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The tallest living creature on Earth based on height (378+ feet / 115 meters) is thought to be the Hyperion redwood tree in northern California. Because California (and southern Oregon) is the only place in the world to see the tall redwood trees over 200 feet / 60 meters, many visitors have redwoods as one of the "must see" items during their trip.
This article consolidates information for someone interested in seeing redwood trees during a trip to California:
There are different types of redwood trees, just like there are different types of pines or oak. The Coast Redwood is just one of three different types of redwood trees living today:
Those interested in more detail about the differences between the types of redwood species can read the National Park Service brochure.
Characteristics of the Coast Redwood
Although the tallest redwoods are over 350 feet, expect a mature redwood tree several hundreds years old to be about 250 feet (75 m) and 15 feet (5 m) wide. For comparison, Niagara Falls has a 175 feet (50 m) drop. Coast redwoods grow tall because of the fertile alluvial soil, the large amount of rain and fog available, resistance to disease/fire/wind, as well as as the ability to regenerate and grow after fires or storms.
Redwood trees live a long time -- typically between 500-800 years, though some can live over 2,000 years. Several of the trees still alive today were born during the time of the Roman Empire and Chinese Xin Dynasty. Rewoods can grow a couple of feet each year; however, the size of the tree is not an accurate gauge of the age: Two same sized trees in the same forest can differ in age by a thousand years. Because the only way to estimate the age of a tree is to cut it down to count the growth rings, ages of living trees cannot be accurately estimated unless the planting date is known. Note that redwoods are not the "oldest" trees -- that belongs to the bristlecone pine (also found in California).
Coast redwoods are evergreen conifers and have needles instead of leaves. The cones are very small (fits in your palm) compared to the larger pine cones. The roots are also very shallow and trees avoid falling during a storm by spreading their roots very wide, interlocking with the roots of surrounding coast redwood trees for strength.
The most distinguishing characteristic of the coast redwood (besides the height) is the reddish brown bark. The tannins in the bark is what gives it the reddish color. The tannins also protects the bark from disease, pests and fire.
[Reddish-brown, spongy bark at Prarie Creek State Park]
Just 175 years ago, coast redwoods could be found growing up and down the coasts of Oregon and California. However, much of those redwood forests have been harvested and cut down for use as lumber or fuel to drive factories during the gold rush years. Today, only about 3-5% of the original trees remain and the oldest redwood trees can only be found in county, state, or federal parks.
Second growth redwoods are those that have regenerated from the small sprouts or the seeds that were left after the original forest was cut down. There are also redwoods which were planted in areas where redwoods did not naturally grow. These trees are therefore fewer than 200 years old. Though they are still impressive (150 year old trees can be as tall as the Statue of Liberty), they are not as tall and wide as the older redwoods that are more than 400 years old.
[typical foggy morning at LadyBird Johnson Grove]
Regardless of the age of the trees, trails in Coast Redwood groves and parks have the following common characteristics:
As a result, all redwood parks are wonderful to visit and can be enjoyable regardless of whether they are old growth or second growth forests. But given a choice between visiting younger trees or older trees, it makes sense to go for the older, more mature ones. But that doesn't mean that only the tallest trees are worth visiting. In fact many of the tallest trees are in "undisclosed" locations to prevent abuse (though enough people still visit to cause some deterioration).
[hard to see the top of a 280+ foot tree at Henry Cowell SP]
The following general principles are helpful for those interested in seeing impressive redwood trees:
The main areas to see California coast redwoods are as follows (from south to north):
[enjoy redwoods right in downtown San Francisco]
Although most people enjoy the redwood trees by talking a walk or scenic drive, there are other ways to enjoy the tall trees, the mystical fog, the distinctive smell, the shady canopy and the soft spongy dirt that characterises a redwood grove. Here are seven different perspectives to consider:
The following are links to resources posted by TA members:
Northern California Road Trips:
Day Trips from San Francisco:
Big Sur redwood drive: