Chris and I got up close and personal with the world’s oldest living trees at the Bristlecone Pine Forest and meandered through groves of the world’s largest trees at Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park. While the ancient bristlecone pines and massive sequoia trees thrive in the high altitude mountains of Southern California, the tall redwood trees tower over the foggy coasts of Northern California; no matter where we are in California we’re not far from the world’s largest (and oldest) trees!
As Bay Area natives, plenty of my friends and I have driven past the Redwood National and State Parks at least once in our lives, but none of us had actually spent quality time at these parks. Since I had the desire to cross off another national park on my list, Chris and I made a quick road trip up north to spend a couple days oohing and aahing in the lush redwood forests.
First things first—I found free “dispersed” camping along Redwood Creek in Orick; we turned onto Bald Hills Road and made the second right onto an unpaved road. From Bald Hills Road, the entrance down to the creek appeared unforgiving; however, the entrance turned out to be a steep, washed out, and rutted “driveway” of dirt and gravel suitable for a 4×4 vehicle. We made it in okay, and to our relief, ended up making it out okay too. Tip: Avoid if you are towing!
For our first full day of redwood trees-exploring, we started off with the 11.6-mile Miners’ Ridge and James Irvine Loop trail from the Prairie Creek State Park visitor center. This trail’s variety of environments that unfold from dense forest to undeveloped coastline to verdant creek valley makes it one of the most highly regarded redwood hikes.
Hiking along Prairie Creek and the Miners’ Ridge trail:
The open Gold Bluffs Beach:
Avoiding getting our feet wet at the fern canyon (slightly wilted due to the winter season):
Returning via the James Irvine trail:
After completing this hike in the morning, we finished the afternoon by partaking in a couple of the park’s scenic drives. First we drove north through the park’s Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway until we reached Coastal Drive Loop near Klamath. The highlight of Coastal Drive Loop is the High Bluff Overlook:
Once we finished awing at the panoramic vistas of the Pacific we made a quick detour to Klamath for the kitschy $5 Tour Thru Tree for this classic photo opp:
Then we continued north to Requa, where we enjoyed one final view at the Klamath River Overlook. From there, we observed the Klamath River spill out over the sand bar and into the ocean.
On our second day in the parks, we retrieved free permits from the visitor center to drive down the gated access road to hike to the Tall Trees Grove. This access road is unpaved and narrow and leads to a tiny parking lot, which limits the trailhead to a 50-visitors-per-day cap. To get to the Tall Trees Access Road, we first had to dodge some traffic on Bald Hills Road:
We drove up Bald Hills Road, turned onto the access road, unlocked the gate with the combination number the ranger had given us, and drove 7 miles down to the trailhead. From the trailhead, it’s a 1.5-mile hike down to the Tall Trees Grove, a 1-mile loop, and a 1.5-mile hike back up to the parking lot.
Hiking down the Tall Trees Trail:
The Tall Trees Grove, home to some of the tallest trees in the world:
In addition to the tall redwood trees, fluorescent moss-covered oaks loomed nearby too.
After paying homage to the tallest trees, we returned to camp via Bald Hills Road, hitched up our trailer, and miraculously exited the dispersed camping area without hiccups. Before exiting the park we made one more little hike to the park’s Big Tree. We returned to the Prairie Creek visitor center, parked, and hiked a short 3-mile loop up along the Prairie Creek Trail to the Big Tree and back down via the Foothill Trail.
Once our hearts were filled with tall-trees content, we finished off our redwoods tour with a brief stop at the nearby Patrick’s Point State Park, perhaps the only state park packed within a square mile of land.
It’s hard to believe that the logging of redwood trees was an issue through the early 1980s–that’s within Chris’s lifetime! 95% of California’s old-growth redwood trees have been logged and the 5% remaining trees are protected by the national and state parks. Thanks to conservation efforts, these natural wonders will be preserved for future generations to enjoy. Fairytale forests, mysterious fog, rugged beaches, roaming elk, and the world’s tallest trees–what’s there not to love?