The Big Trees -- Not as Far as You Think

For the last 24 years my job has required me to work every other weekend, so I only have half as many weekends to play as most people. That means I feel compelled to make the most of every one of them. Recently I had Thursday and Friday off and it wasn’t my work weekend. That gave me four whole days for a trip, which felt like plenty of time to really do something.

Because I’ve recently altered my definition of “not that far,” we decided to go see the Redwoods. Yes, we decided to go all the way to California from Portland to see the big trees in four days. According to google maps, it is only 322 miles to Jedediah Smith State Park; the drive time is 5 hours and 22 minutes via I-5. Now google didn’t accommodate for the obligatory stop at K&R Drive-In in Rice, Ore. for burgers and shakes -- K&R is an Oregon institution off exit number 148, offering 38 different flavors of Umpqua Dairy ice cream -- but we still made it by early evening and settled into our campsite by dusk.

Howland Hill Road beckons and it is hard to resist.

Howland Hill Road beckons and it is hard to resist.

Jedediah Smith State Park, set along the turquoise blue Smith River, is the first in a string of Redwood parks along the Redwood highway. It’s a great first stop, but we continued further south to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park across the border in California. We were fortunate and found a site in the grassland loop next to a meadow. Nearby dozens of elk milled about enjoying a meal. While we chose the loop with open sky, there are big trees and a rushing creek in the other loop, which looked perfect for another time.

We popped the top, got the Westy set up, strolled the campground, and marveled at the trees, the elk, and the sun. After cooking dinner, we settled into our evening routine of reading and planning the next day. When my kids were little, they took turns reading aloud to each other in the top bed, which is a sweet memory.  

In the morning we packed up and headed off to walk among the big trees. Howland Hill Road is an unpaved single lane gem that winds through the trees deep in the park. Access is north of Crescent City or just adjacent to the park entrance if you are coming from Oregon. Along the way, you have the option of a short loop stroll through the Stout Grove or a hike to the Boy Scout tree - a 5 mile walk through many stands of  huge and impressive trees. Both are magical not to be missed experiences.

The drive between Prairie Creek and Jedediah takes you through the not-so scenic town of Crescent City and then puts you back into the Redwoods on a two lane road with lots of turn outs for groves with names like Simpson-Reed Grove, Leffert and Ellsworth Trail and Hatton Trail. You can stop at one or many as you make your way along.

We spent about 36 hours in the Redwoods, which of course isn’t nearly long enough. But it really isn’t that far from Portland and we all agreed the magic of the Redwood forest on a sun dappled day was worth it.

(Note: This post was written by Chris Beard, the owner of Tilly Jane and our resident GoCamp concierge.)