Redwood National Park
1111 Second Street
Crescent City, CA 95531707-464-6101
What's 2,000 years old and more than 300 feet tall? Visit Redwood National Park, and you'll find out. Home to some of the world's tallest old-growth coast redwoods, this beautiful site blankets 37 miles of the northern California coastline. You'll find spruce, hemlock, Douglas-fir, berry bushes, and sword ferns as well as an abundance of woodland creatures traversing mighty rivers and streams. From kayaking to camping to birdwatching, this national park offers loads of recreational activities for kids and adults alike.
Entrance fees: Admission is free.
Visitor centers: Prairie Creek Visitor Center and Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center are open year-round. Jedediah Smith Visitor Center is open from late May to late September.
Other services: Two information centers and four campgrounds
- Jedediah Smith Campground. Open year-round. Some reservations are available. 800-444-PARK.
- Elk Prairie Campground. Open year-round. Some reservations are available. 800-444-PARK.
- Gold Bluffs Beach Campground. Open year-round. Some reservations are available. 800-444-PARK.
- Mill Creek Campground. Open from late May to mid-August.
- DeMartin Redwood Youth Hostel. Open year-round. 707-482-8265.
Visiting Redwood National Park
Redwood National Park is a magnificent forest of startlingly immense proportion. Full-grown adults look like miniature toy figures next to these great trees that soar 30 stories into the sky, higher than any other living things on earth.
To put their height in perspective, the redwoods are taller than the distance from the base to the torch of the Statue of Liberty. The first branches of these trees begin 100 to 200 feet above the spongy, forest floor. They form a delicate green canopy that seems to push the blue sky even higher than it usually seems in the West.
California's mighty redwood trees, many now living in their second millennia, are the last large stands of these monumental conifers that flourished all across North America during the lush, humid period before the last ice age.
Here, near the Pacific Ocean, the gentle climate still sustains them. The mighty trees grow in dense groves in a fog belt along the coast, especially in the canyons and river valleys that open directly to the ocean.
There are many ways to explore the amazing beauty of these natural giants, from camping under their canopies to horseback riding to kayaking the park's rivers and streams. See the next section for more information on these and other recreational activities.
Sightseeing at Redwood National Park
Of all the wonderful redwood groves scattered along the California coast, the finest are preserved in Redwood National Park. Here one may take a walk back in time to that distant age when redwoods were found abundantly across North America.
There is a sense of timelessness in the groves, of trees that were seedlings when Julius Caesar took his ill-fated walk to the Forum and of a ground sanctified through age and beauty.
It is always twilight under the thick canopy of the redwood forests, always April cool, with the morning freshness of the biblical garden. Black-tailed deer and Roosevelt elk graze among the giant sword ferns, and hermit thrushes call out from the dense thickets. Rabbits feed in grassy clearings while bobcats watch with eyes like polished topaz.
An abundance of superb hiking trails are also found in the park. The best of these may be the Coastal Trail, which offers a quiet walk through the towering redwood groves near the Pacific shore side of the park.
Inland, visitors will find many good trails among the streams and rivers. Redwood National Park also protects 40 miles of northern California sea coast, where colony-dwelling sea birds, rotund sea lions, and playful seals live.
Redwood National Park Photo Opportunities
While every inch of this park is truly a natural wonder, there are some must-see sights to capture with your camera, including:
- Tall Trees Grove: This grove is home to a tree dubbed the "Tall Tree," which once measured nearly 367.8 feet. Unfortunately, the Tall Tree's crown fell off in the 1980s. Don't let this stop you, however -- this grove still has plenty of other tall trees to wow you.
- Klamath River Overlook: From this vista, you can view a variety of birds and other wildlife at the mouth of the Klamath River as well as gray whales in the Pacific Ocean. Peak migration months for viewing whales are November through December and March through April.
- Stout Grove: The clear Smith River runs alongside this grove. Its rich river soil is the cause of sparse vegetation on the forest floor and the unusually stout trees found in this grove.
- Damnation Creek: This steep trail descends 1,000 feet through an old-growth redwood forest to the ocean. Used in the past by Tolowa Indians for food gathering at the ocean, the trail offers excellent photo opportunities of both the forest and the ocean.
Tall Trees Grove
Tall Trees Grove, the centerpiece of Redwood National Park, is part of a stupendous stretch of unusually tall redwoods that is called the Emerald Mile. Here, under a vaulted green canopy, sunshine reaches the forest floor only in splintered shafts of light, creating an effect that resembles a gothic cathedral, where great columns of stone are punctuated by stained glass. The mystery of this magical place is further heightened when fog rolls in from the nearby ocean, wrapping the great trees in a wispy gauze of vapor.
Among the giants in Tall Trees Grove stands the world's tallest known tree, appropriately called the Tall Tree. Its top once rose almost 368 feet above the ground (the crown fell off in the 1980s). Foresters estimate that the tree is about 600 years old. This remarkable tree was not measured until 1963, when it was discovered, along with the second and third tallest trees, which stand nearby.
Exploring Redwood National Park will be even more satisfying if you know a little bit about its history. Read the next section to find out more.
The History of the Redwood Forests
The history of the redwood forests is rich and ongoing. Scientists have only recently begun to understand the complex ecosystem of thes ancient redwood forests. The branches that form the canopy at the top of the redwoods eventually fall to earth, where they mix with leaves and branches from hemlock and other species and eventually decay. This process sustains a rich web of life. The trees on which some animals depend in turn depend upon other species of animals.
For example, a species of vole eats the fruiting bodies of fungi on dead logs, then excretes the spores on new sites. The spores grow new fungi that are necessary to carry nutrients and moisture to seedlings and tree roots. Owls, flying squirrels, pileated woodpeckers, and martens nest in dead trees and find food throughout the forest.
Inhabitants and Exploration of the Redwood Forests
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, loggers pushed westward across the continent, cutting down mile after mile of the nation's primeval forests. Today, almost all of the old-growth forests are gone. The ancient trees that remain are found along the Pacific.
Unfortunately for these stately giants, the demand for lumber from redwoods has always been great because the wood resists shrinkage, rot, and decay. At the beginning of the 20th century, a league to save the redwoods was formed. When Redwood National Park was created in 1968, it incorporated three of these parks, Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast, and Prairie Creek, totaling 58,000 acres.
In 1978, Congress added 48,000 acres to the original acreage, including 39,000 acres that already had been logged. One park official described this area as looking like an "active war zone." Today, the clear-cut area is being reclaimed for redwood trees.
Take part in an otherworldly experience by visiting the forest giants at Redwood National Park. Whether driving through and stopping at the park's many lookout points or camping right underneath the amazing tree canopies, you'll create memories that will last a lifetime.
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