The Enchanted Forest

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Camping in Redwoods National Park

The Journey

Getting to Redwood National Park was a process but well worth the immense effort.  This year's record-setting wet winter has left the California coastline a shambles and camping is difficult to find.  The coastal highway is closed in huge swathes.  As a result of the mudslides, we have to depart from highway 1 again and head inland to interstate 5.  It is a detour that costs us hours.

From Mackerricher State Park, we head south and then east on 20, turning north on 5.  We stop in Redding for a bathroom break.  A friend of ours had warned us that there is a major drug problem in this area.  We soon discovered this to be true.  Behind the gas station is a bathroom and several people are hanging out back there selling garbage for drug money.  Their skin is pockmarked and their faces are gaunt.  They are ghosts animated but empty.

Uncomfortable using the facilities there, we try a fast food restaurant and discover that you must retrieve a token from the cashier to use the restrooms.  Apparently, people like to shoot up in the public bathrooms.  Unable to find a suitable place to urinate, we press on to Whiskeytown Lake.  The bathrooms here are unlocked and clean and relief is sweet.

A Detour

We drive west on 299 eventually meeting back up with the 101.  We have spent the whole day driving in a giant square.  Along 299, there are numerous trucks loaded down with logs, making the way very slow going.  The road is endless, twisting through the mountains of the Shasta-Trinity Wilderness.  This is the very same wilderness we will be backpacking through later this year on the PCT.

Multiple traffic jams arise along the route because this area is not free of mudslides either.  We are lucky to be able to pass this way.  Driving by multiple slide sights, we look up to see the damage and crews working diligently to clear the area of mud, trees, and boulders.

It is late when we finally arrive in Eureka.  There is a McDonald's and a K-mart, and we stop to eat and buy groceries.  The KOA in Crescent City is expecting us tonight, so onward we press.  Arriving after dark, our camping information is posted on the office cork board.  It takes some time to find our site, which is right by the bathrooms.  Pitching our tent in the near dark, we bed down for the night.

Camping in the Rain

We awaken to the sound of rain.  It will be like this for the next four days.  Incessant rain spilling down from the skies.  This rain is why this place exists.  The right combination of geographic location, elevation, and climate allows groves of ancient, tall, very tall, Redwood trees to survive here and nowhere else on earth.

The history of the formation of this park is a long and choppy one, resulting in a patchwork of national and state parks all referred to in the vernacular as the Redwoods.  Logging in the area began in the 1800s and was accelerated with the California gold rush.  The area was almost completely decimated of its groves when conservation efforts began.

Those of us lucky enough to see these trees should realize how close we were to losing this amazing place.  Take a moment to think about the people who dedicated their lives to saving parts of our wilderness.  It is because of them that we are able to go camping among these giants, some of which are 2,000 years old.

Tall Trees Grove

The ranger grants us a permit and gives us a gate code to the tall trees trailhead.  This four-mile loop will lead us to the tall trees grove.  We climb down the wet and muddy trail for miles, stopping often to peer at banana slugs, ferns, and hidden waterfalls.  The smell of weed smoke wafts up the trail.  Some hikers prefer to have an altered hiking experience.

The trees.  They are something out of a fairytale book.  Climbing up and up into the sky, tapering off into the grey, rainy clouds far above, the redwoods are one of the most precious sights in the world.  Oddly enough though, it may not be the macrocosm that catches your eye in the redwood forest.  It may be the microcosm.  This dark, dank place grows all sorts of small, odd plants and fungi.

Making our way back up to the trailhead.  It feels like we have been gone for days, lost in a wonderland.

Hiking in the Rain

The next morning begins the same way with the sound of rain: pitter patter on tent walls.  It is day two camping in the enchanted forest.  Just like the previous day, we drive for hours down an unpaved road to a secluded trailhead.  This one is called Stout Grove.

The rain is coming down in sheets today.  This fact does not deter us from starting our hike.  Although, it has obviously deterred others because we have the trail to ourselves.  The deluge adds to the ambiance of these deep woods, rain here makes the experience more vivid.

As it begins to clear off, the sun shoots rays through the canopy.  It creates a temple in the woods, a sacred space for the quiet worship of nature's beauty.  This grove is a special place.

A Canyon in the Rain

Day three of our visit begins with rain, but today we are on our way to visit a canyon, not a forest grove.  Again we find ourselves on a long, twisting, unpaved road through a dark forest.  Signs along the way read "picking mushrooms prohibited".  Soon we reach the coast.

The rain has caused the roadway to fill with water.  A car before us passes through with a little difficulty.  We decided to brave it.  As we drive through our rear bumper gets caught on a boulder and makes a horrible scraping noise.  On closer inspection, we suffered a little body damage.  But what is a little body damage in the name of adventure?

Fern Canyon

We are going to get our feet wet on this hike.  At first, we try to walk across logs and stones to stay dry.  But in order to get deeper into the fern canyon, we are soon walking through water.  The canyon walls are covered with maidenhair ferns.  Rivulets of water run down the rock face, making miniature waterfalls.  A gentle breeze is ever present.

At the back of fern canyon, the way gets clogged with large fallen trees.  Hikers climb and sit all over the downed branches.  With nowhere else to go, we start the hike back down the waterway.  Redwood National Park is a diverse place, and you can find yourself exploring a forest one day and walking along the beach the next.

Trilliums in the Rain

It is our final day camping in this amazing place.  Guess what?  It is raining.   We have taken advantage of the weather to test out our PCT raingear.  It is passing the test with flying colors, but we have discovered that raingear does not breathe well.  It is a little like wearing a portable sauna.  Either way, you are wet whether it be with your own sweat or with rain.

Today we explore the trillium falls trail.  We hike into the forest up switchbacks and over dead trees.  The soil is damp and soft.  It absorbs sound, and so we cannot hear the familiar crunching of our shoes as we hike along.  There is no one else on the trail today, and we climb among the redwoods to the waterfall.

The trilliums are in bloom.  It is a delicate white flower with three petals framed with a trio of large, broad, waxy leaves.  We stand on the bridge before the falls and quietly observe.  The rocks are covered in a think green algae and moss hangs in copious amounts from the trees.  This place has a verdant carpet, and it creates a soundproof environment.  Everything is still and silent save for the trickle of the waterfall.

This park is a gift.  It offers its visitors the opportunity to see many unique features, especially if you are willing to venture out.  Tell us about your experience below in the comments.  What did you like about this park?

Leaving the state on our way to a rainforest, buckle up for some more hiking and camping in the rain in Olympic National Park read here.

Camping Tips:

For great road trip ideas, click here.

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