by Mario Vaden
Photo: Near the beginning of James Irvine Trail
James Irvine trail is one of the best hikes in the redwood parks. It's basically 4.5 miles one-way, or 9 miles round trip from the visitor center end to the ocean or Fern Canyon end.
Check the map posted at at the visitor center for directions. But it basically starts right at the vistor center. Even if Drury Parkway is closed at times due to fallen redwoods, the trail is still available because the south end of the parkway is virtually always open to access the ranger facilities, campground and visitor center. The parkway meets Hy. 101 at both ends.
You can also add Miners Ridge trail and the Gold Bluffs beach for a longer loop about 11.5 miles total. One more option is James Irvine trail about half way, then Clintonia trail to Miners Ridge trail, and back, for a shorter loop. There are at least 5 or 6 different variations that you can pick by hiking James Irvine trail or in conjunction with other connecting trails.
A good portion of the hiking trail is up high on the hill and you can see the upper trunks and branches of many coast redwoods or Douglas fir. The predominant species is coast redwood until you get closer to the ocean, where spruce become more numerous. Among all Coast Redwood hiking trails, James Irvine is the one I would specifically describe as panoramic ... at least for half the distance, which is plenty. Some of the trail is lower elevation, but half of it is up higher and curves in and out around small valleys notched into the hillside.
If I was still a runner, this would be my top pick in this park for running. With or without using Miners Ridge trail as a loop, James Irvine trail has enough length, and there are few impedements.
Originally, more of James Irvine trail was in the lowland following Godwood Creek, which has more of the big fat redwoods and skunk cabbage patches. But the new route is still grand.
James Irvine Trail heads roughly NW from the viistor center, and at about 1/4 to 1/2 mile alongside Godwood Creek. You cross a bridge (one of many), and soon the trail does a sharp switchback to the SE and quickly rises up the hillside. It's not long to reach a fork (left for Miners Ridge) and continue James Irvine trail (right fork). From this point James Irvine ramains high on the hill for over 1/3 of the hike. Eventually you gradually decend creekside and hike to Fern Canyon.
Photographers should also bring their wide angle lens ibecause the view in many places is expansive. James Irvine trail likely provides much for in the way of scenic landscapes photography. You can get some big trunks, ferns or bridges, but there's all those wide open shots too.
James Irvine trail gets many high ratings. It's one of the best for sure, but I don't think it's better than trails like Prairie Creek trail. It just depends on what you feel like experiencing for the day. If you want a lot of low level creekside and meaty trunks, then Brown Creek trail or Prairie Creek trail are just as good. Basically, I think all 3 trails can be on par with one another.
Boy Scout Redwood trail in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is on par with James Irvine too. The only possible lack on Boy Scout would be a tougher surface to run on. But for hiking, both are superb.