Dolason Prairie Trail – Redwood National Park

View from Dolason Prairie - Redwood National ParkWhat started as a quest to find the world’s tallest tree, became the exploration of a great trail in Northern California’s Redwood National Park.  We spent the night on the coast at Gold Beach, Oregon with the intention of driving to the Redwood Visitor Center a mile or so west of Orick, California to pick up a free permit to drive to the Tall Trees Grove where several of the world’s tallest trees are located.  Unfortunately upon our arrival at the visitor center, we learned that the Park Service had closed the road and would issue no permits.  Officially: “these closures are necessary due to key vacancies in park staffing, including heavy equipment operators required to grade and maintain these roads. Access to the Tall Trees Grove is still available via 8 mile hike.”  Actually, the added walk to the Tall Trees Trail and back adds 10 to 12 miles to the experience, depending upon whether you believe the trail signs or the Park Service’s website.

The six-mile hike to the Tall Trees Trail takes the Dolason Prairie Trail from a ridge-top trail head on the Bald Hills Road to its end at the Emerald Ridge Trail, then the Emerald Ridge Trail to the Tall Trees Trail.  From there, the walk is about the same as if we could have driven to the Tall Trees Trailhead.   We hadn’t alloted time to make the extra drive and walk the extra miles to get to the grove, so we decided to see just how far we could go and still get back to the vehicle before dark.  We didn’t reach the Tall Trees Grove, but we did explore the 5.9 mile-long Dolason Prairie Trail.

The Trailhead

 

The Dolason Trailhead in Redwood National Park.

At the trailhead looking down the trail toward Redwood Creek.

The asphalt-paved Bald Hills Road leaves Highway 101 about 1.3 miles north of Orick, California (41° 18′ 6.36″ N, 124° 2′ 51.23′ W) at 37 feet above sea level.  If you are heading north, there is a special right turn lane.  The road switchbacks up the mountain past the Redwood Creek Trailhead and the Lady Bird Johnson Grove then follows the ridge line past the Redwood Creek Overlook (2,100 feet above sea level) and the Tall Trees Access Road to the Dolason Prairie Trailhead (41° 12′ 19.50″ N  123° 57′ 3.98″ W) at about 2,400 feet above sea level.  The trailhead offers a nice parking area and restroom about 11 miles up the Bald Hill Road from Highway 101.  The Park Service recommends that motor homes and trailers avoid this road due to portions with a 15% grade.  The map below should help you find the trailhead.  A map at the bottom of this page provides trail details.

 

The Trail

The official description of the trail is this:

  • Trailhead: Marked trailhead is off Bald Hills Road, approximately 11 miles from turnoff on Hwy 101. Trail can also be accessed via Tall Trees Grove Trail and Redwood Creek Trail.
  • Mileage: 5.9
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate, some steep grades and switchbacks
  • Description: The wide-open spaces of Dolason Prairie offer a hike unlike any in the redwood forest. Meandering across meadows and through oak woodlands, this trail passes a picturesque structure left from a large sheep-herding ranch that operated in this area for almost a century. Red-tailed hawks circle overhead. Black-tailed deer browse the fine prairie grasses, serving as prey for mountain lion. Along the way, hikers have panoramic views of Rodgers Peak, which was clear-cut by timber harvesters during the 1960s and 1970s. The path descends into an old-growth redwood forest flourishing in a deep gorge along Emerald Creek.

The Park Service representative at the visitor center told us the trail was very steep and a 600 foot climb back out.  Given that the trailhead is at about 2400 feet elevation and the bridge at Emerald Creek is  about 200 feet elevation,  we calculate the climb to be more like 2200 feet.  As far as I can tell, this trail gets relatively little use, although we did chat with a couple going up, then back down the trail to their campsite on a gravel bar in the creek.  The trail is steep, the trip back is all uphill and you are not likely to find help if you need it.  The trail does require a moderate level of physical fitness and water and food are necessary.

A barn, built in 1914 on the Sherman Lyon Ranch, now in Redwood National Park.

From the trailhead the trail descends to an old road, follows the road for about 3/10th of a mile then drops down into Dolason Prairie as seen in the header photo.  The historic barn was built in 1914 as part of the Sherman Lyon’s Ranch.  The Lyon’s family ranched here for over 100 years.  Sheep were pastured in this area in the summer then fed hay from the barn in the winter.  Today, only half of the barn remains.  The photo to the left was taken from the trail.  The trail proceeds to the right of the barn, then across the meadow to the trees you can see in the background. From there, it meanders in and out of the meadow a couple of times as it switchbacks down the hill.  We took our time enjoying the wildlife and plants along the way.

Along the Trail

Animals

banana slug - Ariolimax columbianus

A Banana Slug (Ariolimax columbianus)

The most exciting animal along the trail was a black bear.  As we were starting the trail a couple that had just returned informed us that they saw two bears a couple miles down the trail and decided to return rather than continue their trek.   They told us that the bears ran away so we weren’t deterred.  On the way down the trail we saw bear trails through several blackberry bushes where they had obviously been feeding, as well as some bear scat in the trail.  Had we seen bears eating blackberries, we would have detoured around them as sometimes they will not be inclined to stop feeding and may even put on a show of defending their blackberries.  On the way back, along the old road mentioned above, we came upon a black bear feeding beside the road.  We saw it before it saw us so a single shout had it scrambling down the hill as fast as it could go.

We didn’t see much other wildlife.  Birds were sparse although a buzzard circled us a few times.  We did see many banana slugs and large centipedes along the trail.

 

Plants and Fungi

The trail offers a nice variety of both flowers and fungi as well as redwood, fir and oak trees.  We spotted a variety of polypores, including an agaricon growing on the ends of logs that had been cut to keep the trail open.  We spotted several very large wood ear mushrooms growing right in the trail.  Colorful flowers were scatted along the way.  The following slide show reveals some of what we saw:

Trail End

Near the end of the trail we came upon Emerald Creek and a wonderful trail bridge.  At this point we calculated the remaining daylight and decided it was time to head back up the trail.  If you are not in fairly good shape,  climbing 2200 feet back up a trail you have just traveled down can be daunting – particularly near the end of the day.  As we proceeded slowly up the hill, Chief Scout Trish assessed the items we were carrying, estimated the amount of daylight and considered our low rate of speed.  It looked like we’d get back to our vehicle just as the last light of day would be fading away and we did.  It helped that it happened to be the longest day of the year.

Had we been later, a full moon would have helped us across the prairie and back into the woods just below the trailhead.  The trail in that area is quite obvious, so we really anticipated no problem.  If it had become necessary to spend the night along the trail we would have had two significant issues: bears and fog. By separating our food from ourselves, bears probably would have done little more than wake us up a few times in the night. It was a warm day so we were not carrying jackets. The chill night air and the developing fog could have made for a very cold night – we were pleased to avoid both issues altogether.

 

Sunset from Above Dolason Prairie

Sunset from Above Dolason Prairie - Note the fog rolling in.

Credits

The text, all photos and the video were created by Jerry Haugen and ©2013 Global Creations LLC – all rights reserved.

Dolason Prairie Trail Map

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