Hiking Among the Redwoods in California’s Muir Woods

I am standing in front of a redwood tree California’s Muir Woods, swaying from side to side. If there was anyone else on the trail, they might think I was performing some arcane New Age ritual. Either that, or being charmed by a hypnotic snake. What I am doing is listening.

In Your Bucket Because….

  • Sometimes you just need to sit still and let the word “awesome” mean something real.
  • Seeing this unique forest up close is a lesson in ecosystems, succession, the adaptability of nature, and the interrelationship of living things
  • Good for families, nature lovers, hikers. Some of the trails are accessible for handicapped visitors.
Sequoia

Sequoia trees are among the oldest trees on earth

When I sway to the right of the tree, I hear water tricking in a creek just above the tree. When I sway to the left so that the tree is between me and the creek, I hear nothing. That’s how big this tree is: It stops sound. For some reason, I find this fascinating, and I sway back and forth, hearing, not hearing, hearing, not hearing.

There’s no one around to watch my gyrations: I’ve left the main trail, and with the aid of a sketch map from a guidebook, I’ve wandered away from the park’s six miles of paved trails — convenient for families and city walkers; not as appealing to backcountry hikers. So I’ve found dirt, and am following a trail that goes up a ridge from which I should be able to see the ocean if the fog isn’t too thick.

I’m not making much progress though: There’s too much to catch my attention, and I find myself unable to walk and look at the sky at the same time. But that’s where my eyes are drawn. Coastal redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are the tallest trees on earth  — not to be confused with their cousins, the giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) which are the largest trees on earth. (To picture the difference, simply think “basketball player” versus “football player.”

Coastal California’s Tall Trees

That’s not to say the tallest redwoods are here, though: The record holder, which measures a cloud-piercing 379.1 feet, lives deep in a forest in northern California. By contrast, the trees here in Muir Woods are not as tall:, the highest reaching “only” about 250 feet. Still, to an East Coaster like me, that’s enormous: More than twice the height of the typical white pine, which is the forest giant in my part of the country. What this park does have, though, is a lot of redwoods, scattered in groves throughout its 560 acres, creating a unique old-growth ecosystem that also includes red alders, California big leaf maples, tan oaks, and Douglas fir. The forest floor is thick and soft with organic debris — fallen trees and duff, along with ferns and fungi and infant trees, often growing out of the trunks of long dead and fallen redwoods.

The biggest trees in the park are in the Bohemian and Cathedral groves. One is 252 feet tall; the other 14 feet in diameter. Their age is estimated at 800 – 1000 years old. All those big numbers take up a lot of brain space, but here’s a fact that dwarfs them: All of this comes from a seed no bigger than that of a tomato plant.

Practicalities

  • Muir Woods National Monument is located about an hour from San Francisco.
  • Bring a jacket: The forest is shaded, cool, and often foggy: Indeed, fog is required for the redwood’s survival.

 

About 

Karen Berger is the author of 15 books. She has hiked, ridden horses, kayaked, scuba dived, climbed, sailed, and marveled on six continents.

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