From the General’s Highway take a 2-mile dirt road down to the large parking area surrounded by giant Sequoia. The road is well maintained so you should not have any problems except when it is raining or snowing. It is an exciting drive as there are large Sequoias scattered throughout the forest. This is typical of the forest where these giants reside. It is not a solid stand of trees but rather they are mixed in with other pines, oaks, dogwoods and firs. In fact this particular area is one of the most beautiful groupings of trees I have ever seen. This is a wonderful mix of Sequoia, Silver Fir, Ponderosa Pine, Sugar Pine, Black Oak and Dogwood. And the Dogwood set up this hike to be spectacular during 2 seasons, with colorful fall foliage and the flowers of spring.
The trailhead starts at the far end of the parking; there are towering trees all around. The wide trail, an old road, drops into the canyon. In the springtime the sides of the trail are lined with pink flowered Whisker Brush, white flowered Draperia and Lemon’s Catchfly. On the cut slope on the right side look for the heart shaped leaves of Hartweg’s Wildginger. The leaves are laced with white lines. And there are also quite a few of the equally attractive white marked leaves of Rattlesnake Plantain a forest dwelling orchid. The pink flowers of Wood’s Rose highlight its low spreading thickets. There are Wild Lilacs, the blue flowered Littleleaf Ceanothus and the white flowered Chaparral Whitethorn. Spires of blue-purple flowered Lupine add more interest. And of course there is a great number of Mountain Dogwood whose leaves explode in color in the fall, while spring is brightened with their large white flowers.
We soon reach a trail junction marked by an impressive Giant Sequoia and a sign that talks about prescribed burns. Out track, the Hart Trail, goes to the left and our return will come in from the right.
Quickly the Hart Trail greets us with another small grove of Giant Sequoia; the trail goes right through them. At about ½ mile we reach Barton Creek and enjoy some water loving plants. Many ferns, grassy Carex, Columbine, and Leopard Lilies inhabit these areas. In another quarter of a mile a second stream crossing greets us and on the far side is the “Log Cabin Tree”, a fallen redwood that was used as a home by an early 1880’s logger. There are more Lilies here, with their feet in the stream.
After the Log Cabin the trail begins to climb to the highest point on the trail. Masses of white flowered Coville’s Groundsmoke soften the sides of the trail. Look for another orchid, the Alaska Rain Orchid with its slender stem and small greenish-white flowers. Also along the trail are stands of Mountain Misery with its fern like foliage. It is a member of the rose family with white flowers in spring. The name comes from the sticky, oily resins that cling to your legs when you walk through them.
There are occasional groups of orange Western Wall Flower and the orange tinged white blossoms of Mountain Collomia. In a wet seep area the yellow and white flowered Streambank Bird’s-foot Trefoil partially covers a fallen log. In clearings with more open light there are stands of Greenleaf Manzanita. Black Oak and Incense Cedar broaden the tree palette. Look for Woodland Stars a slender-stemmed, white flowered member of the Saxifrage family. Golden Brodiaea, a native bulb with open umbels of golden yellow flowers highlights clumps of annuals.
And the annuals are particularly showy in the more open sunny areas of the trail. The gorgeous pink Whisker Brush can carpet the ground in these areas and we pass through several mass plantings. In one area the trail passes below a rocky cliff on the left. There is a wet seep at the base of these rocks and if you are lucky a brilliant display of annuals nestles here. I climbed up to view them more closely (a large planting of Whisker Brush and bright yellow Primrose Monkeyflower) and stumbled upon a clump of Dusky Onion a pale rose-colored native bulb.
Just past this wonderful spot there is another clearing completely covered with the pink Whisker Brush. There are a few white Mariposa Lilies leading up to this area. The trail reaches a high point amidst granite outcroppings with views of the surrounding mountains. Clumps of the white to yellow white Harweg’s Iris add more color to the trail. These are similar to the more well know Pacific Coast Iris but have narrower leaves. We soon pass by Hart Meadow, a large open, sunny field filled with Corn Lily, sedges and many other water loving plants. I wanted to hike out into the verdant area but decided it wasn’t the right thing to do. Let Mother Nature keep some places to herself.
We have seem some great Sequoia so far but just ahead is the best grove, a collection of a dozen or more large trees. It’s hard to capture the size of these trees in a photo; you need something to compare them to. If you try to get the whole tree in the picture, the scale is overwhelming. So I try to put someone in the photo near the trunk of the tree. It is the banner photo at the top.
As the trail continues its gradual descent we come to the Tunnel Tree, a fallen Sequoia with a hollowed out trunk. Continuing through the mixed forest for another ½ mile we arrive at a small waterfall announcing the East Fork of Redwood Creek. This is really a sweet spot. Waterfalls always delight and at its feet are countless gems. There are the felty gray green leaves and white flower stems of Whitestem Hedgenettle. Note the square stems of this mint family relative. Tall Leopard Lilies and Western Columbine add grace to a multitude of ferns and fern allies. There is more Rattlesnake Plantain with white striped leaves. Just leaving the area are good stands of Trail Plant. This is actually one of the most common perennial plants in the forest. Not very showy in flower but it has interesting triangular leaves with a flattened bottom edge. The leaves are green on top and white tomentose below.
After the waterfall the trail drops slowly and very soon reaches a spur on the left that leads to the Hart Tree. It is a short climb up to 2 very large trees and the second one is the 24th largest Sequoia, the Hart Tree. The circumference at the ground is over 75 feet. This is a big tree.
After this encounter with a truly wonderful aspect of nature the trail makes a long downward path toward Redwood Creek. Nearing the creek we find quite a large number of big trees. A good-sized tree, probably a pine, has fallen over the creek and is used as a bridge to cross over. Just to the left before the tree bridge look for groups of Western Azalea with their large white flowers hugging the creek.
After crossing the creek we take the right track, the Redwood Creek Trail, along the water’s edge. Soon the junction with the Sugar Bowl Loop comes in on the left, we go straight. There is another grove on large Sequoia on the right, it’s fun to walk between them and look to the sky.
The final leg of this trip is about 1 ¾ of a mile and leads us back to the parking area. We will follow the creek for a while than begin a steeper climb up the side of the canyon. My old knees are pretty worn out by now but it has been worth it. There are many deep blue Delphinium in the lower section, many more great trees to pass by and the wonder that such places are here to explore.