April 6-7, 2014
Overnight solo trip to check out Austin Creek and the Mannings Flat campsite.
»jump to the pics & details
After entering Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, I drove up Armstrong Woods Road and parked at the Gilliam Creek trailhead. I took the Gilliam Creek trail until its end at the Fox Mountain Fire Road, which I took until it joined up with the East Austin Creek Fire Road. From there I headed into Mannings Flat. 6 miles. On the way out I took the East Austin Creek Fire Road all the way back to the car. 5 miles.
Max elevation: 1552 ft
Min elevation: -30 ft
Total climbing: 2654 ft
Either there was a massive earthquake or my gps unit glitched on the altitude from one day to the next. I believe the second day’s altitude is more accurate.
the way in – Day 1
The Gilliam Creek Trail starts in a shaded copse of trees, but soon emerges into open hills and meadows. After about a mile, the trail slopes down steeply into the Gilliam Creek valley where it stays for the remainder of the trail. At about the 2 mile mark, the trail brushes close to the East Austin Creek Fire Rd, but I stayed on the Gilliam Creek trail. From that point until the junction with the Fox Mountain Fire Road, the trail crosses the creek quite a few times. The first few were easy hops across, but the last 10 were fords in earnest. The level of the creek was between ankle-height and knee-height at these crossings and the width was up to 20 feet. The last 3 crossings were the widest and deepest. They’re at the junction with Fox Mountain Road, then where Fox Mountain Rd meets East Austin Creek Road, and finally just before reaching Mannings Flat.
Mannings Flat campsite is a wide open meadow along the side of the Austin Creek. There are two sites and each has picnic tables, a fire pit, and even an outhouse. After setting up my tent and making camp, I set out to explore the surroundings. The sun was already low in the sky, the lighting in the tree rimmed meadow was warm and the shadows were long. After having a walk around, I made my dinner. My experiment of dehydrating thai red curry and adding powdered coconut milk was an overwhelming success. After dinner, as the light was fading and groups of turkeys gobbled all around me, I crawled into the tent to read a bit before nodding off. Before I let myself fall asleep, though, I poked my head out of the tent to take a look at the stars. The night got down to about 45 degrees and the morning stayed down there until the sun made its way over the tree tops.
the way out – Day 2
Instead of retracing my steps, I took the Austin Creek Fire Road all the way out from the campsite. It wasn’t long before I realized I had ordered my trails unwisely. The Austin Creek Road follows the creek for about a mile, in and out of the shade. After that, it heads steeply upward to a ridge, passing the spur that leads to the Tom King campsite on the way, then it dives back down toward Gilliam Creek. I stopped for a lunch break at the bridge near where the trail brushes by the Gilliam Creek trail. From that point, the trail climbs about 1000 feet over 2 miles of exposed hillside. The temperature was pushing 90º and the air was still, making the climb a warm affair. The spectacular views of the rolling hills to the south and the bursts of color from the wildflowers made me briefly forget the heat and pull out my phone to grab some shots! This site is high on my list to return to once we get into summer and warmer evenings and water would allow for a dunk in the creeks.
No reservations – just drive up to the ranger station at the park entrance and cross your fingers!
$25 for up to 16 people at one site plus $8/car for each car over 1
Campfires allowed if a fire ban is not in place
Dogs are not allowed