After 1300 miles of driving for my 70th birthday California Road Trip, we come to the northern California coast to our fifth of five national parks. Previously, we’ve hiked in Sequoia, King’s Canyon, Yosemite, and Lassen Volcanic, in addition to the Hunter Creek Falls trail in Reno, Nevada. Today, it’s the Tall Trees of the Pacific Coast.
Driving 150 miles from Redding, CA in the Central Valley where temperatures this last week in September are in the 90s, we cross the Coast Range to get to Redwood National Park, with its year-round, sublime moderate temps. Winding along route 299, we have one-lane delays as crews are dealing with the aftermath of the late summer wild fires. We see the grey black metal structures left from decimated businesses and trailers and the concrete foundations that are all that’s left of some homes.
Heading north at Eureka on the Pacific coast, we drive 45 miles north to Orick, where the Thomas Kuchel Visitor Center is located, with rangers at the ready. Having been to the Redwoods National Park once before in 1993 with our three kids, Molly, Robyn, and Will, we remember the towering redwoods and the disgusting banana slugs.
Given our desire to hike three hours, the ranger suggests the West Ridge Trail out and the Prairie Creek Trail back for six plus miles of hiking through all the redwoods we could ever want.
He mentions a “trail closed” sign at the start of the return trip on the Prairie Creek Trail. But it’s a Hakuna Matata situation (no worries), for the creek is not high and fording the little water in the stream is not a problem; the sign is for insurance purposes only. In addition, there is also a 100’ section of a massive redwood that has fallen across the trail that must be circumvented. He reassures us that that, too, won’t be an issue.
In the 1960s, legend has it that then Governor Ronald Reagan said, If you have seen one redwood, you have seen them all. From my research, that does appear to be exactly true. It is more likely he said, You know a tree is a tree. How many more do you need to look at? It seems Reagan was trying to balance the interests of the lumbering industry with those wanting to protect our disappearing natural resources. His speech writer must have taken the afternoon off.
What is a fact is that 95% of all old growth redwoods have been logged. And the few pockets of redwoods, all of which are along the Pacific Coast from Big Sur, south of San Francisco, to southern Oregon, are all we have left.
On a sunny 65F afternoon, we take to West Ridge Trail with its 700’ of elevation gain, which is primarily a stout climb at the start. Among these numerous redwood giants, the mostly dirt trails are occasionally covered with pine needles and crossed by smoothed, exposed roots. It couldn’t be a better massage of our hiking feet than if Dr. Scholl herself were caressing our feet. (I’m guessing the good doctor is/was female.) [A valued reader sent me a link to WILLIAM Scholl. Who knew? Click here for the full story of the good doctor.]
At the start of the steady climb, we find it a workout. But after hiking at 7000’ at Lassen yesterday, this trail is not oxygen-starved as we hike at 100’ above sea level. The trail is Mohammed Ali-like (it bobs and weaves throughout the mountainside of angled terrain), which may be the reason it was saved from the 19th and 20th century loggers.
Hiking over two mph, we then arrive at the Zig Zag #1 trail, the link trail to the Prairie Creek Trail. Zig zag it does, as we switchback down the 700’ of elevation gain to the trail along the Prairie Creek that will take us back to the visitor center.
Soon finding the river crossing where once there was a bridge, we take to using well-placed stones to cross a creek that is no more than a few inches deep. After 3+ hours of driving through mountains to the coast and now two hours into our hike, the level trail back is just what our tired bodies need.
Along the trail, Hannah spots a fallen giant redwood with light at the far end. She and I walked through a Sequoia in King’s Canyon earlier in the week, and she wants to hang the pelt of walking through a redwood to her wall as well. Scampering through without delay, she rejoins me on the creek trail.
The trail continues to be easy on the feet: dirt, without rocks and maybe a root or two. Nearly two and a half hours in, we arrive at the fallen king-size redwood. Chainsaws have not sliced and diced it because it’s still the nesting season of the marbled murrelet.
Skirting the trail to the left as many have done, with each other’s help, we stretch enough to step up and over the fallen timber. All a part of supporting each other for now 45 years.
At this point, there is no joy in Mudville as we both are just ready to be done. No longer do the redwoods hold any majesty as we put one damn foot ahead of the other to just make it to the trailhead.
Nearly three hours after our start, we return to the Elk Meadow by the Visitor’s Center. On cue, the obedient elk appear and munch away for our viewing pleasure.
It turns we are tough graders.
Redwoods National Park earns the bronze on our list of impressive redwood parks. The gold goes to the boardwalk trail of redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument, fifteen miles north of San Francisco (Click here and here for these blogs).
The silver is the little known but amazing Big Basin Redwoods State Park near our friends Tammy and Mike in Boulder Creek, near Santa Cruz (60 miles south of San Francisco) (Click here for that blog).
That said, bronze gets you on the medal stand.
Driving an hour south from the park on The 101 to our Clarion Inn in Eureka, we celebrate, as only we can, by tapping a fine boxed merlot to celebrate our afternoon among the northern California redwoods.
If you are thinking, these are two wine connoisseurs, you couldn’t be more right.