by Mario Vaden
After one more hike on Westridge trail in 2015, I decided its a favorite. If any other redwood trail rates 5 Stars, I think the first stretch of Westridge trail makes that grade, coupled as a loop. Its every bit as good as James Irvine or Boy Scout redwood trails. And for photography, Westridge seems better. The Westridge has some open areas that have a hint of that Bull Creek Flats trail feel. Several parts of Westridge trail have an elevated vantage point of redwood trunks similar to upper James Irvine trail. I can't disclose every reason ... so try it and see what you think. Surely a few others will feel different. BTW, the parking is virtually the best in the parks if you have to leave valuables.
The one 6 mile loop begins at the visitor center, crosses Prairie Creek over a bridge and follows Westridge trail north for 2.2 miles. Then go east on Zig Zag #1 trail, return south with the part of Prairie Creek trail to loop back. Keep reading for a longer alternate to run or hike.
One big draw to another more publicized James Irvine trail is Fern Canyon. The canyon is pretty in spring when ferns revive ... but challenging access in winter. Fern Canyon is a 1/2 Star experience compared to Eagle Creek trail of the Columbia River Gorge. So relative to west coast hikes in general, and 12 months a year, Westridge trail & Prairie Creek trail loop scores higher for me ... 5 Stars +
Continue after this photo of Westridge Trail ...
The loop is about 6 miles long. You can find a map posted on the wall at the visitor center where you need to begin. Start there, and you have two options. One is to pass Prairie Creek trail, and hike Westridge trail north to Zig Zag #1 trail, drop east and return on Praiire Creek trail. Or do the reverse loop, and start with Prairie Creek trail.. The height and size of some of the redwoods is still suprising up near the ridge.
There are a lot of redwoods, some very large, with a mix of Douglas Fir. The elevated position offers a superb view of the upper trunks and lends itself to photography. The lower Prairie Creek trail offers water all year with bridge crossings. There are a lot of giant coast redwoods, spruce and some bigleaf maples. Experientially, I think this entire loop will show you views of redwoods that are as large or larger than any next to Boyscout Tree trail or Brown Creek trail. The panoramic views compare to James Irvine trail. And a few open towering spots are similar to Bull Creek Flats trail. This Westridge trail loop should be above average for photo opportunities. Among all trails, I think it may be the most unrealized.
Roosevelt Elk can wander into the forest at times. I spotted them a mile, or more into these trails, foraging near the trail. They haven't been a problem. We just give them a lot of space.
Alternate 11 mile to 12 mile loop
A longer loop that may be of interest to hikers, and especially runners, is Westridge trail, Friendship Ridge trail and James Irvine trail. If you skip Fern Canyon or Gold Bluffs Beach, this should be an 11.2 mile loop. If you hiked extra through Fern Canyon, or above Fern Canyon, to the beach, then its at least 12.4 miles. But suppose it was the rainy season or you just wanted to remain in the forest, then you are looking at 11.2 miles. A runner could push out on the coast trail slightly and squeeze in an easy 14 miles.
Windows through the canopy peek into a couple of remote hidden areas. One is Valley of the Lost Groves, and another nicknamed Fangorn Valley. There are no marked spur trails to these areas. But I enjoy visualizing the groves when I pass through, knowing what's hidden within.
My approach to the park from Crescent City, Eureka or Trinidad, passes a lot of ocean and beaches where I park or stroll. And that's another reason I think this loop is comparable in stature to James Irvine, which ends near the beach. The hikes in themselves are not your key to the ocean.
So IMO ... Prairie Creek has one more 5 Star trail than you may have read at some online reviews.