Over the years, I have been to some notable forests—the Giant Sequoias and Bristlecone Pines of California, Hoh Rainforest of Washington, the old growth (think before Antarctica was frozen ‘old’) Beech forests of New Zealand to name a few. However, none are as overwhelming as the Coastal Redwoods of northern California. In July, I got my first taste.
My girlfriend, Candice, and I were halfway through a west coast road trip and were very excited to get out of the car and into the woods for the night. After selecting our campsite on the gravel bars in Redwood Creek near the Tall Trees Grove, and being told by the permitting ranger about the real possibility of fighting a mountain lion in the backcountry, we were (almost) ready to go—just unpacking the car and repacking our backpacks left.
The descent toward the creek is a short, steep portal into a prehistoric time. As you get lower in elevation, the trees become so large that the trail actually tunnels through a downed log! By the time we navigated the heart of the famously impressive Tall Trees Grove, necks sore from gazing upward, we arrived at Redwood Creek. Although it seemed common sense to follow the creek, as we could already see some gravel bars, we followed the trail. After a steep ascent and losing sight of the creek, we looked at each other and decided: back to the creek. The trail crossed an old bridge over a ravine surely leading to the main channel, so we took the opportunity. Though it started out somewhat casual, it soon turned into a questionable route. Thick vines crisscrossed slippery, moss-covered pieces of redwood while steeply descending a cascading creek—it had to lead to the creek and it sure was more exciting than the trail.
At last! After untangling the last of the vines, we were spit out in the crystal clear, warm waters of Redwood Creek. I would take a good river over nearly any other body of water, and this was heaven. Scoping out the ‘perfect site’ involved wading waste deep through sun-warmed water from gravel bar to gravel bar. Perfect site found—home for the night. Now, with no packs, it was time to really explore the Tall Trees Grove.
After all the bushwhacking on the way in, it seemed best to go ahead and follow the creek back instead of the trail. Low and behold, just around the corner (seriously, almost visible from the tent) was the Tall Trees Grove! It was now late in the afternoon, so all day hikers were gone. Being the only humans in this immense forest was humbling, to say the least—eerie, almost. We climbed, scrambled, stared, sat, and listened until it got too dark to see beneath the dense canopy.
The coastal redwoods are truly a spectacular natural wonder. For your visit (which should already be halfway planned at this point!), be sure to dedicate enough time to get lost in the wonder and try to find some spots away from the crowds—it’s worth it.