Willow Creek Road Trail: Let summer hiking begin

Michael Combs, Editor

Willow Creek Road Trail in Occidental provides a good warm-up for a summer of hiking with a mellow trek through the coastal hills and redwoods one person can blaze-through or a group can dally. 

This is a 9.4 mile out and back trail with an elevation gain of 1,445 ft. that Alltrails.com rates as moderate. Most people with average health, age 13 and up can do this hike, but it will get anyone a little sweaty and breathing harder. The first half to the creek is all downhill so all the climbing is done on the way back. 

To get to Willow Creek Road Trail, go down Willow Creek Road in Occidental until you reach a private logging road. Park next to the private road and hike an extra 0.5 miles down to the trail head, which is marked by a swinging pole sign. 

The trail starts out with little cover and offers nice views of the coastal hills that sit east of Shell Beach. As you get closer to Willow Creek at the bottom of the trail, you’ll start seeing redwood groves and eventually be immersed in a canopy.

The area has a network of trails, with a few connecting onto Willow Creek Road Trail. Most of the side trails can be used to find shady resting spots along the main trail, but since there is privately owned land nearby, it’s advised not to stray off trail. Most people will want to chill when they get to the bottom by the creek anyway. Willow Creek is super relaxing with the sound of the moving water and constant slight breeze through the redwood trees. Ferns and clovers cover the side of the trail, offering pleasant greenery to the scenery. But beware, poison oak also lines the trail, so watch what you reach for. 

One connecting trail with a sign that is easy to spot is the Upper/Lower Barn Loop Trail, which is about two miles. It doesn’t add much length to the hike and only about a 100 ft. extra elevation gain and leads you past an old, rusty barn. The loop reconnects with the Willow Creek Road Trail about a half a mile past the creek. 

Taking on the trail can take anywhere from 3-5 hours of hiking time depending on the speed you hike. The trail is well-maintained and flat so light hiking shoes or tennis shoes are fine. The temperature can vary since parts of the trail are wide open to the sun, but feel air-conditioned under the redwoods, so it’s up to you if you want to bring any warm layers or wind protection. This is also a biking trail, so if you go with kids make sure they are aware of that, but most bikers are polite and watchful for hikers.