The Tall Trees Grove
Length 3.9 mi · Climbing 690 ft
Due to federal budget cuts, the six-mile-long access road to the Tall Trees trailhead has been closed. (June 2013)
The popular Tall Trees Grove is best known as the location of the Libbey Tree, which at one time was the world's tallest known living thing. Although taller redwoods have since been found, the Libbey Tree is still interesting because it's the only one of the former Tallest Trees that you can actually see. The locations of all the other tallest trees have been kept secret. Like the other tallest trees, the Libbey Tree itself is completely unremarkable when seen from the ground, a double trunk so small that you probably won't believe you're looking at the right tree.
Of all the major attractions in Redwood National and State Parks, the Tall Trees Grove is the most difficult to reach. To protect the grove, a limited number of cars per day are allowed access; permits must be obtained at Kuchel Visitor Center. Once you get your permit, it's a 45-minute drive to the trailhead, starting with a long climb up Bald Hills Road. You have to open a locked gate using a secret combination, then it's a 6-mile drive down a dusty (or muddy) gravel logging road. Finally, you have to walk 1.3 miles with a considerable elevation change to reach the grove.
Of course, the difficulty of getting there only adds to the grove's mystique; it feels like you're entering some secret hideout. Certainly, the whole experience wouldn't be quite so special if the grove were right next to Highway 101. Being so isolated, there's also a serenity that's hard to find in old-growth groves, with no traffic noise at all intruding on the peacefulness.
The grove itself, located on a thin strip of flat land alongside Redwood Creek, is rather small and narrow. In fact, there's only about a quarter-mile of big-tree scenery, and the grove's edge is always in sight. It's certainly a beautiful place, though, with a look that's all its own: a reserved magnificence, with dark-trunked monster redwoods set among 5-foot-tall ferns and a dense understory of hazelnut and other small trees. It's much different from the extravagant lushness of Prairie Creek or the expansive brilliance of Jedediah Smith. Between the grove and the creek is a layer of huge maple trees that the trail passes through.
Several side trails lead out of the grove to Redwood Creek. The broad, glittering creek, with its gravel banks and expansive views of the surrounding redwood-covered hillsides, is quite scenic. Many visitors hike down to the grove and spend a few hours relaxing by the creek and among the redwoods. With a permit, you can even camp anywhere along the creek banks a quarter-mile or more from the grove.
Another nice thing about the grove is that it's much further inland than the old-growth groves in the state redwood parks. If it's one of those cold, foggy summer days on the coast, there's a good chance that the Tall Trees Grove will be sunny and warm.
The grove is a popular destination for first-time visitors to the park and is highly recommended by a lot of guidebooks. Be aware, though, that you'll spend half a day getting there and back, and in return you'll only get about 10 minutes of hiking through the big trees (unless you stop, or hike through more than once). If you only have a day to see the redwoods, unless you have a special interest in the Tall Trees Grove it would make a whole lot more sense to hike, say, the Boy Scout Tree Trail or the Prairie Creek Trail, both of which have much more impressive scenery and are also much easier to reach. If you plan to spend two or more days in the redwoods, though, the Tall Trees Grove might be worthwhile since it's refreshingly different from the other big-tree groves.
If you're visiting in the summer and don't mind wading through Redwood Creek, consider the Emerald Ridge and Tall Trees Loop, which is a really enjoyable variation of this hike and a nice change of pace if you've been doing a lot of hiking under the redwood canopy.
Click here to see the trailhead location in Google Maps.
To visit the grove you first have to get a free permit from Kuchel Information Center, just south of Orick. The permit includes a parking pass and a gate combination. A limited number of permits are available each day, but it's unusual for them to run out.
To reach the grove, drive up Bald Hills Road past the Lady Bird Johnson Trail and the Redwood Creek overlook. The six-mile-long "C-Line" dirt road starts at a mosquito-infested gate that you have to unlock, and then descends through logged woodlands, ending at a trailhead parking lot. The road is generally in good condition with the exception of some potholes.
From the parking lot, the access trail descends steeply, almost immediately entering old-growth redwood uplands. Some attractive redwoods, bleached white and rising tall and straight from the steep hillside, can be seen both alongside the trail and in the distance, but overall the access trail is unexciting. A dense understory of huckleberry, rhododendron, and small redwoods screens the view, and a dense layer of ferns covers the ground.
The access trail bottoms out amid a cluster of huge redwoods, one of the more impressive parts of the Tall Trees grove. The path turns right and branches. Keeping right, you'll pass a number of monster trees, but most of the redwoods are smaller and the understory is dense. A hillside rises up just a few yards to your right, marking the edge of the grove and giving it an enclosed feeling.
At the north end of the grove, the Redwood Creek Trail branches off to the right. A superb collection of big trees grows around this spot, which is perhaps the most scenic part of the grove. The main trail then turns left and skirts the edge of the redwoods. The trail then leaves the redwoods altogether, winding among the big twisted maples, furry with moss, that grow alongside the creek. The trail then re-enters the redwoods, passing by the incongruously small Libbey Tree before re-joining the access trail.
It's a surprisingly difficult climb back to the parking lot, with a steep and prolonged grade.
© 2007-2010 David Baselt