Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve is a beautiful area full of towering redwoods and stunning Rhododendron blooms (during the right time of year). The blooms normally happen from mid-April to mid-June, which is the best time to go if you want to see the flowers. However, even during the rest of the year, the Rhododendron Reserve is still a stunning place for a nice hike. The reserve has a few miles of hiking trails and is a fantastic place to explore on a Highway 1 road trip. Here is all the information on the park’s 2 mile loop.
- 2 miles
- 400 feet of elevation
- Dirt road to reach the trailhead (fine with 2WD car)
- Dogs allowed
- Location: Kruse Ranch Rd, Cazadero, CA 95421
The Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve is located off Highway 1, about 20 miles from the town of Jenner. The reserve can be accessed by turning on Kruse Ranch Road and heading back 1 mile, most of which is on a gravel road. You will see a small parking area on both the left and right side at the one mile mark, and you can park your car here to begin the trail.
Rhododendron Loop Trail
If you are short on time, the Rhododendron Loop Trail is a tenth of a mile and takes you on a short loop through the reserve. Here you can see a decent amount of the Rhododendron flowers if they bloom, which is great for a quick stop. If you want a longer trail though, read on.
Chinese Gulch Trail
From the Rhododendron Loop Trail, the Chinese Gulch Trail leaves and heads about a mile through the reserve before it connects with the Phillips Gulch Trail.
This trail is stunning as it heads through redwood trees and is shaded pretty much the entire time.
The trail almost immediately goes up, and you will gain most of the first half of the trail’s elevation here.
As it heads up, you cross multiple footbridges and head back into the reserve.
As you head back, the scenery is stunning, with scenes that feel like something out of the movie Jurassic Park.
The Rhododendrons are fewer here, but you will see them as you continue back. Be sure to look up as many of them are situated higher than you would think.
As you descend from the trail’s high point, you will reach the dirt road that crosses through the reserve and head over it onto the Phillips Gulch Trail.
Phillips Gulch Trail
This trail is just as stunning as the Chinese Gulch Trail, with towering redwoods around every bend.
You may also see small collections of Rhododendron here, but there was even less on this trail than on the Chinese Gulch Trail.
This trail was also wonderful for the different redwood “family circles” you could see.
These circles are formed after the main tree drops seeds and dies, and other trees grow around it, creating a circle. I have never seen so many family circles as I have on this section of the trail.
The trail continues heading down for a while before it starts an uphill push right at the end.
Here you will gain about 150 feet of elevation in a tenth of a mile, a steep hike up to the parking area.
Eventually, you will see the parking lot and be back at the start of the trail. I hope you can experience this trail like we did, with sparse but beautiful Rhododendron around the reserve. Let me know what you think of it if you get the chance to go.