The Darlingtonia Trail in the Smith River National Recreation Area of Six Rivers National Forest is on the north side of Highway 199. You’ve likely seen the sign for “Botanical Trail” when traveling Highway 199 to and from Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and the California coast near Crescent City.
The short trail is well worth exploring (and it’s wheelchair accessible). You get a chance to stretch your legs, but more importantly, the 0.2 mile flat and easy trail has several interpretive panels that explain the nature of the serpentine geology that’s so common in Smith River National Recreation Area. You’ll learn how this serpentine geology affects plant life and explains the presence of Darlingtonia californica, also known as California pitcher plant and cobra lily.
Darlingtonia Trail Key Data
Distance: 0.2 mile
Type: Day hike
Elevation gain: negligible
High point: 570 feet
Season: year round
Contact: Smith River National Recreation Area Visitor Center in Gasquet, California
Maps: USGS Gasquet, Smith River National Recreation Area map with hiking trails
Darlingtonia Trailhead GPS coordinates: N 41 51.002 W 123 54.429
Notes: dogs allowed; wheelchair accessible; a brochure containing much of the same information found on the trailside interpretive panels is available at the Smith River National Recreation Area Visitor Center in Gasquet, or you can download it here
Darlingtonia Trail Trailhead Directions
The trailhead is on the north side of US Highway 101. Look for the sign 17.9 miles northeast of the junction of US Highway 101 with US Highway 101, 3.5 miles east of the Smith River National Recreation Area Visitor Center on the east side of Gasquet. If you’re coming from the north, it’s 15.6 miles southwest of the the south end of the Collier Tunnel and 1.1 miles west of Grassy Flat Campground.
Hiking the Darlingtonia Trail
The Darlingtonia Trail (2E01) is a 0.2 mile loop. Doing it clockwise will quickly bring you to the interpretive panels and the two platforms that give you up-close views of the Darlingtonia bogs. Make sure you stay on the trail and do not pick or touch any of the cobra lilies.
Serpentine Soils of the Smith River National Recreation Area
This spot (along with much of the Smith River National Recreation Area) has serpentine soils. Serpentine rocks degrade over time into serpentine soils, which have especially high concentrations of cobalt, chromium, and nickel, and especially low concentrations of calcium and potassium. This combination is toxic to many plant species, while other species survive in more stunted forms, and some have evolved to thrive in serpentine conditions.
Look for these common tree and shrub species: Douglas fir, incense cedar, Port Orford cedar, sugar pine, Jeffrey pine, canyon live oak, tanoak, madrone, California laurel (myrtle, California bay), huckleberry, coffeeberry, Labrador tea, western azalea, manzanita, blue-blossom ceanothus. You’ll also see a variety of wildflowers, including lupine and trillium.
Darlingtonia californica = California pitcher plant = cobra lily
Three names for the same plant! Relatively uncommon, it grows in bogs and seeps on a variety of soils, including serpentine soils, in Northern California and western Oregon. “Cobra lily” comes from the resemblance of the “head” of the plant to a cobra. Darlingtonia californica is also a carniverous plant: it traps insects and then secretes enzymes to digest them.
Nearby Hike: French Hill Trail in Gasquet
There’s another trail nearby that leaves from US Highway 199: the French Hill Trail across the road from the Smith River National Recreation Area Visitor Center. In contrast to the Darlingtonia Trail, it climbs for nearly all of its 2.8-mile length to French Hill Road. See my French Hill Trail blog post for a detailed discussion, including a map and photos.
Your Take: Darlingtonia Botanical Trail
Have you done it? What did you think?