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Damnation Creek Trail offers redwoods without the crowds

If your idea of a hike in the redwoods means more trees and fewer people, head for the Damnation Creek Trail.

You can enjoy the redwoods along this remote stretch of Northern California coast without interpretive signs, comfort stations and bark-covered trails wide enough for a truck. To sweeten the deal, the trail ends at an isolated beach where you can explore tidal pools at low tide.

This little trail south of Crescent City still feels like a wild place because it sees relatively few visitors compared to the redwood groves alongside Highway 199 east of Crescent City. Maybe that's because the two-mile trail descends about 1,000 feet from its start beside Highway 101 to the beach. If you go down, you'll have to come back up.

Unfortunately, there's no convenient straight-line highway connection to get to this place from Medford. The easiest route is to take Interstate 5 to Grants Pass and Highway 199 to Crescent City. Turn south on Highway 101 where it connects with 199, and drive south about 10 miles to Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. There will be parking for the trail near milepost 16.

The trail begins in the big trees on the west side of the highway, and follows flat ground for about .7 miles. If you know your understory plants, you'll notice wild rhododendrons growing in the deep shade cast by the towering redwoods. In spring, creamy white trilliums bloom on the forest floor.

The trail crosses an old section of Highway 101 that's become a popular cyclist route and soon begins the steep descent to the beach. If you have little hikers in your party, this would be the place to turn around, unless you're eager to carry them back uphill at the end of the day.

The mix of trees changes as the trail marches steadily downhill, with Sitka spruce and Douglas fir replacing the redwoods. You can tell them apart by their needles — the spruces have sharp, prickly needles that stand up on the little twigs. Douglas fir needles are flat with blunt tips that will never make you say "Ouch!"

The trail crosses two little tributary creeks on rustic wooden bridges before it reaches a meadow on a bluff above the beach. If you bear to your right across the meadow toward the creek, you'll find the trail down to the beach.

If you plan to visit the beach, make sure you know when high and low tides will occur because most of the beach disappears under high tide.

The tide cycles every six hours, but the height of the water varies with each day. There's a "high" high and a "low" high, and a "low" low and a "high" low. To see the tidepools at their best, plan a visit during a low low.

You can find tide tables at many shops and stores along the coast, and often they're free. Crescent City maintains a Web site with tide information at: www.crescentcity95531.com.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail:bkettler@mailtribune.com

Damnation Creek Trail offers redwoods without the crowds