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Redwood Forests in California

Guide to Visiting California's Best Redwood Forests

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These giant sequoias may be the "redwoods" you're thinking of, but they aren't the only kind of big trees in California. This guide tells you about them all and where to see them.

©2009 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

About Trees in the California Redwood Forests

The California trees people call "redwoods" are actually two distinct species, both of them best described in superlatives.

Sometimes called simply the "big trees," giant sequoias (sequoiadendron giganteum) grow only in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains toward the state's eastern border. The most massive living things, they can reach 280 feet tall and 23 feet across. The largest rise a little more than 300 feet and spread almost 30 feet across. The oldest have been around more than 3,000 years

Coastal redwoods (sequoia sempervirens) are the tallest living things on our planet, growing 300-350 feet tall and 16-18 feet across, with record specimens soaring 360 feet. They are the primary trees in the redwood forests that grow from near the California coast from the northern border down to Big Sur.

Redwood forests are so plentiful in California that you'll find almost a dozen parks with "redwood" in their name, along with a national park and quite a few regional ones. Any of them will give you a glimpse of the magnificent trees and the forests they grow in, but we think the redwood forests listed below are some of the best places to see them. They're listed in geographic order from north to south.

Best Places to See California's Redwood Forests

We recommend reading a little bit about the redwood forest before you visit so you can better appreciate it.
  • Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park: Besides the big trees, this redwood forest park is also home to a herd of Roosevelt Elk and a showy rhododendrons blooms in May and June. It's located between Crescent City and Eureka.
     
  • Redwood National Park: Several redwood forest state and national parks are administered jointly, together preserving almost half of the old-growth redwood forests remaining. You'll find five visitor centers, four campgrounds and plenty of things to do. The Ladybird Johnson Grove, just off US 101 offers a fairly easy, one-mile walk through a redwood forest full of the tall trees.
     
  • Muir Woods National Monument: Just 12 miles north of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods is an easily accessible redwood forest that offers three hiking loops with well-groomed trails most anyone can manage. Rangers also give frequent guided walks that will help you learn about the redwood forest.
     
  • Yosemite National Park: The Mariposa Grove is Yosemite's largest redwood forest, home to specimens of giant sequoias. It's about 4 hours' drive east of San Francisco.
     
  • Big Basin Redwoods State Park: In the mountains south of San Francisco between San Jose and the town of Santa Cruz, this redwood forest stood in for Muir Woods in Alfred Hitchcock's film Vertigo. It's much less crowded than Muir and has some nice tent cabins where you could spend the night in the middle of the redwood forest.
     
  • Petrified Redwood Forest: Nature turned this redwood forest to stone, making it a different way to experience the trees. They're located just west of Calistoga at the north end of Napa Valley.
     
  • Sequoia National Park: This is the place to go if your goal is to see the very biggest giant sequoia trees. The largest living things make their home in Sequoia's redwood forests, where you'll find the world's largest tree General Sherman and the only-slightly-smaller General Grant Tree.

If you like the sequoia trees, you may also like the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest off Highway 395 in eastern California, where the oldest specimens have been around for about 5,000 years.

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