Hike the Damnation Creek Trail

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Added by Joshua Contois

One of the most scenic trails in all of Redwood National and State Park. Experience a diverse range of coastal ecosystems. Some of the most widely photographed areas within the park. Short, but exciting trail. Wildflower blooms in Spring/Summer. Trailhead: 41.648083, -124.113111. Difficulty: Moderate. Distance: 4 miles round trip. Time: 2-4 hours. Elevation Change: 1100 Feet.

Located right on Highway 101, the Damnation Creek Trail is one of the best trails in Redwood National and State Parks. What makes this trail so special is that the hiker gets to experience nearly all of the various ecosystems within the park in only a few short miles. The trail descends from an almost homogeneous redwood stand, to mixed redwood and Douglas fir, and eventually to a pure Sitka spruce stand before reaching the coastal bluffs and rocky Pacific shores.

The trail begins with a climb through an exceptionally attractive grove of big redwoods, with only a smattering of Douglas firs. There's a lot of variation in the size, texture, and colors of the trees. The redwoods grow out of a dense understory of rhododendron and huckleberry. This area is actually one of the most photographed sections of the park when the rhododendrons are in bloom because the area is often shrouded in fog, creating an iconic cloud forest that redwoods are associated with.

The trail then descends quickly through an attractive stand of old growth trees. This section has some truly exquisite character trees, identifiable by their large burls or hollowed out fire scars. Similar to other monocultured stands, there is still a dense, brilliant green understory, but above the shrub layer the woods are very open. There are a lot of massive trees here, all of which stand straight and tall with elegantly flared trunks, which gives the forest a very stately, orderly look. Except for the occasional traffic noise or the distant hooting of Crescent City's foghorn, it's also an exceptionally quiet grove. More often than not, the only sound to be heard is the whistle-like call of the varied thrush or the melodious song of the winter wren.

The trail briefly intersects the Coastal Trail, a paved section of the old Highway 101 that was abandoned decades ago. At this point, the traffic noise fades away and the redwoods get a lot smaller, slowly becoming interspersed with more and more Douglas fir. As the trail becomes progressively steeper in its descent, the understory of ferns, huckleberry, and salal begins to crowd the trail. The redwood trunks here are a very light grey color, presumably bleached by the salt air, but their color contrasts nicely with the light green understory. A steeper trail also means better views of the canopy, and as early sunbeams peace the morning marine layer, the hiker is reminded of why this is one of the premier hikes in the park.

After about 1.5 miles, the redwoods have all but disappeared. In their stead are some ample sized Sitka spruce trees. The trail becomes noticeably rougher and steeper, with small sections slumping precariously or washed out completely. At its very end, the trail emerges onto a bluff and the ocean finally comes into view. The final descent is on a rather perilous stairway crudely carved into the rock. At the bottom of the trail is a tiny cove with a narrow, rocky beach. The beach may be completely covered at high tide, so it is important to time your hike with the tides if you wish to explore along the beach. During low tides, exposed tidepools reveal a pantheon of marine life, from mussels to sea stars to crabs.

The return trip, although uphill, is not terribly strenuous. In fact, it may even be more enjoyable than the outbound trip for the simple illusion that the trees will seem larger when viewed from below. After an initial steep section the trail really isn't that difficult, and the redwoods get progressively more scenic.

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You can still get to the beach

Currently there is a sign at the trailhead saying that the bridge is out and there is no beach access. This is not necessarily true. The bridge is a little shaky, but is passible for most people (I'm 205 lbs, and made it fine), I don't know if there are future plans to renovate or replace the bridge currently in place, but there is also a fairly worn path down and across the small creek that the bridge takes you over.

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