There was a lot of
planning put into this trip but time was set aside for fun hikes as well. My sister Lisa met me on this trip, she is a very
knowledgeable outdoorsperson and a strong hiker. We made an interesting duo
arriving at hotels and places to buy food, two older middle-aged people with
Monongahela twangs wearing dusty trail clothes and hiking backpacks. There is unfortunately a certain chill toward
people looking a little musty and dusty at North Coast businesses. Anyhow once credit cards and ID were
presented people were friendly enough, but not until then. In the parks. rangers are immediately
friendly to everyone.
The first stop was a scenic late afternoon hike around the
Montgomery Woods Reserve loop. This is a great place to get close to tall
trail side redwoods and to see tall trees in their full profile. In the late
afternoon the green crowns are lit up by the sun while the lower trunks are in
the canyon shadows. It’s a pretty
Redwoods State Park
We spent a good deal of time in Humboldt Redwoods exploring
the groves along the Eel River and Bull Creek.
A particularly interesting hike was the new Canoe Creek loop on the
River Trail. There are a lot of
huckleberry in the fire recovery areas and it is evident bears are enjoying the
huckleberries. Some good blackberries as
Canoe Creek has a flat near the Eel River with some really
Humboldt Redwoods has a number of trees that are joining the
350+ redwood club. We used LiDAR data to
find one of these new trees.
On another day we did some hiking in the Redwood Creek
area. There was a small group of
fledgling raptors on the hunt in Redwood Creek Canyon, looking for fish in the
creek from high above. They were
probably bald eagles. We saw a bunch of college
aged trail runners zipping along Redwood Creek trail in groups of two or three,
moving so quickly they made a breeze as they went by.
Norte Redwoods State Park
In Del Norte Redwoods we hiked the Damnation Creek
trail. This trail goes from 101 (enter
and exit southbound), crosses the old Coastal Highway (Coastal Trail), and then
winds down to the Pacific. It is pretty
special to see the blue ocean and hear the surf while still high up at the edge
of the redwoods. I didn’t make it down
the switchbacks to the beach, but Lisa did.
Tall redwood trees tend to grow in groups. There are specific areas with the best soil, sufficient moisture, protection from wind, and the right mix of sun and fog to promote tall tree growth. I recently spent a few days in the redwood parks hiking to tall trees along or near trails but still a little bit away from areas where most visitors hike. These areas with tall trees are nature’s cathedrals, with the trunks serving as pillars and the crowns serving as rounded ceilings hundreds of feet off the forest floor.
2 Humboldt Redwoods
Day one hiking was in the Bull Creek Flats area in Humboldt. I wanted to get some pictures from the “101 Big Cut” near Founders Grove. On the way to that location there is a spectacular new tree fall at the Dyerville Giant location. The Dyerville Giant was a tall redwood that fell in 1991 and its big log remains in Founders Grove. Sometime in the early Spring an adjacent redwood fell across that big log and split in several sections.
Then on to the Big Cut Trail. It is a moderately difficult twisting hike up to the top but the reward is a really nice view of the Bull Creek redwoods as well as some interesting civil engineering where the Avenue of the Giants crosses over US 101.
I spent some time in the Harper Flats area near Giant tree. This area is thick with very tall even aged redwoods. It is indeed a tall trees cathedral.
Another nice area visited was along Bull Creek a couple miles upstream from the Eel River South Fork. I located a beautiful very tall round domed redwood right along Bull Creek. Across the creek from this tree there are two tree trunks rubbing against each other in the wind, this makes a loud screeching sound which kind of sounds like whales singing.
Then in the flats above Bull Creek in this area is a scenic somewhat open forest area with big and tall redwoods.
3 Redwood National Park Tall Trees Grove to Forty Four Creek
On another day I hiked the Tall Trees Grove trail, crossed Redwood Creek on a seasonal footbridge which had just been put in that day, then hiked Redwood Creek trail north to Forty Four creek. I had hoped to get a good view of the remnant redwood grove along Forty Four creek but did not have clear views of the crowns from the trail. However the bridge and Forty Four creek are both scenic. Be very careful on the bridge as some sections of the side rails are missing.
On the way back up and out I stopped at the Redwood Creek overlook and watched the evening fog roll up Redwood Creek valley from the Pacific Oean. It comes in at a pretty quick pace, maybe ten miles per hour on this day.
4 Redwood National Park Redwood Creek Trailhead to Elam Creek
The northern portions of Redwood Creek trail provide nice views of the redwoods along Redwood Creek in several areas, particularly where the trail crosses Redwood Creek just a little north of McArthur Creek. Just north of the Elam Creek Bridge there is a side trail that goes up to the Elam Horse Camp and then intersects with one of the horse trails. This horse trail follows Elam Creek upstream for about half a mile, then there is a single file bridge where the riders and horses cross Elam Creek. This bridge affords a spectacular view of very tall redwood trees that surround Elam Creek at this point. It is a real back country redwood tree cathedral.
5 Redwood National Park Trillium Falls Trail
The Trillium Falls trail forms a nice loop through old growth redwoods. The first part of the trail up to Trillium Falls is pretty busy but after that point the trail is less busy. This is probably due to the steep climb to the upland redwoods and the overall length of the loop (about 3 miles).
Trillium Falls itself is very scenic. There are also very nice redwoods around these falls. Then past the falls there are some areas with really big and ancient redwoods.
6 Redwood National Park Flint Ridge Trail
There are big redwoods on the climb up Flint Ridge from the Klamath River. On this day I wasn’t able to get to this area due to trail conditions. But reading about the 1964 flood and viewing what remains of the original Klamath River coastal highway bridge was very interesting. This old bridge has bear statues too, just like the new one.
7 Jedediah Smith Redwoods Trails
One up side from missing Flint Ridge was it provided some time to get up to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Road repairs had just been completed and the park was accessible from the south all the way up to Stout Grove. I did some hiking in the big trees area and enjoyed trail side views of some big redwoods.
8 Montgomery Woods
On another day I met my friends Jerry and Teri Beranek for a hike through Montgomery Woods. The many tall redwoods in the flats above the earthen dam and below the surrounding steep hillsides form a continuous redwood cathedral. I get a lot of insights and plant identifications when hiking with Jerry and Teri. Jerry has a couple new books, one on Humboldt and one on Prairie Creek. They are very good, providing interesting background and perspective and many great photos and maps. Look for them in the gift shops along the Avenue of the Giants and the Humboldt Visitors Center.
NASA maintains a global canopy height map on its website. This map is comprised of airplane based LIDAR mapping (2.4% of land mapped for canopy height) and satellite based “spectroradiometer” equipment (97.6% of land area mapped for canopy height). The canopy height is appropriately in shades of progressively darker green with the darkest green indicating at least eighty percent of the tree canopy in the area is over 70 meters (230 feet). All the dark green areas in northern California are old growth redwood stands. The average tree height in old growth stands in northern California is 250-300 feet, with maximum demonstrated individual tree height at 380 feet. To see more on this subject see my posting on “Distribution of Tree Height in an Old Growth Redwood Forest”.
Below is a portion of the Global Canopy Height map that includes the area from Fortuna to Klamath. The dark green (old growth redwood) forests have been noted from north to south. The old growth forests include Prairie Creek Redwoods and Redwood National Parks. No surprises there. However there are five additional areas with large enough tracts of old growth redwoods to be discernable on the global canopy height map.
You can click on the map to see a larger version.
2 Lesser Known Areas With Old Growth Redwood Forests
From north to south here are some comments on the lesser known areas with old growth redwoods forests.
Six Rivers National Forest High Prairie Creek Section and Yurok Redwood Experimental Forest
This area is low elevation and is protected from the ocean by a large ridge and has riparian zones along High Prairie Creek. These are perfect conditions for large and tall redwoods and indeed there are many large tree crowns in this area as seen on Google Earth.
This area does not have any public access and most requests for special access will be declined.
This could be the best area for old growth redwoods between Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and the trees in this forest are representative of the redwoods found in those parks.
Private Holdings – GDRC and HRC
The GDRC dominates timber holdings north of Eureka while HRC has extensive holdings around Eureka and south. Both these companies provide detailed publicly available management plans and holdings maps. Most of their holdings are managed second growth but they do have some old growth forests. Any old growth areas of three acres or more are voluntarily and permanently protected from harvesting and road construction by both of these companies.
I am not familiar with the access requirements for these areas but certainly written permission would be required from the respective company.
Some folks call this the “mysterious Headwaters Reserve”. It was the scene of some famous forest protection protests in the 1990’s and culminated in 1999 with a $380 million purchase of 7,000 acres from the owning lumber company, of which 3,000 acres are old growth redwoods. The purchase was 100% taxpayer funded, $250 million from the Federal government and $130 million from the state of California. The Reserve is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
The Reserve does have public access though it is limited. There is a north approach which requires a five mile hike or bike from a parking area to reach the heart of the reserve. Then there is a south approach from near Fortuna that requires a reservation and meeting up with a representative of the reserve.
This reserve contains a few redwoods in the 360 feet height range. This is exceptionally tall, there are less than sixty redwoods throughout their range that are over 360 feet in height. Undoubtedly there are exceptionally large diameter and volume trees in this reserve as well.
3 Record Breaking Redwoods Outside the Redwood State and National Parks?
Any of the lesser known areas highlighted above could hold a record breaking tall redwood tree. It is not likely but there is a chance. As one well known redwood explorer writes – “chance has potential”.
Based on the existing information on tallest redwoods, a super tall redwood can grow anywhere from near sea level to around 900 feet in elevation. That covers a lot of ground. As long as the soil is good, there is some protection from wind from surrounding trees and hills, and there are year round water sources (nearby creeks, springs, and fog drip) a very tall redwood is a possibility.
Then to increase the possibility there needs to be a forest of trees growing in conditions for super tall redwoods. Each of the lesser known areas outlined above contains such a forest, as confirmed by the NASA global canopy height map.
For the same reasons there could also be very large (over 20,000 cubic feet) redwoods in these areas as well.
Old growth redwoods – that phrase invokes a lot of different feelings in people. Certainly in the present the phrase describes the large never cut forests in the redwood parks. Forests full of giant trees, some by rivers or streams and others along hillsides. Forests covered with needles and sorrel and forests covered with ferns. Forests with deer moving through them to reach the creeks, all the while shadowed by mountain lions. Forests with black bear dens. Remote and rugged but never more than a few miles from a highway.
Two parks with many acres of old growth redwoods as well as the ten tallest trees in the world are Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Redwood National Park. Each parks contains hundreds of thousands of old growth redwood trees. Here is the math:
Acres Old Growth Redwoods
# Redwood Trees > 100 cm per Hectare
# Acres per Hectare
# Old Growth Redwood Trees
The redwood density figure is a general rounding of the findings in a redwood plots study underway at Humboldt State University.
If that number seems too high, well…. Here are two pictures. These are from the Redwood Creek Overlook on Bald Hills Road in Redwood National Park. The old growth forests and patches are very distinctive. If you go to that overlook and put a strong pair of binoculars on those forests it is an impressive site. Many big and tall trees all growing along Redwood Creek and the surrounding feeder creeks and hillsides. I can’t imagine a more spectacular forest. It is kind of intimidating.
2 Height Distribution for the Tallest Trees
Thorough ground based searches combined with LiDAR technology have given a pretty complete picture of tree height in all parks with the exception of the Headwaters Reserve. The tallest redwoods, those over 365 feet, are all in Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Redwood National Park, with the exception of two trees in the exceptional Montgomery Woods Reserve. Then all the trees over 370 feet (there are only ten or so) are in Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Redwood National Park.
There are two things that are apparent when viewing these graphs. First, the distribution patterns are very similar between the parks. And second, there are a lot more tall trees in HRSP than in RNP. Based on this data paired with the history of each park the explanation is certainly this: In Humboldt most of the forests with the tallest trees are intact. In Redwood National Park most of the forests with the tallest trees have been thinned or removed.
3 Height Distribution for Old Growth Redwood Trees
Noting the steepness of the curve on the tall trees graph it is evident there is some type of “bell shaped” distribution where there are many trees of a certain height, say 350 feet, then the trees get fewer and fewer at 360 feet and even more scarce at 370 feet.
Using this information and the total number of old growth redwoods we can infer the number of trees of certain heights:
Expected Pct of Trees Less Than
HRSP Expected Trees
RNP Expected Trees
HRSP + RNP Expected Trees
Looking at the results of expected trees versus actual tree populations, it is evident four standard deviations describes 368 feet or so redwoods, while 4.5 standard deviations describes the very tallest redwoods (380 feet).
Then with some calculations and interpolation, we can arrive at three standard deviations corresponding to a 338 foot redwood tree. This then results with the following very approximate distribution of tree height in old growth redwood forests in Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Redwood National Park.
So the average old growth redwood in Humboldt and Redwood NP is 250 feet tall. Remember this covers all old growth trees at all elevations that are at least 3.28 feet in diameter.
Then there are 1,000 trees over 338 feet in height.
What do you think?
4 Old Growth Redwood Groves Close Ups
For some closer in views of old growth, here are pictures from two of my favorite areas in the redwood parks. There are views like this all over the redwood parks.