There are giants in California. They jut out of soil dampened by fog rolling in from the Pacific and reach greater heights than any other living thing on the planet. They are the coast redwoods: the world’s tallest trees. Many of them grow to be over 200 feet tall and the tallest soar to over 350 feet -- higher than a 30 story skyscraper. When you’re in the middle of redwoods and look up, you won’t be likely to see the tops of the trees and it’s fascinating to realize there’s a hidden world in the canopy above. For many people, being in the presence of these giants rouses feelings of reverence and awe for the Earth.
Height isn't the only merit of the coast redwoods: they have impressive survival skills that enable them to exist for centuries and sometimes even millennia. Their bark is thick and rich in tannins which helps resist fires and serves as a natural insect and fungi repellent. Their shallow roots allow them to easily absorb the fog that drips from their needles; an adaptation that keeps them hydrated during California’s dry season. Underground, their roots intertwine with those of other redwoods giving them the collective strength to withstand wind and floods, and -- according to researchers from the University of British Columbia -- to communicate and share resources via a complex network of fungal threads.
So, where can you see these amazing trees in person? The coast redwood habitat extends from the southern coast of Oregon to California’s Central Coast, and there are a number of national and state parks full of redwoods near our hostels. Here are seven places in Northern California where you can experience the coast redwoods:
Muir Woods National Monument
Named after John Muir, California’s preeminent conservationist, Muir Woods is one of the state’s most popular redwood groves. This old-growth redwood forest was spared during a period of heavy logging because of its inaccessibility at the time, and it was established as a national park in 1908. The main path that visitors stick to is a gentle walkway filled with educational placards but there are a number of other trails for longer secluded hikes. Just 12 miles north of San Francisco, Muir Woods makes for a good day trip from the city and it's easily accessible from the Marin Headlands Hostel, which is also about 12 miles away. On weekends and holidays from May to October, there is a shuttle to Muir Woods that picks up visitors from the Sausalito Ferry Terminal.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
In the hills that extend for several miles inland between the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel and the Santa Cruz Hostel you’ll find Big Basin, California’s oldest state park and a California Historical Landmark. It covers 18,000 acres, has over 80 miles of trails, and a large number of ancient redwoods can be found here. In addition to coast redwoods and several waterfalls, the park is home to a wide variety of animal species including deer, frogs, woodpeckers, banana slugs, coyotes and bobcats. Across the street from the Highway 1 entrance to Big Basin is Waddell Beach, a popular spot for windsurfing and kiteboarding.
Butano State Park
If you're looking for a peaceful walk through the redwoods, Butano State Park is a great option. About 6.5 miles inland from the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel, this is a lesser known park that’s full of streams that flow year round. Its secluded location means there are often less crowds at this park. While you’re here, try to find the Candelabra Tree –- a redwood with five huge branches (each as big as trees themselves), protruding from its massive trunk.
Samuel P. Taylor State Park
13 miles away from the Point Reyes Hostel, Samuel P. Taylor State Park contains a combination of coast redwood forest and open grassland. This park is named after Samuel Penfield Taylor, a man who struck it rich in the Gold Rush and invested his wealth in land and businesses in Marin County. There are a number of different types of landscapes and trails here, so if you’re looking for redwoods, follow the Pioneer Tree Trail. Samuel P. Taylor also includes part of Lagunitas Creek where you can find salmon and trout spawning in the winter. In the park's grasslands, keep your eyes peeled for the springtime wildflower bloom.
Portola Redwoods State Park
Tucked away in the hills east of Highway 1, near both the Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel and the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel, Portola Redwoods State Park is another secluded and serene place to visit the redwoods. This park has 18 miles of trails that connect with four adjacent San Mateo County parks: Pescadero Creek Park, Memorial Park, Sam McDonald Park, and Heritage Grove. The Sequoia Nature Trail loop makes for an easy introduction to Portola Redwoods though there are more challenging hikes here, as well. The park's small waterfall -- charmingly named “Tip Toe Falls” -- can be found along the Iverson Trail.
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Just 5.5 miles north of the Santa Cruz Hostel is Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. This park is centered around a grove of old growth redwoods which includes trees that are 1,800 years old and crown 300 feet tall. You'll also find giant sequoias -- the world’s most massive trees -- in this park. Beyond the main loop, there are trails leading to sandy beaches on the San Lorenzo River and overlooks that afford impressive views of Monterey Bay. Just outside the park is Roaring Camp Railroads, which offers family-friendly rides through the redwoods on 19th century steam engine trains.
Wilder Ranch State Historic Park
Wilder Ranch provides a wonderful opportunity to visit both the redwoods and the ocean in one hike on the Pacific to Redwoods Loop. Starting just off of Highway 1, this challenging 12 mile hike will take you along the craggy cliffs of the Pacific coast and up into a redwood forest before bringing you back to the ocean. A little under 5 five miles away from the Santa Cruz Hostel, Wilder Ranch is also popular for its historic buildings and living history days.
Stay at one of our Northern California Hostels, and experience the magic of the redwoods.