Montgomery Woods State Natual Reserve

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. Montgomery Flat, with its steep hillsides and dense canopy of old-growth redwoods, is like being inside a cathedral. Don’t forget to look up. There’s a redwood among these groves that was once the tallest known tree in the world.

Mendocino’s Hidden Secret

Loggers eager to turn old-growth redwoods into lumber pillaged the North Coast, cutting down more than 95 percent of the ancient forest. Montgomery Woods survived, thanks to a steep canyon that kept the axes at bay. The loggers eventually came, but not before the Save the Redwoods League stepped in to protect the land, saving these towering trees from the sawmills.

Mushrooms grow on a decaying log. Old-growth redwood forests are unique ecosystems — the redwood itself being only one of many living things that make these forests so surreal. As you traipse around Montgomery Flat, you become keen to this world of life, which expresses itself in the form of huckleberries, newts, and woodpeckers.

These massive, old-growth redwoods are among the largest trees at Montgomery Woods. I first learned of this reserve in Richard Preston’s phenomenal book, Wild Trees. One of the books main characters, an amateur botanist obsessed with finding and measuring the tallest trees in the world, discovered a giant on Montgomery Flat that taped out at 367.5 feet. The Mendocino Tree, as it was named, briefly held the title as the tallest tree in the world (an even taller tree was discovered soon thereafter). 

The forest floor here is covered in thick blankets of ferns and sorrell, which are greenest in the heart of winter. While it can be tempting to wander off trail, doing so damages this lush understory of native plants. The established trail that loops through Montgomery Woods is fantastic — it lets you see everything. Please help protect this unique and endangered landscape by staying on the trail. Doing so will also help you avoid poison oak, which lurks here.

One of the more burly trees in Montgomery Woods. The hike to these giants is fairly straightforward, though steep for the first quarter-mile. But then you descend into heaven as the trail drops onto Montgomery Flat.

The Orr Complex Fire scorched this grove in the summer of 2008, but the damage to old-growth was minor. Redwoods are incredibly fire-resistant due to their thick bark and high moisture content. Still, some were burned and are scarred to this day.

Because it’s in the middle of nowhere with no camping or services nearby, Montgomery Woods’ vibe is unlike that of most other redwood parks. It’s a bit more undiscovered and foresaken — but in all the best ways.

Montgomery Woods is a wonderful spot for contemplation. There are never too many people here, and with a little walking, you can find a place all to yourself to enjoy the serenity of the forest. If you’re passing through Mendocino (which is never a bad thing to be doing), it’s worth a visit. 

Know
Before
You Go

The magnificent trees at Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve are some of the last-remaining old-growth redwoods. Overuse from tourism is one of many reasons these ancient trees are threatened. Please tread lightly and follow the rules.

  • Montgomery Woods is open for day use only, from sunrise to sunset. There’s no camping here whatsoever. Try nearby-ish Hendy Woods if you’re looking to camp amongst the redwoods.
  • Though I’ve often observed this rule being broken, dogs are not allowed on hiking trails at Montgomery Woods (service animals being the exception).
  • Here’s a link to the State Park’s brochure for Montgomery Woods, which includes a simple map.
  • Besides the trail that loops through Montgomery Flat, there are no other hiking opportunities here — it’s a tiny reserve.
  • There’s a picnic area and restrooms near the entrance to the reserve.
  • If the parking lot is full, there are overflow areas to park just a bit further down the road, in the direction of Ukiah.
  • It’s not unusual for parts of the trail to flood during winter. That shouldn’t stop you from coming, though — the redwoods are beautiful in the rain! Just be sure to wear waterproof rain boots and you’ll be A-OK.

Know Before You Go

The magnificent trees at Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve are some of the last-remaining old-growth redwoods. Overuse from tourism is one of many reasons these ancient trees are threatened. Please tread lightly and follow the rules.

  • Montgomery Woods is open for day use only, from sunrise to sunset. There’s no camping here whatsoever. Try nearby-ish Hendy Woods if you’re looking to camp amongst the redwoods.
  • Though I’ve often observed this rule being broken, dogs are not allowed on hiking trails at Montgomery Woods (service animals being the exception).
  • Here’s a link to the State Park’s brochure for Montgomery Woods, which includes a simple map.
  • Besides the trail that loops through Montgomery Flat, there are no other hiking opportunities here — it’s a tiny reserve.
  • There’s a picnic area and restrooms near the entrance to the reserve.
  • If the parking lot is full, there are overflow areas to park just a bit further down the road, in the direction of Ukiah.
  • It’s not unusual for parts of the trail to flood during winter. That shouldn’t stop you from coming, though — the redwoods are beautiful in the rain! Just be sure to wear waterproof rain boots and you’ll be A-OK.

Directions to Montgomery Woods

From the Mendocino Coast, take Comptche Ukiah Road (just south of the bridge over Big River) east for about 40 miles. Plan for an 1 hour and 15 minutes from Fort Bragg or about an hour from the village of Mendocino. It’s a shorter drive from Ukiah — about 15 miles and half an hour via Orr Springs Road.

Related Organizations

Save the Redwoods League

Since 1918, Save the Redwoods League has protected and restored California redwood forests and connected people with their peace and beauty so these wonders of the natural world flourish. They purchase redwood forests and the surrounding lands needed to nurture them; regenerate logged forests so they become spectacular havens for future generations; study how to best protect and restore these global treasures; and introduce people to these magical places.

California State Parks

The mission of California State Parks is to provide for the health, inspiration and education of the people of California by helping to preserve the state's extraordinary biological diversity, protecting its most valued natural and cultural resources, and creating opportunities for high-quality outdoor recreation.