To visit this grove, you need to get a free Tall Trees permit online at least one day before your visit. Only 65 permits are available each day, and in summer they tend to run out about a week in advance.
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 the other tallest trees have been kept secret. Typically for an exceptionally tall redwood, 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, no more than 65 cars per day are allowed access. From Kuchel Visitor Center, 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 e-mailed to you the day before your visit, 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. The whole experience wouldn’t be quite so special if the grove were right next to the highway. 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 an exceptionally beautiful place, though, with its own unique look: a reserved magnificence, with widely-spaced, dark-trunked monster redwoods set among 5-foot-tall ferns and a dense understory of hazelnut and other small trees. A large break in the canopy over the nearby creek makes the grove unusually bright and cheerful. The overall effect is similar to the Grove of Titans.
After passing through the heart of the grove, the trail loops back through a layer of huge maple trees between the grove and Redwood Creek.
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 some time relaxing by the creek and among the redwoods. With a backcountry camping 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. 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, 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 think you might enjoy 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 from the other redwood trails.
To reach the trailhead, drive up Bald Hills Road; just past the Redwood Creek overlook, look for the Tall Trees access road. You have to get out of your car to unlock a gate, which happens to be in the most mosquito-infested spot in the entire park. From there the six-mile-long “C-Line” dirt road descends through logged woodlands to a trailhead parking lot. The road is generally in good condition, wide and smooth 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 isn’t very exciting. A dense understory of huckleberry, rhododendron, and small redwoods screens the view, and a dense layer of ferns covers the ground.
Just before the access trail reaches the grove, the understory opens up and there’s a nice view of a cluster of huge redwoods set among a dense lawn of ferns. As the trail bottoms out it passes through this cluster, which is one of the more impressive parts of the Tall Trees grove. The path then turns right and branches. Keeping right, you’ll pass a number of monster trees among a dense understory. 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 leaves the redwoods altogether for a while, winding among the big twisted maples that grow alongside the creek. The maples are furry with moss and even have ferns growing out of their trunks. The trail 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, 2015, 2019, 2022 David Baselt