Sunday, November 24, 2013

Day hike 600-year-old redwoods grove

Fog from the Pacific Ocean marine layer provides up to a
quarter of the precipitation that coastal redwoods need. 
Topo map, Damnation Creek Trail.
Hiking families can enjoy a trip into what feels like the forest primeval on a segment of the Damnation Creek Trail in Redwood National Park.

The entire trail runs four miles with an elevation change of 1170 feet, a hearty workout for any fit teen or adult. For those with younger children, a 1.2-mile round trip through just the redwoods section of the trail makes for more than a fantastic walk.

Summer marks the best time to hike the trail as winters are rainy, with this area of California receiving around 80 inches a year. Any time of the day works well to hike the trail – in the morning the fog from the marine layer shrouds the tree tops while late afternoon on clear days allows the setting sun’s golden rays to break through the boughs.

To reach the trail, take U.S. Hwy. 101 to mile marker 16, about eight miles south of Crescent City, Calif. The parking lot is a pullout on the highway’s west side. Look for the trailhead sign on the pullout’s north side.

Land of the Lost?
The trail starts at about 1100 feet elevation and climbs through a dense grove of redwoods. The range of trunk sizes and bark colors can falsely lead those who’ve never seen these giants to believe that a variety of trees grow here, but it’s strictly coastal redwoods with only the occasional Douglas fir.

An understory of rhododendron, which sports beautiful pink and purple blossoms in mid-May to early June, and incredibly tall huckleberry bushes – some reaching 15 feet high – makes you feel like you’re in a scene from “Land of the Lost.”

After a quarter mile, the trail crests a ridge then descends to the Pacific Ocean. During tourism season, traffic noise can be an issue, as the path roughly parallels Hwy. 101. At about 0.4 miles, it pulls away from the road.

The trail then reaches stately old-growth redwoods, and you’ll think you’ve entered a hidden world.

Up to 96% gone
Coastal redwoods can reach up to 379 feet high (not including the roots), 26 feet around, and 1800 years for a lifespan. Most trees in this segment of the national forest are about 500-700 years old and so are not quite as high or wide.

Even on a sunny day, you may feel a drip from a redwood branch. Redwoods depend upon the daily coastal fog, which provides up to a quarter of the precipitation necessary for their survival.

At one time, coastal redwoods covered 2.1 million acres of countryside, stretching from south of San Francisco into southern Oregon. Unlike its relative the sequoia, found in Yosemite and Sequoia national parks, the redwood makes for great lumber, so about 96 percent of the original old growth redwood forest has been logged off.

Upon reaching the Coastal Trail (a paved route) junction, you’ve gone 0.6 miles and descended 300 feet. This marks a good spot to turn around, for the rest of the way is steep and full of switchbacks to the trail’s namesake, Damnation Creek, and a rocky ocean beach.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.