by Mario Vaden
Friendship Ridge Trail is on the ocean side of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. The hike was rated by redwoodhikes.com as 3 Stars, which is average. I have trouble imagining any trail with old redwoods as average, but 3 Stars out of 5 possible is a fair rating. The 3 Stars was assigned to an entire 8 mile loop, requiring a return along the coast trail. The 8 mile loop combines a fragment of the James Irvine trail above Fern Canyon, the 2.8 mile Friendship Ridge trail, a fragment of Westridge trail near Butler Creek to the north, and a length of the Coast trail.
I want to comment for most Friendship Ridge trail ... the actual 2.8 miles of it.
There are several ways to reach Friendship Ridge trail. The south end intersects James Irvine trail above the east end of Fern Canyon, about 15 to 20 minutes from parking at Gold Bluffs Beach. That would be the shortest way to reach it if we don't count driving. Otherwise we can start at the visitor center and hike west across the park and get to an end from James Irvine trail or Westridge trail.
Personally, I think Friendship Ridge trail is ideal for a larger extended loop. Not with the Coast trail for 8 miles. But even longer, combining it with most of James Irvine trail and Westridge trail. Set apart all by itself, I like Friendship Ridge trail, but for aesthetics and photography, Westridge does more for me.
Your mood at the moment may be where Freindship Ridge trail fulfills your day. You can hear the ocean, and see glimpses through the canopy. If you start at the south end near James Irvine trail and head north, after 10 or 15 minutes ... look to your right ... what seems like a lost valley reveals itself through the trunks and foliage. The trail may immediately impress you with the feeling of the road less travelled. It shares the feeling I get going down into Redwood National Park toward Redwood Creek. But the redwoods on Friendship Ridge trail, average, are not quite as big. On the other hand, there are a lot of trunks. I want to emphasize this. You will see some though, that are larger than 12 ft. to 14 ft. wide. The trunks along the way put on a good show for character and unusual shapes ... a ridge of oddities.
As a stand alone trail, back and forth, I really like this trail. But there's one thing that nags at me (2015) ... and that's Davison Rd.. To get here without hiking 4 miles to reach it, we need to turn on Davison Rd., off Hy. 101, about 2 miles north of Orick. Davison Rd. may be improved with grading for summer. But after autumn rain begins, the drive could be miserable, particularly if its sunny. If there are clouds, the potholes are easier to see. But when sun is out, there are thousands of little spotlights and spot shadows that camouflage the bumps and puddles. Its a bumpy 4 miles to the beach. The beach road seems more pleasant, even during the west season. But altogether, it's 8 miles or dirt & gravel road with several bumpy miles.
But if we add Friendship Ridge to another trail for a loop and park near the visitor center by Drury Parkway, bumps are not issue.
You don't want to compare Howland Hill Rd. in Jedediah Smith park to Davison Rd. Howland Hill is also dirt gravel with some puddles, but nothing like I see on Davison Rd. by winter and late spring. I find Howland Hill relatively pleasant to drive any month and it would never deter me. On the other hand, Davison Rd. sticks in my head as a deterrent 90% of the time I drive across, which is often more of neccesity to get a certain photo, or find something I want to explore for.
Long story short, I think Friendship Ridge trail is a lovely experience. And I feel its long-suit is being combined with one of the longer trails for an extended hiking loop begining and ending at the visitor center. Or maybe from Drury Parkway and entering on Zig Zag #1 trail and forming a loop with Prairie Creek, James Irvine and Westridge trails.