visit to Redwood National and State Parks. Trinidad Head is right by Trinidad, a small town of about 300 people just off of US 101 north of Eureka and Arcata. While Eureka is the closest city, Trinidad Head is a long drive from any of California's major metropolitan areas. From Eureka, I took US 101 north to exit 728, leaving the highway for Trinidad's Main Street. I turned left onto Main Street, following it as it made a turn to the left and became Trinity Street, and then turned right onto Edwards Street when I came to a T intersection on a bluff above the coastline. I took Edwards Street west and down the hill, soaking in the immense ocean views paired with the idyllic seaside town vibe, and then parked at the large gravel parking area at the bottom of the hill just short of the Fisherman's Wharf. There's plenty of parking here.

A replica of the old Trinidad Head Lighthouse stood on the northeast corner of the parking area. The original lighthouse- of similar dimensions- was built in the 1860s on Trinidad Head, while the Coast Guard operates a more modern beacon on the Head today. Although the lighthouse structure itself was diminutive, it was built almost 200 feet up a bluff on Trinidad Head. One of the tallest recorded waves on the US Pacific Coast slammed into this lighthouse in 1914, a wall of water over 200 feet high that temporaily extinguished the lighthouse's beacon.

Trinidad Head Light replica
There were two ways to start the hike: the first was to follow the one-lane paved road that wrapped behind the lighthouse replica and began to ascend, while the other was to follow a more eroded dirt trail that led uphill from the south end of the parking lot to meet that paved road. Either way, the paths united on the paved road that ascended steadily up the slopes of the massive headland. Bushy vegetation surrounded the trail but there were still occasional views to the north, where I could the see the town of Trinidad.

After 200 meters of hiking from the trailhead, the paved road came to a sharp switchback. Here, the Trinidad Head Trail, a single-track path, broke off from the paved road. There was a nice view over the town of Trinidad at this trail junction, which also featured views over the wild cove to the northwest of the town where waves pounded against forested seastacks. This junction was the split point for the loop: I took the right fork for the Trinidad Head Trail to begin a counterclockwise journey around the headland and later returned on the paved road.

Waves pound the coast at Trinidad
The trail was cut into dense, bushy vegetation that rose quite high to surround the trail and block most of the views. After coming around to the west side of Trinidad Head, the trail passed by a spur trail leading downhill and to the right (which I ignored) and began a steady uphill climb. A rocky promontory came into view ahead of the trail- I followed the trail through a set of switchbacks to reach the saddle just below the promontory at the half-mile mark. At the saddle, I took the spur trail that led uphill to the right and quickly came to an exposed outcrop with a bench that featured sweeping, open views of the Pacific Ocean. To the west, a scattering of seastacks bore the brunt of incoming waves from the ocean. Beautiful coast views were the main feature of views to both the north and south, although I was most impressed by the southerly view to the King Range and the Lost Coast, over 30 miles away. 

Dawn at Trinidad Head
As I had come to Trinidad Head at sunrise, I was surprised when I was joined at this viewpoint by a number of locals: the headland seems like it probably the most scenic spot in the vicinity of the town. After soaking in the the views for a bit, I left the summit to the locals and continued on the Trinidad Head Trail counterclockwise around the headland. Leaving the saddle, the trail descended briefly before making a few more switchbacks through a brushy but open slope to gain a ridge and meet up with the gravel road leading to the Trinidad Head's summit. There were more nice views of the King Range to the south from here; I could also make out the shape of Humboldt Bay, delineated by sandbars on the coast. I also came across a stone cross at the last switchback: this is a replica of an older wooden cross that Spanish explorers erected on Trinidad Head in 1775.

Prisoner Rock and the Lost Coast 
The single-track trail joined up with the much wider gravel road less than a hundred meters away from the high point on Trinidad Head. As that high point is now topped with communications equipment, I chose to finish up the loop and return to the trailhead, turning right at this junction at 0.8 miles and following the gravel road gradually downhill.

The gravel road began descending down the east side of the promontory, cutting through a tunnel of high brush. After making a sharp switchback turn, some views of the coast to the south appeared above the road. At 1 mile, the gravel road joined up with the paved road that I had initially followed up to start the hike.

Coast views from the trail up Trinidad Head
The final half mile of the trail was a descent along the paved road. There were a few spots along this road where the bushes near the trail opened up enough for lovely views of the town of Trinidad and the rocky coast to the south. At 1.3 miles, I returned to the original junction with the Trinidad Head Trail where I had started the loop. I followed the paved road down the final fifth of a mile back to the parking lot by the lighthouse to wrap up this short but enjoyable outing.