Photo: Green-hued tree branches tinge grove

The majestic trees that make up California's Redwood National Park may not be the oldest or biggest trees, but they are certainly the tallest.

Photograph by Dewitt Jones

Location: California

Established: October 2, 1968

Size: 131,983 acres, including 3 state parks

Sometimes, when the morning fog caresses the great trees, you can imagine the past flowing through the long, misty shadows … Vast redwood forests flourishing across a lush and humid North America … After the final ice age, a last stand here in the sustaining climate along the Pacific coast … Tree after tree falling to the loggers. Then, in a windswept moment, the past vanishes and you stand beside other visitors, gazing up at the Earth's tallest living things. That is the essence of Redwood National and State Parks.

The park, near the northern limit of the coast redwood's narrow range, preserves the remnants of a forest that once covered two million acres and, at the turn of the 20th century, was badly threatened by logging. The state of California and the Save-the-Redwoods League came to the rescue by acquiring hundreds of groves and protecting them within 26 state parks. Three redwood state parks—Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast, and Prairie Creek—were encompassed by the national park when it was created in 1968.

Logging on surrounding private land, however, threatened the parks' protected redwoods. Soil and sediments from the logged-over tracts washed into the rivers and creeks, settling to the bottom downstream. Silt deposits can smother redwoods—for the giants are amazingly vulnerable. And the waterlogged soil weakens the trees' resistance to wind. Their roots are shallow, often only ten feet deep.

In 1978 Congress added 48,000 acres to the national park's 58,000 acres, including about 36,000 that had been logged. The raw, clear-cut land, a park official wrote, had "the look of an active war zone." Today, in an epic earth-moving project—a redwood renaissance—crews are beginning to reclaim vast stretches of logged-over lands. Hillsides, carved away for logging roads, are being restored. Most of the 400 miles of roads are being erased. It will take at least 50 years for the scars of logging to disappear and another 250 or so years for the replanted redwood seedlings to grow to modest size.

The renaissance has added a new dimension to the traditional rite of staring up at redwoods. Today's visitor can look at hillsides shorn of giants and know that generations from now the trees will grow there again.

How to Get There

Tree-lined US 101, the Redwood Highway, runs the length of the park. From the south, take US 101 to the information center near Orick, about 40 miles north of Eureka. From the north, enter through Crescent City, also an information center site. From the east, take US 199, another redwood-flanked highway, to Hiouchi. Airports: Arcata and Crescent City.

When to Go

Year-round. Summer draws highway-clogging crowds, so think about a visit in spring or fall. In both seasons, bird migrations enhance the redwood groves. Rhododendrons burst forth in spring; deciduous trees add color in fall. Rains, welcome to the redwoods but not to visitors, drench the park in winter.

How to Visit

US 101, with its many redwood sentinels, gives you a windshield-framed panorama of the trees. But to appreciate the redwoods, you must walk among them. If you have only a day to visit this 50-mile-long park, stop and see the Lady Bird Johnson Grove and Big Tree. Hike or just stretch your legs (depending on your time) along the Coastal Trail and savor the Pacific prospect of the park. For a longer stay, visit the Tall Trees Grove, drive Howland Hill Road, and end your visit with a splash in a kayak on the Klamath River or a jouncy drive to Fern Canyon and Gold Bluffs Beach. If you are driving an RV or towing a trailer, some stretches of road may be closed to you; check at information centers.

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