Playing among giants at Redwood National Park and a hike in Fern Canyon

Want to feel ant-sized and incredibly young? Any number of national parks will have you marveling over nature’s immensity and your own small place in it. But Redwood National Park, located along the northern coast of California near Oregon, shrinks you right down to bug size as soon as you walk among these ancient, gigantic trees.

We drove through the park on a family road trip along the Pacific Coast in mid-August. It’s hard to comprehend how big these trees are, even when you’re standing among them. They’re so tall you can’t see the tops of many of them. Their soldier-straight trunks soar skyward up to 360 feet — the length of a football field — and disappear among the branches.

Fallen trees give you a better perspective.

But you need to see people next to them for scale.

The trees here are coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), and they’re the tallest living things on earth. They normally live for 500 to 1,100 years, although some may exceed 2,000 years of age. What was happening in the world in 17 A.D.? Some redwoods alive today were just growing from seed then!

Nearly all have been lost to logging, sadly. Ninety-six percent of the original old-growth coast redwoods have been logged, according to the park’s website. The park contains 45% of the remaining protected old-growth redwoods in California.

I’d read about nearby Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, located 50 miles north of Eureka, and was keen to explore it. The cool, narrow canyon feels primeval. Steven Spielberg thought so too. He filmed a scene from Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World here.

The canyon’s 30- to 50-foot high walls, carved by Home Creek over thousands of years, are wallpapered with shaggy green ferns. The creek meanders along the canyon floor, which is littered with the broken trunks of redwoods, knocked over in storms or washed downstream in floods.

Despite a rugged 4-mile drive on unpaved roads and across several shallow streams to reach the parking area for it, we were far from the only ones with the same idea on this Thursday morning. The 1/2-mile trail is flat and, aside from a risk of wet feet and having to clamber over and under some fallen trees, easy for hikers of all ages.

We were all dwarfed by the scenery.

The canyon walls drip with moisture and rivulets of water from the clifftop, and several species of fern and other native plants thrive in a vertical garden created by Mother Nature.

It was like being inside an emerald jewel box.

That’s how small we felt all day among the redwoods.

On our way into the park we saw a few cars pulled over and people taking pictures, so naturally we stopped too. Some Roosevelt elk were enjoying a mid-morning lie-down, just their brown faces visible in the tawny grass.

Just north of Klamath on Highway 101, I spotted a gigantic Paul Bunyan looming over a kitschy roadside attraction called Trees of Mystery. Like every traveler before me, I whipped our car into the parking lot to get a better look. Once again, we were ant sized.

Of course Babe the Blue Ox was there too, and well endowed.

A few more goofy photo ops later…

…including with Bigfoot…

…and we were on our way again, heading northeast toward Crater Lake, wildfires be damned.

Up next: Our visit to breathtaking Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. For a look back at part 2 of my visit to Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden, including their Succulents, Ocean Trail, and Dahlia Gardens, click here.

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4 Responses

  1. Kris P says:

    More great photos, Pam – and your regular models do an exemplary job with in the scale demonstrations!

  2. That dripppy wall of ferns etc is amazing. So are the trees. It seems even the ferns along the trail are larger than any I have seen. Such a marvelous area.

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