Back in 2013 a friend and I made a quick trip through Redwood National Park in northwest California. Our visit here was too short, so last summer when my wife and I were in the area we made a point to spend most of a day here. Our trip picked up where the last one left off, along the scenic Pacific coast near Orick, CA.
This park encompasses almost 40 miles (64 km) of gorgeous shoreline as well as rugged mountains, lush meadows, and dense wet forests. Here the ocean and the adjacent peaks work together to create ideal environments for abundant life. As water evaporates and moves onshore, it reaches the prominent coast range along the western edge of the Klamath and Siskiyou Mountains. As the moisture-laden clouds are forced upward, they dump their precious cargo of water on the western flanks of these peaks, leading to a wealth of life-sustaining rainfall.
A wide variety of ferns, lichens, and wildflowers benefit from this plentiful moisture. In most areas beautiful plants like Pacific rhododendrons (Rhododendron macrophyllum, Ericaceae) seem to cover every square inch of these verdant hills.
The plants that benefit most from rain and fog here, however, are the coast redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens, Cupressaceae) that cover the slopes. These trees are the tallest on earth, growing to between 300 and 400 feet in height (91-122 m) and living for over 2000 years. It’s only the unique combination of ocean moisture, coastal mountain slopes, and moderate temperatures that allows these trees to flourish on this thin strip of land from Monterey Bay to southern Oregon.
From the coast near Orick we made a beeline to the Tall Trees Grove to the east. This spot hosts the biggest of the redwoods including “Hyperion,” the tallest known tree at 379.3 feet (115.61 m). The entire Tall Trees Grove is relatively protected and access is somewhat limited. It can be reached by hiking over ten miles across trails from the coast, or through a shortcut along the gated Tall Trees Access Road off of Bald Hills Road. You have to request a permit from a visitor center to get onto this road, but permits only rarely run out during even the busiest of summer days.
Like many national parks, Redwood has a variety of warnings about black bears posted near trailheads. Although sightings are relatively uncommon, they do happen. Beyond the gate on the Tall Trees Access Road, my wife and I were fortunate enough to see a large black bear run down the dirt road ahead of us. Although it happened too quickly to get a photo, it was pretty remarkable and memorable.
The trail was pretty busy on this July day, but “busy” is a relative term. The modest parking area was almost full but still contained only about a dozen vehicles. We didn’t see anyone else as we traveled along the approximately 1.5 miles (2.4 km) that descended about 500 feet (152 m) toward the Tall Trees Grove.
The peace and quiet was welcome as we took in the impressive surroundings of the forest. With no other humans around us to disturb the serenity, it was only the chipmunks that occasionally punctuated the silence with their calls.
All along the trail a variety of ferns blanketed the rich forest soil.
In one spot a massive tree had fallen across the trail. Rather than try to remove it, trail maintenance workers just carved a tunnel through it.
Once down in the grove itself, it was humbling to be in the presence of the tallest of the tall trees. Walking around the short loop trail it was easy to get a stiff neck from staring upward in amazement.
At one point the loop trail through the grove passed near a wide opening in the forest along Redwood Creek. From this vantage point it was impressive to see the scale of the redwoods against the rest of the landscape.
Redwood is one of my favorite national parks for a variety of reasons. It has ocean shoreline, rugged mountain trails, dense forests, abundant wildlife, and the tallest trees on earth, all among one of the most remote areas of the country. Exploring this beautiful and interesting region makes for a great adventure, and is well worth the time.