No matter how many times you hear about the majestic and grandness of Redwoods National Park, nothing can prepare you for how humbling standing amongst these quiet giants is! The Redwoods are a must-see for everyone.
The Redwoods had always been something we’d really wanted to see. My mom still raves about their majesty decades after her visit to them in her pre-parenthood years. We’d seen pictures of course of the huge trees – the men rappelling down them, looking like ants in comparison to this gargantuan tree. But – like we’ve found elsewhere in our travels – pictures did not do it justice!
Why Redwoods Grow Here
It is no mistake that the California Coast Redwood trees line the Pacific coast. They require milder climates as well as lots of water to grow and thrive. The rainy Pacific Northwest is too cool for their likes, so they only start to appear in the extreme southwestern corner of Oregon and stretch nearly all the way down the California coast about 500 miles to Big Sur in a thin corridor rarely more than 20 or 30 miles wide.
However, they need much more water than the rain provides in this area. What do they do to survive?
We had started to notice a daily pattern: every day around 3-4:00PM, a huge bank of dense fog would roll in from the ocean. It wouldn’t rain, but it would heavily mist everything. These huge regular banks of moisture roll off the ocean and hit the hills of Redwood forests.
There it hits the canopy, condenses, and rains to the forest floor. In the summer, the Redwoods can get up to 50% of their water needs this way! In the winter, the region also receives considerable rainfall.
Redwoods National & State Parks
Formation & Pieces – 50 miles of Parks
The Redwoods used to stretch along the entire California coast, but logging, ranching and development have cleared much of the land they used to conquer.
The Redwoods National Park is a collection of parks that are jointly managed by the California State Park system and the National Park Service. Each area has its own famous mighty trees and groves:
Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park Stout Grove Simpson-Reed Grove Boy Scout Tree Howland Hill Road – beautiful drive through the trees Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park Big Tree Lady Bird Johnson Grove Fern Canyon Tall Trees Grove Bald Hills Road (to get out to Tall Trees Trail – permit required)
National Forest and National & State Recreation Areas also conjoin with the National Park:
- Smith River National Recreation Area
- Six Rivers National Forest
- Lake Earl State Wildlife Area
- Tolowa Dunes State Park
- Harry A Merlo State Recreation Area
- Patrick’s Point State Park
- Humboldt Lagoons State Park
Private lands occur throughout the parks as well, adding to the disjointed feeling of the area. It’s amazing that they have acquired and preserved as much as they have, but much still remains in the hands of private land owners.
Our Redwoods Exploration
Since the park was so long, we started our exploration from Crescent City, CA. We stayed at the Crescent City KOA (link to video review) which was just a few miles from Jedidiah Smith Redwood State Park.
Our first stop was at the Visitor’s Center to figure out what we should see and do, and get acquainted with how this partitioned park worked.
We found the Jedidiah Smith Visitor’s Center seemed a little biased toward their section of the park – which I think is the case for each of the segments! How can you blame them? They loved their trees.
They recommended that we drive Howland Hill Rd, hike Stout Grove and to Boyscout Tree.
Howland Hill Road
This was the first thing we did, and it was amazing. As an introduction to the big Redwood trees, it met and exceeded all of our expectations of Redwoods National Park. Seeing our 1-ton Dually Truck be absolutely dwarfed by the trees gave us chills!
Hiking beneath the canopy of these giants was very different – it could be a beautifully sunny day, but it does not penetrate to the forest floor unless the angle is steep enough. We arrived at the Stout Grove trailhead early in the morning, at the perfect time to have the sunlight stream diagonally through the trees. Everyone on the trail was quiet, walking slowly, gaping in awe.
Boyscout Tree Trail
This trail has everything – big trees, lots of trees, and REALLY big trees! The Boy Scout Trail ranks as one of the top showcases of old-growth redwood forests in existence. It is nearly 240ft tall and is a double-stem tree, meaning two trees have fused together, with a combined width of over 23ft. It’s big.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
We moved slightly south down to Klamath and stayed at Kamp Klamath right on the Klamath River about a mile from where it empties into the ocean. This put us closer to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
We initially wanted to try to hike to Tall Trees where some of the tallest trees in the park are. Hyperion – the tallest tree at 379ft tall – is not too far away. However, the folks at one of the visitors centers pointed out that they are the tallest trees, but not necessarily the biggest/widest, and it is hard to tell how tall they are from the ground – plenty of other “nearly just as big” trees can be found elsewhere in more accessible places.
For Tall Trees you need to get a permit, and we were told it’s easy to get. You just have to show up and ask for it. But it was a several mile drive on rough roads that would take a few hours, then a few hour hike out, then back, then a rough drive back. We didn’t have very promising weather during the time period we were there, so we opted to go to Fern Canyon instead.
This site is famous for being used in the filming of Jurassic Park. It is a canyon that is literally lined with ferns all around!
The hike was very wet – so wear waterproof footwear to do this happily.
Elk Prairie & Elk Meadow
On our way to Fern Canyon we stopped at Elk Prairie near the Visitor’s Center. We were told you are almost guaranteed to see hundreds of elk in this open area. We saw two after a lot of looking – they were bulls laying in the shrubs resting. However, on our way back from Fern Canyon we pulled into Elk Meadow and saw an entire herd of elk!
They were all relaxing in a meadow right next to the parking area. We had never been that close to so many huge wild animals before!
This guy was a biggy. Big Tree is the 15th largest known single-stem coast redwood, the 10th largest known tree in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and the largest tree in Big Tree Grove. He is 304ft tall, 21.6ft wide, and estimated to be over 1,500 years old.
We explore the area around Klamath as well, which frequenters of Highway 101 will remember as the place with the “Trees of Mystery” and the huge Paul Bunyan and Babe the Big Blue Ox standing beside the highway.
We didn’t go into the Trees of Mystery, but did visit the free Native American museum inside the gift shop. They have a fascinating and very comprehensive museum of artifacts, clothing, and history there that is definitely worth a stop.
Our campground Kamp Klamath was just down the road from the mouth of the Klamath river, where we sat and watched dozens of seals and sea lions fishing in the combining waters.
World War II Radar Station
Just a bit further there was an old farmhouse with an interesting history. It actually was a World War II Radar Station disguised as a farmhouse so that the Japanese wouldn’t suspect it. Soldiers did farm chores, etc to blend into the hillside.
The Japanese dropped fire on the Oregon coast trying to knock out their radar stations, but the military and US Government kept the cause of these fire hushed up to prevent panic during WWII. It was a very interesting area – nearly forgotten but for the Redwood trees.
Leaving Redwoods National Park
We were sad to leave Redwoods National Park. The redwood trees were magnificent. They were calming and humbling, and encouraged contemplation. When you look at a Redwood tree, you’re looking at history – literally hundreds of years.
We would highly recommend this area to everyone. The feeling you get when standing beside one of these silent giants is indescribable and just needs to be experienced!
Travel Stage: Working our way south along the West Coast. After the Oregon Coast, before San Francisco
Date Range: November 6 – 13, 2016
Summary: We learn about and visit the famous Redwoods of Northern California!
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