When I told people Blake and I were headed to the Redwood National Park as part of our vacation in 2011, the typical reaction was, “Ohh I’ve always wanted to see them!” And now, after having seen them, I insist that it is a must-see place while you’re on this planet. Pictures of the giants give you pause to think that a tree could really be so large. But pictures can’t possibly come close to giving this national park justice. You need to see it, to believe it.
When we entered the north end of the park in June 2011 on our road trip, the giant trees suddenly appeared as if out of nowhere. As I peered out the car window looking at the massive tree trunks, I was left breathless. It didn’t seem possible that something in nature could grow to be so large and immense.
But, it wasn’t until the next day that we were really able to have a true Redwood experience. Luck be have it, the Newton B. Drury Scenic Byway had reopened that morning, after having been closed for repairs, and we were able to drive into the forest. Again, it was hard not to let out the oohs and aahs as we drove the curvy road past the trees and trailhead markings. We decided to pull over at one of the trailheads to stop and hike.
A few guidebooks mention a strange phenomenon that happens when you finally exit the car. You immediately start talking in whispers as if not to wake the trees. It is absolutely silent except for bugs buzzing and birds chirping. Blake and I tried talking in our normal voices and it sounded like we were yelling.
After pulling on some warmer clothes, we headed down the trail, giddy at how big the trees were, and came across a man meditating in the middle of the trail. I couldn’t imagine a better place to do it, myself. We took the trail for a while along Prairie Creek and came across a tree that looked like it had been struck by lightning at some point. Except when a Redwood has been blown to bits by Mother Nature, the “splinters” of wood look about the size of your normal Maple Tree. It was amazing.
As there was more to see, we returned to the car and headed to Big Tree. Big Tree is just as its name says, a colossal tree. It is 304 feet tall (approximately a 30-story, tall building) and has a diameter of 21.6 feet. It’s branches look like large trees coming out of the sides and is estimated to be about 1,500 years old. You can’t even see the top of it. From there we took the Cathedral of Trees trails and looked for the last of the blooming spring rhododendrons.
We then got back in our car and took it to Elk Meadow. There we could see Roosevelt Elk, the largest subspecies of elk in North America. We observed the female elk and the baby elk that they keep protected in the forest fringe. A ranger was there making sure visitors stayed a safe distance from the elk. Although, it’s amazing how senseless people can be with wild animals, despite a ranger being there.
We then drove a little further down the byway to Lady Bird Johnson Memorial Grove for a one-hour hike. It was an awesome hike. The trail was built for the Redwood National Park’s dedication ceremony. In 1969 Lady Bird famously said, “One of my most unforgettable memories of the past years is walking through the Redwoods last November – seeing the lovely shafts of light filtering through the trees so far above, feeling the majesty and silence of that forest, and watching a salmon rise in one of those swift streams – all our problems seemed to fall into perspective and I think every one of us walked out more serene and happier.”
There were lots of trees to climb inside along the trail. The sunlight streaming through the trees was beautiful and it made it hard to imagine what the forest could possibly look like on a cloudy day.
From there we ventured to the Klamath Tour Thru Tree and paid $5 to try to drive through a tree. There are only three of these kinds of trees on the North Coast and they are all privately owned. If you have anything bigger than a compact car you will not fit through this tree and I wouldn’t waste your $5, except if you just want to witness people try. We squeaked through in our rental car after two tries and were proud of this accomplishment. I can now say I’ve driven through a tree.
On the road again we went to the Trees of Mystery. It’s a kitschy tourist trap. I wasn’t sure why I should pay to see Redwoods when I had just seen them up the road for free. If you want to perhaps take the gondola ride up through the trees then maybe that might be worth it. However, there is a huge Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox in the parking lot that talk to you, which is slightly creepy but humorous at the same time and makes for a good photo op. (That part is free.)
Later in the day for sunset, we ventured up the road from where we were staying at the Requa Inn to the Klamath River Overlook. I’d say we hiked down the 1/2 mile to the lower overlook, but we actually ran to make sure we caught the sun setting and dipping down into the ocean. It was gorgeous. (We really wanted to see a Pacific Ocean sunset as we didn’t get to catch one in Oregon the summer prior.) We hiked back up the trail after the sunset and it was quite dark. If you choose to hike down there for sunset, know it’s about 1/2 mile back up in the dark.
If we had had more time, where do I wish we could have gone? I would have loved to have seen Fern Canyon, which is a canyon with 30-foot walls covered in ferns and a creek running through it. I wish we had also had time for the Bald Hills Road, a road 17 miles one way into the high prairie landscape. I am sure it would have treated us to some awesome views. But we’ll go next time we are back!
And the end of the day, to stand amongst the Redwoods is one of the most magical experiences I’ve ever had. Our faces were glowing from what we called our Redwood Facials. We assumed it was from the clean, fresh air and an increase of oxygen and moisture that makes your face feel freshly washed.
This beautiful national park is definitely on our list for a repeat visit.