The Redwoods is definitely the place to find big, old trees and so we wanted to get as close as we could to some of the biggest and oldest of them. The tallest Redwood’s location is kept secret for the its protection, but we decided to head to the aptly named Tall Trees Grove.
Tall Trees Grove isn’t a spot you can just stumble on as you cruise around the Redwoods. You have to plan ahead a bit and nab a permit from one of the visitors centers. The permits are free, but they can run out — which is why this was our first stop when we arrived to the area. Our permit was to backcountry camp a little past Tall Trees Grove, along a creek in the valley.
To access the grove, we had to go through a locked gate (part of the permit thing) and then drive a super long, unpaved road. I’m not exaggerating on the length, either. I don’t remember how long it took us (my brain tends to block this kind of crap — long drives, math tests, etc), but the NPS site says it can take a few hours. So, you know… pack a snack 😀
After parking in the lot we started to gather things up, and the mosquitos attacked with some ferocity. The lot was surrounded by forest, and these skeeters definitely knew where to find their dinner. As quickly as we could, we were on our way.
Oh and sorry in advance for the mix of photo quality in this post. I was carrying my tough camera, which felt like it took great images when I got it for our Appalachian Trail hike in 2012 but, uh, not so much now. Andy had our good Sony, but he was more focused on speedy walking than I was 😀
I don’t know if I can really explain how good it feels to put on my pack and head to an adventure. Between Andy and I, our packs were holding everything we needed to survive (super comfortably) for two days. The packs are always more heavy at the start of the trip, but the freedom offered by what they hold is so… light.
The hike down was pretty magical. So many huge trees, walls of verdant green, gaping trunks you could crawl right inside. And the trail was bordering on empty. Getting in is easy, also, because you’re heading almost entirely downhill.
It was humid, too, though. I could practically feel the plant life transpiring around me, a constant moist exhale.
But, c’mon who’s really complaining at this point.
The 2 mile hike down took longer than I’d expected, but that first walk into the Tall Trees Grove made none of that matter. The trees were truly enormous. No skyscraper has ever made me feel small, but these trees did. Just trying to fathom there size, their age, the eras of humanity they’ve lived through… But we were on a mission, and had to get to our camp before dark. So we didn’t complete the full loop through the grove, and instead cut out halfway around to head towards the creek.
Camping along the creek can get crowded and raucous in the height of summer, but we were there at the end of August. Kids were going back to school, and aside from a couple of fishermen we seemed to have the creek all to ourselves. We knew more people could still end up coming this way for camp, though, and we wanted our own private spot for our two nights down there.
So we headed further along the creek. The water was pretty low, so we were mostly walking along pebbles, but we waded through at a couple spots figuring that was the best way to ensure no one else would want to continue the same way.
Before long, we’d found our spot. The trees looked healthy (we’d rather they not fall on us), we had a nice flat spot for our tent, and it’d be in shade most of the day. Sweeeeeeet.
For the next couple of days, we mostly just hung out. If in your mind, sitting put and watching the scenery around you is just an old person thing I’d really recommend giving it a try sometime. Go to a beautiful, quiet place where you feel safe (not advocating doing this in the middle of some forest during hunting season or anything) and just watch and listen. If your mind drifts, that’s cool. There’s some pretty good evidence that letting your mind wander is actually really healthy.
Anyhow, we decided that the opposite side of the creek from our tent would be our kitchen/hang out spot and spent a bunch of time doing that awesome kind of nothing.
We got familiar with some daily patterns, like a young osprey who headed up and down the creek around the same times each day. On the first day, he stopped and scoped us out for a few minutes so we scrambled to get a photo.
One night we decided to experiment with a slow shutter speed on the camera. We ran around with our headlamps and spelled things and made magic wands and, well, take a look.
In the day, we wandered further up the creek, too, just to see what was around. This whole area is technically part of a hiking trail, though at over 15 miles one way I’m not sure how many people would do the whole thing.
Personally, I’d really like to do some hiking along the coastal trails the next time we head that way. At least for me, seeing these kinds of forests next to ocean is super bizarre and cool. I grew up in the Midwest, where beaches were mostly around lakes and BEACHES were what you went to in Florida on vacation. These rugged northwestern coastlines are surreal and fascinating – literally, for me, scenes straight out of movies.
After our super peaceful days along the creek, I wasn’t super excited to hike back out… especially knowing it’d mostly be uphill. But we still hadn’t had a proper look around the Tall Trees Grove, so we spent a good amount of time looping around that and getting swept up in all the big tree glory.
Would it be cheesy to wrap up my Redwoods story with a John Muir quote? Actually, don’t answer that. Cheese is delicious.
We all travel the milky way together, trees and men; but it never occurred to me until this storm-day, while swinging in the wind, that trees are travelers, in the ordinary sense. They make many journeys, not extensive ones, it is true; but our own little journeys, away and back again, are only little more than tree-wavings–many of them not so much.
When the storm began to abate, I dismounted and sauntered down through the calming woods. The storm-tones died away, and, turning toward the east, I beheld the countless hosts of the forests hushed and tranquil, towering above one another on the slopes of the hills like a devout audience. The setting sun filled them with amber light, and seemed to say, while they listened, “My peace I give unto you.”
As I gazed on the impressive scene, all the so called ruin of the storm was forgotten, and never before did these noble woods appear so fresh, so joyous, so immortal.
– John Muir, The Mountains of California