The Coast Redwood
The awe-inspiring coast redwood is California’s state tree, the tallest tree in the world, and the tallest known living thing in the universe. It’s also uniquely Californian, growing only in a narrow range along the Golden State’s North Coast (plus a few miles into Oregon). If you want to see redwoods, you pretty much have to come to California.
You can appreciate this tree on several levels. For starters, the coast redwood is scientifically unique as an organism and ecosystem. It’s easy to nerd out on this tree, which is one of California’s raddest native plants.
But you must also recognize its beauty. With hulking, arrow-straight trunks rising to record heights, redwoods are aesthetically stunning. For many, these trees are first and foremost a sight to see. Walking through a grove of ancient redwoods towering in the mist can be a transcendental, even spiritual experience.
Finally, you have to consider the age of these trees. The oldest specimens growing in places like Humboldt Redwoods State Park are in the neighborhood of 2,000 years old. That’s a millennium of droughts, wildfires, storms, and interference from humans. The old giants that remain survived it all. But they’re the exception, not the rule.
Sadly, most trees didn’t make it. An immense forest of towering old-growth redwoods once blanketed the North Coast, but 95 percent of those trees were cut down, mostly for lumber. A measly 5 percent of ancient trees remain, most of which are protected as parks. These groves have become popular tourist destinations. Many now face a slow death by millions of footsteps.
The great coastal redwood forests of the North Coast stand side-by-side with the High Sierra as the Golden State’s most iconic landscape. But will the last remaining groves of old-growth survive? And can second-growth forests eventually recover and become even a fraction of their former, magical selves? The good (and bad) news is that that’s entirely up to us.
Where do redwoods grow?
Part of the coast redwood’s allure is it’s tiny, native range. Redwoods grow in a narrow, 450-mile long strip along California’s coast, from the Santa Lucia Mountains in the south to just beyond the Oregon border in the north.
Sonoma, Mendocino, Humboldt, and Del Norte Counties are the heart of the redwood forest. Here you’ll find the largest and tallest trees, as well as the biggest and densest stands of old-growth.
How many redwood trees are left?
The coast redwood forest covers around 1.5 million acres, but nearly all of that is second growth-forest. Scientists estimate that less than 5 percent of ancient, old-growth redwoods remain.
How fast and tall do redwoods grow?
Redwoods are some of the fastest-growing trees, adding two to six feet in height every year once they reach maturity around age 30. It can take a redwood only 200 years to reach 350 feet, the benchmark of a very tall tree.
The tallest-known tree is Hyperion, which topped out at 381 feet. Measurements are closely guarded these days to protect the trees, so there is likely a taller one out there. There are tales of 400-foot-plus giants being felled during the logging rush.
Explore California’s Redwoods
Hendy Woods SP
True, the trees at Hendy Woods State Park are not quite as tall as the giants in some of California’s more famous redwood parks. But Hendy Woods’ unique location alongside orchards and vineyards in Anderson Valley — an idyllic and undiscovered wine country — gives it a magic that is all its own.
Humboldt Redwoods SP
Arguably the Mecca of the great coastal redwood forest, Humboldt Redwoods State Park is where you’ll find the majority of the world’s tallest trees, as well as the largest remaining contiguous forest of old-growth redwoods.
Montgomery Woods SNR
Lying farther inland than most redwood parks, Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve is tucked into the heart of Mendocino County’s coast range. The narrow, windy, pot-hole-laden drive to get here is worth it, though. There’s a redwood among these groves that was once the tallest known tree in the world.