Best Short Hike #23 Drury-Chaney Groves Loop
Avenue of Giants
Northern Entrance 2.7 South of
Excerpted with permission from the book "Best Short Hikes in Redwood National and State Parks," by authors: Gisela Rohde and Jerry Rohde. Go to Visit Website to order book.
PARK: Humboldt Redwoods State Park
FEATURES: large redwoods and small pepperwoods
DISTANCE: 2.45 miles round trip with loop (longer options available)
ELEVATION GAIN: negligible
Open all year
HISTORY: This lovely loop honors two leaders in the Save-the-Redwoods League. Newton B. Drury was both the League’s first secretary and its third—he left for nineteen years to direct first the National Park Service and then the California Division of Beaches and Parks while his brother Aubrey took over running the League. Upon Aubrey’s death, Newton returned as executive secretary, which meant that one Drury or another led the organization for all of its first fifty-two years. Ralph W. Chaney, a paleontologist at the University of California at Berkeley, was president of the League from 1961 to 1971.
In 1948 he journeyed to a remote village in central China, where a species of redwood previously thought to be extinct had recently been discovered. After a perilous trip that included an attack by bandits, Chaney was able to obtain some “dawn” redwood seedlings, which he brought back to the United States. Later Chaney and others distributed baby dawn redwoods to many locations, so that today they are found growing on three continents. One is in front of the visitor center at Humboldt Redwoods State Park; another is at the side of the Eureka City Hall. Yet another is located in—of all places—Cleveland, Ohio.
BEGIN: Drive to mile 28.8 heading North on Avenue of the Giants, or 2.7 South of Pepperwood. The trailhead is on the western side of the road.
THE HIKE: The trail crosses through a patch of grass before reaching the Chaney plaque. There you plunge into a wall of greenery, twisting through a forest filled with redwood sorrel, large logs, sword fern, and many spindly California bays (Umbellularia californica). The latter are sometimes called pepperwood, and it was their presence that gave the nearby town its name. The mature trees are stout-trunked masses of aromatic, dark green leaves, but here all you see is second growth, some so frail that they bend over in a wide arc, their tops nearly touching the ground. During World War I, bays were in great demand for shipbuilding, their straight trunks used for masts or for interior paneling. By the end of the war, almost all the trees had been cut, and what you see now is only a haunting whisper of what once filled the flats of Pepperwood.
At 0.6 mile the path arrives at Barkdull Road. A few hundred yards to the left this historic route reaches the site of the Barkdull Ranch, whose Travelers Inn served as a stopping place a century ago. Across the road, the trail continues in redwoods, reaching a junction at 0.75 mile where the two ends of the loop portion of the trail meet. Go left, soon passing a patch of false lily-of-the-valley and a thicket of California hazel. The trail winds through the redwoods, crossing a barely moving creek let at 1 mile. The ground here contains gourmet-quality food for the surrounding forest, for the Pepperwood area is located upon one of several bench lands along the lower Eel that are filled with nutrient-rich alluvium. These deposits of silt, gravel, and other materials have been washed down the river over millennia and have lodged at various locations, including here. The fertile soil that you tread upon has produced more than world-class redwoods—luscious Pepperwood tomatoes, grown nearby, were once shipped by train to much of California and even to Nevada.
You then encounter two spur trails on the left that lead a few feet along the bench land to memorial grove benches, after which you reach the end of the loop at 1.7 miles. Turn left, soon re-crossing Barkdull Road and arriving back at the trailhead at 2.45 miles.
For a longer hike: You can turn either direction at Barkdull Road. The way left leads to an opening where the old ranch was situated, and a trip there and back adds 0.8 mile to the trip. Going right takes you through more of Pepperwood’s great redwood forest before arriving at the Avenue of the Giants west of town. This route also adds 0.8 mile to the hike.