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Redwood National & State Park, Northern California

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Northern California has an all natural cure for self-importance.  All you need to do is spend a while walking amongst hundreds of 30-story-tall, millennium-old redwood trees, and suddenly, you start feeling very small and insignificant.

The California Redwoods have found protection, at least in a few areas.  Some are in state parks, others are in Redwood National Park (although the National Park Service oversees the state parks as well).  While I was in the area, I was never completely sure if I was in a national or state park.

If you’re entering Redwood country from Oregon, like I was, you can either drive straight into Crescent City, California, or turn on CA Rte. 197, which takes you into the heart of Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park.  I took Rte. 197 to US 199, which cuts through the park.  Eventually I found my way to Crescent City via Howland Hill Road.

Jedediah Smith SP – Crescent City, CA

I didn’t know exactly where I was headed, as I ventured into the redwoods.  Somewhere along Rte. 197 I found a campground/picnic area, that’s part of Jedediah Park.  The clouds, which blanketed and soaked me throughout Day 2, teased me this morning, providing a brief glimpse of blue.  But aside from a crystal clear stream, and a few big trees, there wasn’t much to see here.  So I moved on…

… to a trail that led to Stout Grove.  There was a sign at the trailhead that said something about a bridge being out, but it wasn’t very clear.  I decided to hike the trail anyhow (most of which looked like the picture above–passing by some very big trees, but not an actual redwood grove).  Indeed, there was a washed-out bridge, and no way around it, so I headed back to the car, then continued to drive down Douglas Park Road.  Turns out, I didn’t need that trail or that bridge after all–the road runs right by Stout Grove.

A California State Parks website explains that Summer Bridge near Stout Grove is removed during the winter months, then put back into place during the summer.  This is done to eliminate any danger of people being swept away during the higher-water months.  I’m not positive if this is the bridge that I found to be missing, but it’s quite likely.

Stout Grove

If you just have enough time to see one grove of redwood trees during your visit to northern California, I’d strongly suggest checking out Stout Grove.

From the parking lot, you walk down a short hill.  At the bottom you run into a loop trail, that takes you through the grove.  Aside from that first short hill from the parking lot, the rest of the trail is flat and easy to walk.  Even though it was raining during my visit, there were no big mud puddles to dodge.  It was quiet–only a couple of other people there (probably in part due to the rain, I suppose).  Best of all, there were hundreds of huge redwood trees, with very few scraggly small trees ruining the view.

The walk around the path didn’t take long.  It’s not a large grove, but I’d suggest it’s the perfect size to allow you to enjoy a visit, without getting tired of it.  I’d even suggest you visit during a light rain, just as I did.  I think it added to the solitude.

Stout Grove didn’t get its name because the trees are all fat.  It’s named after Frank Stout, a local lumber baron who donated the original 44 acres of land that started Jedediah Smith Park.  Oh, and the trees are also fat.

Hop back on US 101 as you head out of Crescent City, for the drive south.  You’ll pass through Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park.  Enjoy the trees from the main road, there’s plenty of miles to cover before the end of the day.

After you leave Del Norte Park, and before you reach the town of Klamath, you’ll pass a delightfully cheesy tourist attraction known as Trees of Mystery.

You can’t miss Paul Bunyan and Babe in the parking lot.

On a better day, I would have considered a visit (even though the admission seems a bit steep, to see more trees).  But as you can see by looking at the parking lot pavement, it was really pouring the rain, and I don’t think a visit in the middle of a downpour would have been much fun.

In all fairness, there’s much more to Trees of Mystery than “just trees”.  The park has a trail devoted to the legend of Paul Bunyan, and a gondola ride.  There’s also a Native American museum (which is free, by the way).  And best of all, it’s one of those old-fashioned roadside tourist attractions, that are so appealing to us road-trippers.  Check out their website here.

South of Klamath: Redwood National Park

After crossing the Klamath River on US 101, I decided to do a little exploring inside Redwood National Park.  So, I took a right turn and tried my luck with a dirt road called “Coastal Drive”.  Hey, it had to be better than US 101, which runs inland in this area.

The road was a bit of an adventure–one lane, dirt, kinda bumpy and challenging.  It did stay true to its name, allowing several peeks at the coastline.  The picture above is from an overlook above the Klamath River inlet.

A little further, I found another overlook, that provided a nice view of the rocky (and earthquake-jumbled) coastline to the south.

I was never sure exactly where I was, or where I was going, along Coastal Drive.  Eventually, it dead-ended, leaving me to guess about which way to go.  I chose to make a right turn, which took me south along Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, and to my surprise, I found myself driving through another state park, this time…

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park seemed to go on for miles, especially since it was raining, and I wasn’t sure exactly where I was.  There were a number of roadside turnoffs, offering trails that led to various groves of redwood trees.  I kept going until I saw a sign for the Big Tree Wayside.

“That must be some impressively large tree,” I thought, “to have its own trail.  I mean after all, aren’t these all big trees?”  So, I turned off at Big Tree and took another walk.

The tree you see pictured above is the actual Big Tree itself.  Indeed it was big–so tall that I couldn’t take a picture of the whole thing at once.

It was about this time that I was getting a little tired of trees.  Yes, believe it or not, that can happen.  Even more, I was growing frustrated with the rain, which would stop briefly, making me think there’s a thin chance that it was all over for the day, and then it would start again.

I took the above picture while taking shelter under a partially-fallen redwood.  It was the only dry place safe enough to uncover my camera.

A couple of trails branched off from here, but like I said, I was officially over it!  So I started driving again, and finally reunited with US 101.

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

I did manage to convince myself to explore one more redwood grove.  This is one I’d heard of–Lady Bird Johnson Grove, named after the former first lady, who came here to dedicate the grove.

President Nixon dedicated the grove to Lady Bird Johnson, wife of LBJ, in August, 1969.  Lady Bird Johnson was active in environmental projects while first lady, and after leaving the White House.  She helped implement highway beautification projects that limited billboards and planted roadside flowers.  She also worked on projects to beautify Washington, D.C., and Austin, TX.  And, she co-founded the National Wildflower Research Center.

Take the footbridge…

… over Bald Hills Road (just a few steep miles off US 101), and you’re plunged into another great redwood grove.

This one was big enough for me to step inside.

For some reason, I decided it was necessary to walk the entire 1.3 mile loop around the Lady Bird Johnson Grove.  All the rain had made the path muddy, and after the first 1,000 feet or so, I noticed I was the only person around.  Everyone else, I suppose, had the good sense to know that the scenery doesn’t change much as you delve deeper into the forest, and the weather was downright miserable.

At any rate, I kept going, seeing the actual spot where the grove was dedicated to Lady Bird Johnson, and then finally reaching the end of the trail.  Personally, I found Stout Grove more satisfying, but you can’t go wrong with either one.

The redwoods may look familiar, even if you’ve never been to northern California.  The groves have been used in several big movies, such as The Lost World: Jurassic Park andOutbreak.  Perhaps most famous of all are the Endor scenes fromStar Wars: Return of the Jedi, which were filmed in the Tall Trees Redwood Grove, which is waaaay out Bald Hill Road, past the Lady Bird Johnson grove.  A free permit, available from park headquarters, is required for access.

Back on US 101…

With all the various redwood parks behind me, I headed south.  For a moment, once again. I thought that the weather might be about to break.  That is, until I came upon this beach at the side of US 101, and a very menacing sky.  Yep, more rain, at least for a while.

It finally did get a little better, as I headed for Mattole Road…

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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