Redwood National and State Parks: Redwood Creek, or Journey to the Realm of the Banana Slugs

Cat Tail Moss on Bigtooth Maple
Banana Slug

After having spent the previous day exploring distributed Redwood National and State Parks sites by car, we intended to make Thursday, September 12 the day of our big hike at Redwood. Our destination was the heart of the Redwood Creek area, traveling into the middle of the largest contiguous section of the National Park. From the trailhead, Tall Trees Grove is an 8.3-mile one-way hike, which would make for a long, almost seventeen mile day hike. We doubted we’d make it that far, but we’d make it some portion of that distance. We thought that after the hike we’d head down to Arcata and check out the hot tub cafe that was recommended to us by Ang at the Chicago REI and by our friend Aimee.

I climbed out of our tent on the beach at 6:45am and made coffee. While I waited for Sean to stir, I sat and caught up on my notes from the previous day. Across the way a camper mustn’t have realized that I was up and about in our site because he peed near his site in full view of me.

That morning we had a more robust than usual breakfast of rehydrated chicken and rice in addition to rehydrated scrambled eggs and bacon to fuel a longer hiking day.

After breakfast, we prepped our day packs and drove over the bluffs to Orick. We stopped at the general store there to get some peanut butter to throw in our packs for lunch on the trail.

Then we drove over to the parking lot at the trailhead. Like the other lots in this Park, there were warning signs about leaving valuables in cars, which again made me nervous since we both had laptops with us. Oh well. There was nothing to be done about it.

We shouldered our packs and set out at about twenty after ten across the footbridge that began the trail

The first portion of the trail led through a parklike mixed forest just to the east of the broad bed of Redwood Creek. This area had once been the site of a lumber mill. Portions of the surrounding ridges had been heavily logged. Yet there were also many sections of old growth forest here too.

It made for an interesting tour of forest in various stages of recovery.

As we hiked along, we chatted about my new business, Bold Bison, and my upcoming time as a presenter and exhibitor at Land Trust Alliance Rally (the national land conservation conference) in Raleigh the following month. I told Sean that I’d had a dream about business cards. As we hiked along, we brainstormed possible giveaways for my table at Rally.

Western Hemlock

Redwood Creek

About a mile and half beyond the trailhead, we arrived at the crossing of Redwood Creek, made possible by a temporary footbridge. Here in September, the creek was only a couple ribbons of water in a broad, gravelly bed. It was hard to imagine what it might be like in flood after a heavy rain.

Redwood Creek

Redwood Creek

We crossed the broad gravel bed.

And Sean spotted the blaze in the forest opposite marking where the trail resumed.

Chicory

Redwood Creek

A second footbridge led over a trickle of creek to the dirt trail.

On the other side of the creek, the trail had been a broad dirt path where we could hike side by side. Now it was a narrow, single-file footpath.

The forest was wilder now too, clearly more mature and lush.

Redwood Creek

While we were shaded by trees, the path never strayed far from the creek to our left as we trended south and upstream.

California Sister Butterfly

Because we were close to water, we saw many dragonflies, damselflies, fritillaries, and skippers.

In this section of the creek, distributed backcountry camping was permitted on the gravel bars, and we passed one small tent as we hiked along. Otherwise, we had the area mostly to ourselves. Over the course of the hike, we encountered only four other hikers.

Oregon Oxalis

Coast Redwood

There were scattered Coast Redwoods along the trail. Here they were part of a larger forest ecosystem, as opposed to being clumped in a specific grove.

Lady Fern

Coast Redwood

Coast Redwood

At not quite three miles (and about an hour and fifteen minutes) from the trailhead, we reached the junction with a network of trails that led up into the ridges to the west of the creek.

But we continued on our course upstream.

Redwood Creek

Bigtooth Maple

Bigtooth Maple

Cat Tail Moss

Coast Redwood

Creeping Buttercup

Deer Fern

Common Self-Heal

Coast Redwood

Coast Redwood

Common Raven

Coast Redwood

We came upon an enormous Redwood log fallen across the trail on a slope. Like some sort of massive terrarium, it held a whole ecosystem of ferns, mosses, lichens, and even a sapling, on itself.

Redwood Creek

A little farther along, we heard a crash and a splash as an old, dead branch fell from a tree and into the creek.

At about ten to one, or two and a half hours after departing from the trailhead, we reached the five mile marker. Tall Trees Grove was still another 3.3 miles farther on. Doable, certainly.

Lady Fern

Coast Redwood Sapling

A bit farther on, I noticed a sapling Redwood next to the trail. Stopping to look at it, we noticed two Banana Slugs near its base.

Banana Slugs on Coast Redwood Sapling, surrounded by Oregon Oxalis and Sword Fern

Super cool!

Banana Slug on Coast Redwood Sapling

The slugs live along the Pacific coast from Alaska to California. They thrive in moist Redwood forests and temperate rainforests.

Banana Slugs on Coast Redwood Sapling

The slugs consume leaves, droppings, seeds, spores, moss, and other plant materials, aiding soil richness and contributing greatly to a healthy Redwood forest ecosystem.

Shortly past the Banana Slugs, the trail reached Bond Creek, which cut a shallow ravine from the western ridge down to Redwood Creek. What appeared to have been a fairly substantial bridge at one point was totally gone.

So we made our way down into the ravine and up the other side.

Candy Flower

The moist ravine bottom boasted wildflowers, fungi, and huge ferns.

Coastal Monkeyflower

Back up on the trail, we ran into another Banana Slug. We now felt like we had entered their realm, and we began to look carefully at when we were stepping so as not to crush one.

Video: Sean M. Santos

Shelf Mushroom

Shelf Mushrooms

Coast Redwood

It was about twenty minutes after one, and we’d likely gone not quite another mile (what with stopping for Banana Slugs). We decided it was a good time for our lunch of peanut butter and potato chip wraps. While we were eating, a solo backpacker headed past us and on up the trail. Sean called him the hollabackpacker.

Half an hour later we again shouldered our bags. Instead of continuing on, we decided to turn around and begin the hike back. It was already ten to two, and by the time we got back to the trailhead it would be almost five. We wanted to go to the Arcata hot tubs, and we weren’t sure what all that entailed. So a total hike of twelve miles through Redwood forests was nothing to be ashamed of even if it meant leaving Tall Trees Grove for some future visit.

Banana Slugs on Sword Fern

Before we started hiking, we noticed a pair of Banana Slugs mating on a Sword Fern. They’d been a couple feet from us the entire time we’d been munching our lunches. Not only were we in the realm of the Banana Slugs, we were in their boudoir.

On the way back, Sean used my hiking poles to see if he liked them. He was considering getting some of his own for the Grand Canyon.

Oregon Oxalis and Lady Fern

Banana Slug

Now that we were more attuned to the Banana Slugs, we began to see them regularly.

Banana Slug

Not a Banana Slug

We also saw phantom Banana Slugs, like this yellow leaf.

Coast Redwoods

Columbian Black-Tailed Deer fawn

We were almost back to the five mile marker when we noticed a doe and fawn down in the stream bed.

Redwood Creek

Banana Slug

Darkling Beetle

Cat Tail Moss

Coast Redwoods

Coast Redwood

Coast Redwoods

Our hike back was brisk, which is usual for us.

Oregon Oxalis

Coast Redwood

Wow. Good job.

Redwood Creek

Cat Tail Moss

Coast Redwood

Banana Slug

Redwood Creek

Kneeling Angelica

Banana Slug

I was surprised that on the way back we saw Banana Slugs all the way back to the footbridges over Redwood Creek.

Redwood Creek

Redwood Creek

Redwood Creek

Redwood Creek

Redwood Creek

I had not noticed the bench overlooking Redwood Creek on our way out.

Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock

The open, once-cleared areas in the final mile before the trailhead were jarringly warm and disturbed after the coolness of the forest.

Smooth Hawksbeard

Cat Tail Moss

Coast Redwood

Common Garter Snake

Near the end of the trail, a Garter Snake slithered across the trail in front of us and disappeared.

We arrived back at the trailhead at 4:20pm. The return hike took us two and a half hours. In total, the roughly 11.5 mile+ out-and-back hike took six hours including half an hour for lunch.

Back in the car, which was undisturbed, Sean called Cafe Mokka in Arcata. Unfortunately, they were not taking hot tub reservations for the evening. Slightly nonplussed, we decided to head down the coast to Arcata anyway and see if they took walk-ins. When we found it, we went inside and inquired. They were full up for the evening. But we could wait for cancellations or no-shows, if we wanted. They staff was very nice and gave us a tour of the facilities. We thanked them and purchased a couple homemade lemonades before heading on our way.

Next stop was Pacific Outfitters nearby, where we picked up a few more dehydrated meals and Sean grabbed a hoodie and some shorts from the sale rack. While we were there, I checked my email and found out that I did land a communications contract for a land trust I know well. It was my first post-Openlands-departure rejection and it threw me a bit.

Slightly at loose ends, we parked at the Arcata town square and walked around a bit, ignoring the gathering of…hippies?…on the square.

Having struck out in Arcata, we decided to head back to camp.

We stopped in Trinidad at Murphy’s for a few more things and some more ice.

And Sean noticed that they had Dot’s Pretzels, which we’d become addicted to at the C-Store in Medora, North Dakota (the most important building west of the Mississippi), just outside Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Davison Road

Davison Road

Back in camp, we poured some gins and tonic and watched the sunset.

Sitka Spruce

Reading Rock

Once twilight was dwindling, we built up the fire and started roasting our hot dogs.

Afterward, we wrote out our postcards, charged batteries, backed up photos, and generally got ourselves in the right mindset for our departure from Redwood the next day.

In the tent, I fell asleep reading poems from Gary Snyder’s Turtle Island while the surf crashed.

Pacific surf at Gold Bluffs Beach Campground

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