● By Enjoy Magazine
Sequoia sempervirens knows no equals among flora. Known far and wide as the coast redwood, the species includes the tallest trees on Earth. Its foot-thick bark repels insects with ease; raging forest fires leave little more than soot marks.
Jedediah Strong Smith was a formidable character as well. He survived a vicious grizzly bear attack in 1824, stopping only to have his company of fur trappers sew his scalp and ear back on, and two years later became the first explorer of European ancestry to travel overland from the Mississippi River to California.
Once in California, Smith took his entourage north along the Pacific coast and into present-day Oregon, navigating his way through the vast stands of giant redwoods that covered an estimated 2.1 million acres.
It was only fitting, then, that one of the best places in the North State to revel in the glory of old-growth redwoods—Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park—was named after the explorer whose pioneering efforts helped open the region to new eyes. His namesake park is 10,430 acres of redwoods, hiking trails, campground and visitor center with the Smith River—California’s last major free-flowing river—coursing through the middle of it all.
Located on Highway 199 about nine miles east of Crescent City, the park is one of three state parks (joining Del Norte Coast and Prairie Creek) within the much larger Redwood National Park. The three are jointly managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation and the National Park Service. Combined, they protect 45 percent of California’s remaining redwood forests.
The park is far enough inland to offer up plenty of warm summer days while the coast can be enveloped in fog. Winter is a different story altogether, with 100-inch rainfall totals not out of the norm.
That mix of moderate year-round temperatures and lots of rain is a perfect blend for coast redwoods, which can tower to heights of 350 feet or higher and develop trunks with 20-foot diameters during life spans that can exceed 2,000 years.
Although its exact location is a closely held secret (as a ranger noted during a campfire talk at the visitors center, redwoods are not immune to sightseers hoping to carve out a piece of history), the world’s tallest tree resides in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.
It has been named Hyperion and scientists used lasers to document its height at 379 feet. One of Hyperion’s neighbors, the Del Norte Titan, is believed to be one of the world’s largest trees by volume. At a relatively demure 307 feet in height, the Titan features a 23-foot-thick trunk and an astounding 37,000 cubic feet of wood—enough to build 120 average-sized homes.
Others in the race toward the heavens include the Stratosphere Giant, Helios and Icarus. Biologists note that growth spurts, wind storms, rainfall variances and even woodpeckers can tip the balance and shift the tallest-tree crown from one giant to another.
The silent majesty and visual grandeur of the redwood experience can be fully appreciated during a walk through Stout Grove, located a half-mile from the 89-site campground and accessible during summer months by a footbridge across the Smith River.
Towering redwoods are joined by western hemlock, Douglas fir, big-leaf maple, red alder, California laurel, tan oak, madrone and Port Orford cedars. Down low, from a perspective shared by the ubiquitous banana slug, visitors are greeted by a lush undergrowth of ferns, rhododendrons, lilies, huckleberry, azaleas and other plants.
Redwoods aren’t the only large features in the park: in the fall and winter months, the Smith River becomes a must-visit destination for anglers looking to hook into trophy steelhead and salmon. The current California record-setting steelhead, a shiny-as-a-dime 27-pounder, was taken on the Smith, and Chinook salmon in the 50- and 60-pound range are not uncommon.
A trip to the area would not be complete without taking an easy, child-friendly hike on the Coastal Trail down to Hidden Beach, where low tide reveals pools full of colorful anemones, starfish and other creatures. The trail is easily accessed at the Lagoon Creek picnic area in nearby Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. •
1440 Highway 199 • Crescent City