Headwaters Forest Reserve

  • Picnic
  • Accessible Restrooms
  • Partially Accessible Parking


  • Picnic
  • Accessible Restrooms
  • Partially Accessible Parking


Elk River Rd., Loleta, CA, 95551
North Coast
Info: 707 825-2300
Daily, sunrise to sunset
Off leash
Only allowed the first 3 miles and must be under voice control of the owner at all times, or on leash
Last Visited:
July 2023
Once the setting for a thriving mill town of 400 people, the Headwaters Forest Reserve is now inhabited only by wildlife and fish. The 7,472-acre property was purchased by the Department of the Interior in 1999 to conserve and study the land and its inhabitants and to provide access to the public for recreation. Stands of old-growth redwood and Douglas fir are habitat for the threatened marbled murrelet and northern spotted owl, and threatened coho and chinook salmon can be found in the reserve's streams.

The reserve has two trails, Elk River and Salmon Pass, but the latter is open for guided hikes only (May 15-Nov. 15, reservations required) and has no wheelchair access.

Trails and Pathways

Elk River Trail
Trailhead Location:
Parking lot at the foot of Elk River Rd.
Trail Length:
1-2 total miles
Typical Width:
4 ft. & above
Typical Grade:
Typical Terrain:
Trail Overview: * This trail was reviewed by someone using a rear-wheel motorized wheelchair.

The generally level section of trail follows the South Elk River on an old logging road. Only the first mile is paved; after that the surface is packed gravel, and the terrain becomes more difficult. It's evident from the trees' size that the forest has been logged, and while several large stumps offer a glimpse of their potential size, sadly, they also serve as a reminder of the devastation of old-growth forests. Because this is a relatively young forest, dappled sunlight reaches the trail in many places, while plants characteristic of riparian habitat––willows, maple, alder, ferns––fill the empty spaces. Interpretive panels on metal sculptures that resemble tree branches provide insight into the area's history.

In less than at about .5-mile you reach the education center. Immediately past the center is the steepest segment (10% grade), which lasts for several hundred feet. My motorized chair easily climbed this section, and someone with good upper-body strength should have no problem.

Sounds of flowing water became a soft whisper before I could finally see the river from the trail. Less than half a mile from the education center, the pavement ended by an interpretive sign that explains that if you were standing in this spot in the year 1902, you'd be inside the mill. The unpaved trail becomes narrow and was impassable in my motorized wheelchair.

The first bench is at.5-mile, another is at .75 mile.

More Info: The steepest section (10%) is at .6-mile.

Accessibility Features

The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.
Accessible Parking:
Limited designated accessible parking, van accessible, firm, level or slope no greater than 2%;

The paint designating the accessible space is barely visible and there is no sign.

Accessible Restroom:
Yes – At trailhead and behind the education center about half a mile from trailhead

Accessible Picnic Table:
Yes – firm & stable path to tables, firm & stable surface, 27" or greater knee clearance

Accessible Visitor Center:
Yes – The Headwaters Education Center is .6 mile from the trailhead in a building used 100 years ago by the Falk Mill to store the locomotive that hauled lumber to the mill. It is primarily open for school visits. Interpretive panels describe the reserves ecology and history. For the accessible entrance, go past the building to the dirt and gravel driveway.

User Registration

    Please consider that some funders request this information and it will also help us when applying for grants. This information will not appear anywhere and is confidential.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Welcome back, let’s review
the places you have been to lately.


Fully Accessible

Partially Accessible



You must be registered and logged in to submit a review.

Log in or Sign up