Let’s head on out to the misty coasts of Northern California to gaze up at the tallest living organisms on the planet.
How to get there: Fly into Redding, CA, or Medford, OR and then head to the coast. Or drive on out and create an unforgettable road trip by adding in nearby parks such as Crater Lake and Lassen Volcanic, along with the immense volcano Mount Shasta.
Where to stay: There are campsites within the park, but they are expensive and usually a challenge to obtain without reservations. I ended up staying at the KOA in Crescent City. It was cheaper, had more amenities, and also had an enclosed dog park, a priceless feature if you are bringing your furry buddy along.
Highlights: As the park’s name suggests, it’s the trees who are the stars in this park. Sequoia sempervirens, known commonly as the California redwood, aren’t as massive as their cousins the Sequoia, but they reach greater heights. The moisture blowing in from the ocean bathes these trees in a near constant watery mist, providing the necessary water for their otherworldly expansion. They can live for 2,000 years, stretch skyward up to 380 feet, and have bark over a foot thick; there is nothing ordinary about redwoods.
The park itself is a jurisdictional jambalaya of state and federal lands. Instead of one continuous polygon of parkland, the different sections are scattered, allowing you to hop from grove to grove as you head up and down the coast. Be sure to take a stroll through the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, dedicated by the former first lady. A gentle hiking trail takes you in amongst the arboreal giants, and the fresh fragrance of cool coastal air adds to the sense of purity. Songbirds chirp and dance above you, providing a natural soundtrack for your amble. There are plenty of other groves, so redwood wonder is not in short supply.
As you move through the park, keep alert for Roosevelt Elk, the largest subspecies of elk in the U.S. They can be found in meadows browsing at the edges or even hiding in the tall grass, so be careful where you walk, for you do not want to get too close to these hulking ruminants, especially when their calves are nearby.
What at first looked like one bull elk laying in the weeds soon turned out to be much more.
One by one, cows, calves, and other bulls popped up from their beds and moved to the meadow’s edge to munch on the tasty brush.
Finally, head to the ocean for scenic views and historical landmarks. There are long stretches of open beach to explore and comb. Keep a look out for seals, whales, and sea birds as you take in the ocean’s grandeur.
Hidden within all of the natural beauty of the Redwood area is an historical gem. By driving a narrow dirt road that hugs the coastal bluffs, you come to a small collection of wooden farm buildings. From a distance they appear to be nothing more than relics from the region’s pastoral history, but as you walk closer, something is amiss.
The wooden siding and roofs of the buildings are revealed to be nothing more than a thin shell for the cinderblock structures underneath. For the Army during WWII, this was camouflage.
This fake farmstead was in reality the Klamath River Radar Station B-71, built as an early warning radar system. Instead of cows and chickens, these farm buildings housed radar, a power station, and anti-aircraft guns. If a Japanese sub or planes were detected, this station could send a signal and planes could be dispatched from the San Francisco Bay area. This neat bit of history is worth a stop if you have the time.
Overall: Redwood National Park isn’t just big trees, but they are the reason to visit and the reason to linger. If the climate continues to change, these trees may not survive, so go see them while you can. They’ve been waiting 2,000 years for you to pay a visit.