Northern and central California were some of the first areas to lock down at the onset of the American COVID-19 outbreak. For several weeks, San Franciscans have dutifully stayed indoors and observed social distancing procedures. After so much time inside, getting outdoors and into nature is at the forefront of many minds.
Only a few hours from the Bay Area, Redwood National Park provides a much needed, natural respite for central Californians although it will be operating at a limited capacity. Visitor centers and campgrounds will remain closed until further notice. All trails and paths are open except for Tall Tree Grove. With facilities closed, guests of the park are advised to bring their own hand sanitizer and to pack out all trash.
Lyndon B. Johnson established Redwood National Park in 1968 in an effort to protect 58,000 acres of temperate rainforest and ancient redwood trees. Now, the park is more than 130,000 acres and 45% of all old-growth redwoods are protected there. Redwoods are among the tallest and oldest trees on the planet; standing at their base is humbling. The park also encompasses a 37-mile stretch of coastline. There are several ecosystems inside the park besides temperate rainforests including tidepools and grasslands.
One of the best ways to enjoy the changing landscape of Redwood National Forest is by car. There are several scenic drives to choose from that show off the diverse topography of California. The Coastal Drive Loop is one of the most famous drives. It winds 9 miles along the coast following steep grades and sharp cliffs. The views of the Pacific ocean are panoramic and there are overlook points for motorists to stop and take in the vistas. The lookout points above the Klamath estuary are wonderful places to catch a glimpse of grey whales, sea lions, and pelicans. Further along the drive, there is an incognito bit of history. What may look like an old farmhouse and a barn is actually a World War II radar station house! Bald Hills Road offers an alternative to sweeping coastal views. This 17-mile drive goes through old-growth redwood forests. The dappled shade and quiet of the woods open up into vast prairies dotted with wildflowers. Local herds of Roosevelt elk graze in these wide expanses. In the spring, black bear mothers and their cubs have been seen rollicking amongst the wildflowers.
A Walk in the Woods
Many visitors to Redwood National Park often enjoy an up-close and personal experience with the mammoth trees for which the park was named. Hiking trails through the park meander between these ancient trees. Most of the trails throughout the park are easy and appropriate for all skill levels. One of the best overall hikes is along the James Irvine Trail. The 10-mile hike is an excellent way to see the forest from many different levels because it gains steady elevation. The path eventually ends at the Pacific Ocean and connects with the Fern Canyon Trail which will take hikers back the way they came. The Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail is best suited for families. The trail is short and flat. The redwoods grow immediately next to the trail and rhododendrons blossom in May and June adding a spot of color amongst the sea of lush, green vegetation. The ferns that grow at the base of the redwoods are massive too. The hike feels a bit like a jaunt through Jurassic Park.
Even though the park is named for its redwood trees, they are far from the only popular attraction. Tidepools dot the miles of coastline protected by the park. Low tide is the safest time to check out the tidepools and investigate the marine creatures that call them home. Endert’s Beach and False Klamath Cove are 2 of the best areas to wade amongst the pools. Sea stars cover the rocks along with other invertebrates. As the tides change in the spring, nutrient-rich waters circulate and cause a veritable explosion of life. The tide pools are great environmental indicators, ways to make sure the local marine ecosystems are happy and healthy. Visitors are asked to not bring any sea stars or other creatures home with them.