Redwood National Park

Hiking the Tall Trees Trail

NOTE: I use a fixed format for the Dog Blog. The photos that I embed in the text are either 400x300 or 300x400 pixels. When you click on the photos (and you really should) you get the full resolution version. I always crop the full size version to the same aspect ratio so that it is identical to the embedded photo, just bigger. But that doesn't do the redwoods justice. So for the posts about our trip to the redwood country, I kept many of the full size photos at their original resolution. Even with wider and taller photos it's hard to capture the scale of the redwood trees. So do click on the pictures and enjoy the full size of the giant trees. /NOTE

The redwoods in the far northern part of California are protected in a combination of a national park and three state parks. Del Norte Coast, Jedediah Smith and Prairie Creek are state parks that were protected in the 1920's and contain some of the most spectacular old growth redwood forest left. Redwood National Park wasn't established until 1968. The national park is about 80% second growth forest but is centered on one grove of very tall trees that were discovered in the 1960's. (In this case, "discovered" means that measurements were made that established that the grove had some of the tallest trees on earth.) What is unique about the national park is that it contains the entire watershed so that it can be managed to help protect and preserve the old growth redwoods.

Lots of rings - this tree is even older than me

The parks are managed together by the National Park Service and the California State Parks. That makes a lot of sense from an ecosystem point of view but it means that they are referred to collectively by the unwieldy monker of "Redwood National and State Parks". That's a mouthful to say. Heck, the name barely fits on a baseball cap or tshirt.

Our first few days of hiking had been in the state parks. On our last day, we wanted to go to the national park and hike through the Tall Trees Grove. That isn't completely straightforward. The watershed is managed very carefully to protect the trees. The only trailhead close enough to make it a day hike is at the end of a narrow dirt road that has strictly controlled access. There is a very small parking area at the trailhead so the park service only allows fifty vehicles per day. Large RV's and trailers are not allowed to drive on the access road at all because there is nowhere for them to park or to turn around.

To do the hike, we needed to get one of the limited permits that the Park Service gives out each day. You can obtain them at the main park visitor center near Orick. You can only get them on the day of your hike. You can't get them online. You can't get them ahead of time. You can't make reservations. They are given out on a first come, first served basis. Since the redwood parks hadn't been that crowded on this trip, we were optimistic that we could get a permit.

The Tall Trees Grove was almost like rain forest

We weren't quite hard core enough to camp out overnight at the door to the visitor center to make sure that we were first in line. We did get there half an hour before they opened and were glad to see that there wasn't already a line. Well, at least not much of one. There was one couple already waiting. We chatted with them and found out that they were staying at the campground just behind the visitor center. By the time the ranger came to open the door at 9 am there were ten or twelve people waiting. Not bad since that would only be about five vehicles. Plenty of permits to go around.

Before we could get our permit we had to sit through a ranger briefing. I had a flashback to my Fiery Furnace hike. The ranger told us to allow lots of time for the trip. With the drive it took most of the day. I guess they didn't want to waste permits on people who drove half way there and then gave up and turned around. She emphasized that we should stay on the trail to avoid damaging the roots of the trees. Finally, she gave us the combination to the locked gate at the entrance to the access road.

Turns out that Sandy is a treehugger

Amazingly even though the park service only allows fifty vehicles on the access road, even in summer they don't run out of permits except on weekends. Amazing that there are so few visitors to such an incredible place. Toto, I don't think we're in Yosemite anymore.

We left right away, hoping that we would be the first on the trail. It took us an hour to drive to the trailhead. First we drove US101 through Orick and turned onto Bald Hills Road. It's a good dirt road that runs along the northern boundary of the national park, but it is a slow drive as it winds and climbs up to a ridgecrest high above Redwood Creek.

We stopped at a viewpoint to get a birds-eye view of the area where we would be hiking. There was one other car parked there and the driver approached us. He said that he had a flat tire and that he had stripped the lugnuts while trying to change it. Definitely not a good thing. Since there was no cell service here in the park he wondered if we had seen a ranger anywhere who could help. No, we hadn't. I suppose that if I was a really good guy I would have offered to drive him someplace where he could get a tow truck. That would have been a long way though and would have taken us most of the day. I rationalized that since a lot of tourists drove up to the viewpoints, it wouldn't be long before someone came along that was going down anyway. Surely he could get a lift from them. I promised the guy that I would tell a ranger about his problem if I saw one, but I doubted that would be the case. I only felt slightly guilty as we drove away.

Another banana slug - this one looks overripe

When we reached the turn off for the access road, another car had just gone through and they were trying to close the gate. When they saw us coming they just left it open. Ok, I didn't have to figure out how to open it. When I tried to close it though I couldn't figure out how the latch worked. Fortunately at that moment another car pulled up behind us. Whew! I politely (and conveniently) left the gate open for them and we drove off down the road.

The road dropped about half way down the ridge to the trailhead. As we were driving we passed a pickup truck with NPS markings which I flagged down. There were two rangers and I told them about the guy at the viewpoint with the flat tire. They said they had seen him but when they were there he thought he could change his tire ok. When I told him about the stripped lugnuts the ranger rolled his eyes and said they would go check it out.

Sure enough, when we got to the end of the road there was limited space to park, but few cars. After finding a spot we headed off down the trail. It wasn't a very long hike, about four miles total. It dropped seven hundred feet from the trailhead to the grove, which left a moderate climb for us on the return. The loop around the grove was a flat mile and a half.

A group of tall trees

On the way down the hill we came across another banana slug on the trail. This one had an unusual black and yellow coloring that I had never seen before. It kind of looked like an overripe banana. I still think it's cool when I see banana slugs on a hike.

In the 1960's the tallest tree in the world was in the Tall Trees Grove. Since then, that tree has lost about ten feet from its top. Other trees have been discovered since then that are even taller. It was still amazing to walk through the grove. There were a lot of really, really tall trees. It was awe inspiring.

After the hike it was time for lunch again. We decided to do some more exploring. We drove further south and had lunch at Lost Coast Brewery in downtown Eureka. The food was good and we enjoyed their beer as well. They even had colorful tshirts so I got one. I was pleased about that since I didn't have many chances to get tshirts on this trip.

A redwood towers over the other trees

On the way back to our hotel we made one final stop in Redwood National Park at the Lady Bird Johnson grove. The former first lady campaigned heavily for the establishment of the park and earned having a grove of old growth trees named for her. It was a short hike, only a mile and a half. Even after three full days of hiking in the redwoods though, we were still impressed. Maybe at some point we would become jaded but the giant trees still seemed amazing.

Afterwards we spent a quiet night at our hotel in Klamath. The next day we had an uneventful drive home.

When we were at the visitor center at Redwood National Park I bought a book called The Wild Trees by Richard Preston. I read it as soon as I got back since I wanted to learn more about the redwoods. The book was ok but not great. I did learn more about redwoods, but it really isn't a science book. It tells a lot of stories about the people who have discovered the big redwoods and who work to study them. I enjoy books about scientists too, that humanize the science by telling about the people who do it. But this book was more like reading People magazine than a serious science book (and I don't like People magazine). I did learn about how people study redwoods and what they have learned. But I also learned, among other things, how to have sex three hundred feet high in the canopy of a redwood tree. Somehow I doubt that will ever come in handy.

Overall it was a great trip. The redwoods were incredible and after our trip to Yosemite we were pleased that the parks weren't very crowded. Highly recommended.