Spring is finally upon us. Birds are chirping, the grass is green, and flowers are beginning to bloom. In between rain showers, it feels like summer is right around the corner.
On these gorgeous sunny days, I feel anxious working indoors and extremely enthusiastic to go play outside. With all the state parks, beaches, national parks, and forest land, there is a plethora of natural playgrounds to discover in Humboldt. However, I find myself visiting the same parks and trails over and over, forgetting there are so many new ones to discover.
Redwood National Forest has always been a favorite spot to visit and take friends and family. I always end up at Fern Canyon. It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful it is, with its towering ferns and misty water droplets hanging like shining beads of silver. It is truly a wondrous sight.
In the early springs the water at the canyon can be swift, and many of the foot bridges are not installed until summer, making the trail short and inaccessible at points. Save Fern Canyon for the summer, because right now Trillium Falls is going off. I cannot believe, after all my visits to the park, that I’ve let this trail slip through the cracks.
If you want to taste spring and indulge in its sweetness, experience the Trillium Falls Trail. Heading 40 minutes north of Arcata on the 101 will lead you into Redwood National Park. After you pass Orick, drive three more miles and take a left on Davison Rd. Stop briefly and check for elk; there are often large herds here. Continue a quarter mile and take a left into Elk Meadow Day Use Area (continuing straight on Davison Rd. will lead to Fern Canyon).
Park at the day use area; there is a restroom and informational signs. The trail is clearly marked and begins as a paved trail leading through Elk Meadow. The trail follows around a small pond where I spotted a massive Great Blue Heron dinning on his lunch. The trail for Trillium Falls diverges on the right, a 2.5-mile loop through giant old-growth redwoods. As you embark through the meadow, you can see the towering entrance to the redwood forest like the skyline of an ancient living city of giants.
As you enter this redwood wonderland, you are immediately greeted by mammoth monumental trees. I had to lie on the ground for a moment to look to the top without falling over backwards. I felt dizzy trying to strain my eyes to see the treetops as they seemed to disappear into the fog. I had to force myself to quit looking up, as I was tripping over my feet and I almost missed the first trillium sprouting amongst the ferns. The bright white petals stand out over the dark forest floor. Three petals, three leaves, and three sepals make up the Western Trillium (Trillium ovatum), a simple yet elegant display of the spring.
Around each bend there’s a gnarly old-growth redwood displaying its substantial girth and towering presence. Some are knotted and gnarled, some are spiraling deep red and mossy grey up to the heavens, but they all are a unique timeline of the centuries before. I like to imagine how the knots and spirals of the tree have overcome the obstacles of time as the tree grows over dead logs and fights to live and survive. Redwoods are soldiers of time. Their ancient wisdom casts a serene silence over the forest, and I am quickly transported into a realm of wonder.
As the trail progresses, the sound of trickling water infiltrates the silence and trilliums decorate the path with their radiating beauty. The older ones start to turn from a silky white to a soft pink and purple as they age. At just over a half-mile, a steel bridge leads you over Trillium Falls, a ten-foot cascade over dark mossy rocks. The trails continue on through giant redwoods with families of Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, and Western hemlock residing underneath. Patches of skunk cabbage fill the air with their pungent perfume. The bright yellow blooms of their spiky spears seem prehistoric. Red tree voles scurry through the ferns. Giant Pacific salamanders and banana slugs take retreat in the dark mossy floor of the forest. The trail moves through a stand of burned snags which looks like an enormous erected monument to the fire god, Vulcan.
Switch-backing downhill leads you to a riparian woodland of red alder, big leaf maple, and blooming salmonberries that leads back out onto Davison Trail. This 2.5-mile loop trail is a moderate hike with switchbacks and a bit of elevation change. The trail is well-groomed and accommodating to hikers of all skill levels. The hike is not strenuous and takes an hour to an hour-and-a-half, with time to stop and smell the roses along the way. Before or after the hike, the Elk Meadow Day Use Area offers nice picnic areas to have lunch while watching the elk graze.
Trillium Falls is a great day hike for the spring with its brilliant wildflowers, ancient redwoods, elk, and waterfalls. It’s kind of a treasure of natural wonder, and as an approximately 3-hour round-trip venture from Arcata, it can easily be squeezed into an afternoon.