If you’ve never taken a trip to the Redwood National Park (the Redwoods) in northern California and you enjoy nature even in the slightest (I’m talking about just stepping in the backyard for a BBQ), a trip to the Redwoods should definitely be placed on a to do list at some point in your lifetime. Out of all the national and state parks I’ve visited, the Redwoods top my list of favorite parks. You may be wondering, what’s so great about a bunch of trees? Well all I can say is you really have to experience the enchanting nature of the forest for yourself, because even as hard as I tried to capture the essence of the forest through photography, I still don’t feel like I truly did it justice. Standing among the towering giants, it’s honestly a feeling unlike any other.
|Jedediah Smith State Park|
Many people may get confused when traveling to the Redwoods as to what constitutes the national park and what is actually California state park land. I know I did! The redwood forests run along the coast in northern California starting around Crescent City and heading south through Humboldt and Del Norte counties. There are three designated state parks, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park in addition to the national park land, encompassing a total of approximately 133,000 acres. Starting in May of 1994, the National Park Service and California State Parks agreed to cooperatively manage the protected redwood forests, so although the land is technically divided into separate parks, it’s really just one large protected forest. Moreover, after speaking with one of the national park rangers, most of the actual “national” park land is inaccessible.
|Stout Grove Memorial|
On this trip to the Redwoods, we decided to explore Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park near Crescent City, CA. After clarifying the distinction between the parks and picking up several maps at the vistor’s center located just down the road from the entrance to the Jedediah Smith Campground, we crossed the Smith River and drove down an unpaved but well-maintained road to the Stout Grove Memorial.
|Stout Grove Memorial|
Walking down the path into the grove of giant trees, you instantly feel like you’ve stepped into the movie Honey I Shrunk the Kids; basically an ant in a massive backyard.
It’s not until you look around, that you realize your size is still proportionate to other plant and animal life and that, yes, you still rank relatively high on the food chain.
But look up again and you’re right back to feeling like a tiny insect.
If you prefer keeping your eyes on the ground or at least straight ahead, be sure to keep an eye out for four leaf clovers. I found one on my last trip to the Redwoods, but didn’t get quite as lucky this time. The clovers are sprinkled throughout the grove.
In some places, they grow on top of massive fallen logs.
People also take time to leave their mark by carving names into one of the gigantic fallen trees.
Walking around on the circular path through the trees, light streams down in random places casting dark shadows along the way. The forest is so green, that it feels like its imaginary, like you’ve somehow been transported into a CGI created scene.
Fallen logs and uprooted tree trunks allow an up close look at the size of the surrounding giants.
To provide perspective of the tree’s actual size, it’s almost necessary to show someone standing in front them. In the picture below, I’m standing about two to three feet off the ground on the trunk of the tree.
The tree could literally eat us alive.
But no fear. While exploring the mystical forest, it feels way more likely that a fairy will fly up beside you sprinkling fairy dust, than the trees will come alive to have an afternoon snack.
After walking the short 1/2 mile loop trail around the grove, you can head back up the pathway to the parking lot or venture on one of the stray trails into the center of the grove for more exploring. There’s also a trail that follows the river leading out of the grove for further hiking. When exiting the grove, if you have time, it’s worth driving the entire length of the scenic 6.5 mile or so Howland Hill Road. Even though it’s not paved, as long as you have a standard size vehicle, it’s easy to transverse, meandering through the trees. You will ultimately end up on the outskirts of Crescent City.
There’s many words that could be used to describe the redwood forests; enchanting, mystical, colossal or maybe even medieval. But until you stand within the forest, gazing up and all around you, it’s truly difficult to understand the magnitude and significance of this special place. It’s foreign and intimidating, but in a way that invites you in, to explore and enjoy the magical core of the surrounding trees. Don’t forget to look up.
How tall and how old are the coast redwood trees? The sequoia sempervirens are the world’s tallest trees (but not the oldest), some of which are more than 350 feet tall and up to 2,000 years old.
Why do the redwoods grow so tall? Because of large amounts of rain, summer fog, temperate climate, rich soil in river bottom flats, few natural enemies, burl sprouts and wind protection from the other redwoods.
What is the average age of the redwoods? 500 – 700 years old.
How many of the redwoods have been logged in California? Sadly, 96% of the original old-growth coast redwoods have been cut down. Of the remaining old-growth redwoods, 45% is protected within the national and state parks.
Can I camp in the Redwoods? There are four developed campgrounds: the Jedediah Smith Campground, the Mill Creek Campground, the Prairie Campground and the Gold Bluffs Beach Campground (located directly on the ocean, if you’ve always wanted to camp on the beach, this is the spot, but it’s first come, first serve, so get there early!)
Are the annual national park passes honored in the redwood state parks? Yes, as of 2012.
Are pets allowed in the parks? They’re allowed in all road-accessible campgrounds, but not on most of the trails. See NPS.gov for a brochure on specific areas where pets are allowed.
Insider tip: Based on information from a local park ranger, the best time to visit Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park for photography is in the fall when it’s raining and the needles fall from the trees, covering Howland Hill Road.
How do I get there? You can fly into Medford, OR which is approximately 2 hours away or rather 102 miles. Otherwise, San Francisco is about 6 1/2 hours away by car (363 miles) while Portland, OR is about 5 1/2 hours away (321 miles). If you want to see the Oregon or California coast too, you might as well make a road trip out of it!
Where is the Howland Hill Road to Stout Grove Memorial again?