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Taking Short Hikes into Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Jul 15, 2008
This year, consider visiting the stunningly gorgeous Humboldt Redwoods State Park, which offers the largest remaining stand of old growth redwoods in the world--more than 17,000 acres. It is also the home of some of the oldest recorded coastal redwood trees, a few of which are more than 2,200 years old.

I bet you didn't know that an acre in Humboldt Redwoods State Park was found to contain a greater density of organic material than found in the Amazon rain forest--according to The Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association and others--actually seven times greater.

The park is located 45 miles south of Eureka, California, 20 miles north Garberville, and accessed in either direction from the breathtaking Avenue of the Giants, a part of a California scenic drive stretching from San Francisco Bay to Redwood National Park.

For more than 30 miles, the Avenue of the Giants passes through 51,222 acres of the outstanding redwood groves in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

Years of clear cutting redwoods

But note--from the Avenue of the Giants, you'll see not only the beautifully protected tall and looming redwoods, but also a few privately held lands that were not saved from clear cutting. The contrast between these smaller second-growth trees and the park's grand old redwoods is poignant.

Many of the old redwoods were cut down during the Gold Rush and after, as many Americans moved west. In fact, almost 95% of the virgin redwoods that once blanketed the west coast from southern Oregon almost to San Luis Obispo are now gone.

These days, there's a robust movement to significantly limit redwood cutting and to completely ban the cutting of any of the few remaining old growth redwoods not in parks or preserves. As you read this, environmental activists are probably living atop trees in order to prevent the remaining unprotected virgin redwood groves from being cut down.

Yes, today, just 5% of the original redwood forests remain, which is one reason the redwoods you'll see in Humboldt Redwoods State Park are so special.

Swimming, hiking, canoeing, camping and more

In addition to stunning groves of old growth coast redwoods, the park offers more than 100 miles of hiking trails, fishing, swimming, and canoeing in the Eel River, bicycling, horseback riding, seasonal interpretive programs, including nature walk-and-talks led by the park naturalist on a variety of topics, such as forest ecology and animal tracking.

Instead of booking a hotel near the Avenue of the Giants, consider camping, which is usually idyllic in this area from early May until early October. The park offers developed camps, environmental camps, horse camps, and trail camps. Temperatures are mild, heavy rains are unlikely, and you'll encounter few insects. And, you'll be among these wonderful trees.

Trails at the park can be long and challenging, or short and easy, as I prefer. Here are my favorite trails near the Avenue of the Giants, which each take an hour or less and offer gentle inclines:
* Drury-Chaney Trail
* Founders Grove Loop Trail
* Rockefeller Forest Loop Trail
* Big Trees Area, with its Tall Tree, Giant Tree, and Flatiron Tree trails

You can pick up maps at the Visitors Center, which is open daily, year-round. Also see the Humboldt Redwoods State Park website, for on-line trail maps and directions.

Drury-Chaney Trail -- my favorite

If you have time for just one trail in any of the redwood parks, hike the Drury-Chaney Trail. This is one of the most beautiful trails in the park, and an easy walk of about an hour on an all-weather surface.
You can walk either the straight trail or the loop, and each route is clearly defined.

Don't be misled by a sign adjacent to the parking area that discusses second-growth forests. With humongous trees like these, this isn't a forest that was once logged. It is instead one of the most beautiful and majestic portions of virgin growth in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

Unlike many redwood groves, where trees block the light that promotes lush ground cover, vigorous growth covers the floor of Drury, making the area especially beautiful.

Several years ago, park rangers finished making the entire Drury-Chaney Trail wheelchair-accessible. During the winter, heavy rains may create a few gullies and a branch or two may fall, but normally people with reasonably strong arms will be able to wheel themselves along this gentle trail without difficulty.

Founders Grove Loop Trail

This trail, named for the founders of the Save the Redwoods League, is sometimes crowded, but always enjoyable. Founders Grove is an area with particularly large trees, including Founders Tree, which is approximately 346 feet high and between 1300 and 1500 years old.

You'll see that the coastal redwoods of Humboldt Redwoods State Park, such as those in Founder's Grove, grow larger at lower elevations along rivers and creeks, in this case, the South Fork of the Eel River.
This loop trail, also called the Founders Grove nature trail, can easily be walked in less than 30 minutes.

Rockefeller Forest Loop Trail

The forest in the Rockefeller Loop Trail area, the largest grove in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, was named after John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who donated $1 million in 1927 to preserve 10,000 acres of redwood trees at this site.

The state was slow--and the federal government even slower--to protect these wonderful trees. For years the park system developed mostly through gifts from families, garden and other clubs, and small preservation groups, not through government acquisitions. So, we appreciate the Rockefellers and other great philanthropists, who have helped preserve our natural heritage.

The Rockefeller Loop Trail is not as well marked as the others, so stay on the heaviest traveled paths. But know you cannot venture too far off track, as the loop is bordered by the Eel River, Bull Creek, and Mattole Road.

Big Trees Area Trails

At the Big Trees area, you have three 10-minute hikes to three magnificent trees.
* Tall Tree of the Rockefeller Forest - circumference: 42 feet; height: 359 feet; measured in 1957.
* Giant Tree - circumference: 53 feet; height: 363 feet; designated "Champion Coast Redwood" in 1991.
* Fallen giant Flatiron Tree - diameter in one direction: 7.5 feet; diameter in the other direction: 17.5 feet; fell in January 1995.

But statistics can never capture what makes the redwoods at Humboldt Redwoods State Park so awe inspiring. The combination of their size and age conjure a feeling of grandeur and serenity--almost of wisdom--that I wonder if you can find anywhere else. (My mother called these groves her cathedrals.)

By sharing with you my favorite short hikes, I'd like to think I'VE offered you a lure you cannot refuse. Do I seem to gush? I can't help it. I've traveled around the world, and like no spot more than this.
About the Author
An extensive world traveler, Don Nadeau, president of BidOnTravel, loves helping people become experts at helping people become experts at Hotwire and Priceline bidding. Learn more about the Redwood Coast and Mendocino areas referred to in this article.
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