Redwood National Park


Redwood National Park: World’s Tallest Trees

About 20 miles north of the Eureka airport, Redwood National Park is home to ambassadors from the age of dinosaurs, living fossils as tall as 380 feet, or six stories taller than the Statue of Liberty. The Lady Bird Johnson Grove east of Orick is a popular hike. Yet a few miles farther east on Bald Hills Road is the Tall Trees Grove, a lesser known but larger stand of old growth giants. Look up at these towering sentinels along the alluvial flat of Redwood Creek, some approaching 2,000 years in age, and prepare to stop in your tracks, dumbstruck, maybe even weeping.

Notables in the grove include the Libby Tree, once the world’s tallest, whose discovery led to the creation of Redwood National Park in 1968. There’s also Nugget, which now stands taller than Libby, and Melkor, the most massive tree in the park. Give yourself at least half a day for the roundtrip from the Thomas Kuchel Visitor Center, where one can get the required day-pass (free) to access the trailhead road.

As big tree hunters plumb the depths of the park to find monster specimens, hidden in plain sight is one of the most photogenic champ, the Picnic Tree, an old growth giant just a few steps from the Prairie Creek Visitor Center. This massive vertical spire, whose sprawling roots flare around its base like the foot of a prehistoric mastodon, stands along the edge of a pleasant lunch spot next to the Revelation Trail, an easy mile loop trail that showcases some of the most genetically diverse and picturesque old growth redwoods.

From the Prairie Creek Visitor Center, an old redwood cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, be sure to solve the mystery of the so-called Elk Tree, which has fossilized bull antlers poking out of it. From here you can sample perhaps the most rewarding stretch of trails in the park complex, the James Irvine Trail, a 4.5-mile downhill jaunt that, after meandering among some of the sanctuary’s finest old growth redwoods, ends with a flourish at Fern Canyon, one of the most remarkable gorges in the world. Noted as the film site for Jurassic Park 2 and other dino-centric movies, the canyon, its 70-foot sheer walls draped in luxurious ferns, inspires visitors in all seasons.

For something different, drive up Bald Hills Road east of Orick, which looks like anything but a primeval forest. Rather than shady groves, the area is dominated by sunny prairies, with occasional clumps of oaks, once grazed by sheep and cattle. The grassy hillsides, with panoramic views of the redwoods below in the Redwood Creek valley, offer perfect places to picnic, especially when seasonal wildflowers like purple lupines spring up everywhere.

In these and other park meadows and beaches, including those along Highway 101 and the Newton Drury Parkway, visitors often see herds of North America’s largest elk, the Roosevelts, with some bulls weighing as much as half a ton. Open all year, the park has no entrance fee.

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