It’s always great to go hiking in the forest; but when the forest is composed of trees that are hundreds of years old and many are over 300 feet tall, it becomes a truly magical experience. In addition to protecting ocean beaches, oak prairies, and rivers, Redwood National and State Parks also protects the trees for which it is known – the Coastal Redwoods, the tallest trees on Earth. I began my exploration of this ancient forest with a brief stop at the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center in order to obtain a permit to explore the Tall Trees Grove, home to the Libbey Tree, which, at one time, was the world’s tallest known living thing.
Part of the reason I chose to visit the Tall Trees Grove first is because it is one of the most difficult groves to reach. Though the permit is free, a limited number of cars per day are allowed entry in order to protect the grove. Once you obtain your permit, it’s a 45-minute drive to the trailhead (though you lose the majority of any traffic you have at Lady Bird Johnson Grove which is also accessed via Balk Hills Road). Once you have unlocked the gate (using the secret combination provided with your permit), drive through and re-locked the gate, it is now an approximately 6-mile drive down a dusty logging road to the parking area for the trailhead. Then you begin your hike of 1.3 miles to the grove.
Once you start hiking, the trail descends pretty quickly and is lined with a dense ground cover of ferns and an under story full of wild rhododendrons, huckleberry and small redwoods.
As the trail continues down towards the main attraction, you begin to get a sense of the size of these trees when you pass through a “tunnel” that has been cut from the trunk of one of the massive giants that fell across the trail.
The trail levels out as you reach the highlight of the hike; Tall Trees Grove, a rather narrow growth of Coastal Redwoods. Far removed from the vehicular noise that occurs along many of the groves along Highway 101, the only sound you hear in the Tall Trees Grove is the creaking of the tall trees as they sway in the wind and the twittering of the birds as they make their homes in the branches.
The Coastal Redwoods are not the only thing you will see in the Tall Trees Grove. Ferns reach almost 5 feet in height, Redwood Sorrel (Oxalis oregana) carpets the forest floor leaving smaller paths to guide one to the trunks of the giants that dominate the forest. As you get closer to Redwood Creek (a great spot for a snack/lunch) the trail passes through Big Leaf Maples, their trunks covered with moss making it seem like they are covered in green hair.
Before long, it is time to start the trek back to your car. Be prepared for a steady climb and a deceptively steep grade as you make your way back up to the trail head. However, if you get tired and need a break, there are plenty of rest stops along the way.
Until the next adventure….