Damnation Creek Trail

A redwood escort on a steep descent to beach

Would it take a deal with the devil to enjoy old-growth redwoods most of the way down to sea-level? Welcome to Damnation Creek Trail. This hiking trail near Crescent City intersects with the California Coastal Trail (CTC).

Damnation, of course, comes at a heavy cost. In this case, a knee-busting 1,000-foot descent to the sea, during which it’s hard not to dwell on the uphill return trip to come.

It all starts out innocently enough at the trailhead on the west side of U.S. Highway 101 about 11 miles south of Crescent City. Like, so many redwood trails, the gratification is instant with a quick climb into the midst of old-growth giants and leafy rhododendrons.

After six-tenths of a mile of moderate descent, it crosses the Coastal Trail. Reach the sign that says, “CAUTION STEEP STRENUOUS TRAIL,” and it’s another 1.3 miles to the beach, pretty much none of it is level.

There are plenty of switchbacks and a couple of long straight-aways, the second of which seems endless but mercifully features a series plateaus. The most striking image is of a vast forrest in the foreground and a backdrop of… nothing but sky.

Alas, the redwoods can’t go the whole way. They are gradually replaced by spruce and fir, then bigleaf maple and red alder. Cross a couple of king-post bridges over gurgling streams, then emerge onto a low-slung ocean bluff.

Below, is the mouth of the creek. If it’s swift, you must descend some precarious steps, cross the water balancing on well-placed logs and hug your way around a rock wall before arriving at a beach that mostly features more rocks. Still, it comes with comfortable driftwood seating and craggy coastal views north and south.

How damaging is the trip back up? With frequent breaks to sip water and lower heartbeat, not so awful. After all, the redwoods are ahead and the sea is still roaring behind you.

  • The Hike: A 3.8-mile round-trip from a Highway 101 trailhead down to the sea and back., but some report it as being over 4.5-miles.
  • Sweat Level: A 1,000-foot drop, followed by a 1,000 foot climb. This is a cardiovascular extravaganza.
  • Getting There: The Damnation Creek trailhead is on the west side of U.S. Highway 101 about 11 miles south of Crescent City.
  • Dog-Friendly: No
  • Bike-Friendly: No

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