Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: April 2023
The coastal redwoods are among some of the oldest and tallest trees in the world. They can live for more than 2,000 years and reach a height of over 90 metres (or 300 feet). Redwood forests only grow naturally in a narrow band along the Pacific coast from southern Oregon to central California. They depend on stable temperature and moisture, which is often provided from the wet winters and frequent fog in the summer.
After spending the night at Prairie Creek Redwoods, we started to make the journey back to Seattle, passing through Jedediah Smith Redwoods on the way back. These two parks, along with Del Norte Coast Redwoods and the Redwood National Park protect nearly half of all the old-growth redwood forest remaining in California.
We left the campground first thing in the morning just as the sun was starting to rise. We were soon rewarded for our early start by seeing some elk by the side of the road.
From Prairie Creek Redwoods it was just over an hour drive to reach Jedediah Smith Redwoods. There are two main areas that provide access to most of the hiking trails in the park. We passed the first area along Route 199 and decided to start there. We turned off on Walker Road, a narrow dirt road, and first hiked along the Leiffer and Ellsworth Loop (3.5km loop, rated moderate). The trail meanders through a redwood forest filled with towering trees and a lot of lush ferns. The first 800 metres was relatively flat with minimal elevation gain.
The path then connects with the Ellsworth Trail to form a longer loop. This portion of the trail was narrower and more rugged. We started to question whether we were on the actual trail anymore. Much of the path was overgrown with vegetation and there were several fallen trees that we had to scramble over, under and around. This section of the forest also looked much younger as the trees weren’t as tall.
We came across a junction with a sign that pointed us back to Leiffer Loop, which provided some validation that we weren’t lost in a maze of greenery. From there we thought we were in the clear as this path is more defined. But then we took a wrong turn at another junction and ended up by the road. It turns out there are two access points to the trail. Instead of turning around to find the connector path that leads to the other access point where we parked, we decided to just walk back along the road as it was flat and shaded.
But then we came across a fork in the road. Maybe we should have taken a picture of the trail map with us. We turned down the road in the direction we thought made the most sense based on where we parked. Shortly after we saw a car coming down the road, which provided some reassurance. Once we passed the bend in the road, we spotted our car. What we thought was a short hike ended up taking just over an hour to complete. No complaints as the first portion was scenic and the trail was quite peaceful and quiet.
We then hit up the Simpson-Reed Trail (1.3km loop, rated easy), which consists of a wide accessible trail that leads through an ancient forest. Many of the redwoods here are over a thousand years old. There is also an abundance of ferms along the path, which flourish here in the moist cool environment.
Along the way there’s a series of information panels that provide more fun facts about the forest. For example, despite being some of the world’s tallest trees, the coastal redwoods have a shallow root system. They extend only about six to ten feet into the ground. This is largely because in the Redwood region, there is plenty of water close to the ground’s surface, so the trees don’t need a deep root system. A shallow root system can make the trees vulnerable to strong winds and floods though. However, their roots can spread hundreds of feet from the tree and even join roots from neighboring trees, creating extra support and stability.
The trail connects with the Peterson Memorial Trail for a slightly longer loop. We decided to give it a whirl since the path is short and relatively flat. After crossing the bridge, the trail leads through a forest with slightly younger trees.
We then headed to the other section in the park, across from the Smith River, which required driving down a narrow dirt road. We followed the road for about a mile to get to the Stout Memorial Grove (0.8km loop, rated easy). From the parking lot there’s a short paved path that leads downhill to the start of the loop. The trail winds through an ancient coastal redwood forest. In 1929, Clara Stout donated this 44-acre grove of old-growth redwoods to the Save the Redwoods League to save it from being logged.
It was then time for us to hit the road again as we had just over five hours of driving to get to Portland.