5 ways to see the massive trees

Growing up in Northern California gave me the chance to meet the tallest trees on Earth at a very young age. Decades later, the wow factor has still not worn off. If you’d like to visit the mammoth redwoods (aka Sequoia sempervirens), here are several amazing spots to check out. One thing is for certain: It’s an easy way to score yourself a heavy dose of forest therapy.

Climb a redwood

Chances are, you haven’t attempted to climb a tree since childhood. Well, that’s all about to change. In the Santa Cruz Mountains, you can climb to the crown of Grandfather, a redwood tree somewhere between 600 and 1,000 years old. Every March, Tim Kovar, founder of Tree Climbing Planet, allows a limited number of tree lovers to make their way up into the tree canopy. How exactly? Pretty easily, believe it or not. Climbers don helmets, gloves and “saddles” (cushioned belt contraptions with stirrups attached). Then they inchworm their way up the rope.

“There’s just nowhere else on the planet that I know of that one can legally climb into a redwood” other than in the Santa Cruz Mountains, says Tim Kovar, owner of Tree Climbing Planet.

“There’s just nowhere else on the planet that I know of that one can legally climb into a redwood,” says Kovar. “I don’t know for a fact, but I can assume that more people have summited Mount Everest than have summited an old-growth redwood tree.”

At 180 feet, you’ll be rewarded with dreamy views of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the city of Capitola and the Monterey Peninsula.

“I like to think of our form of tree climbing as inspirational tree climbing,” he says. “People are inspired when they get aloft. For some it’s pure joy, for others it’s a form of therapy.”

Kovar also holds tree-climbing sessions across the state border in Oregon City from April to October. Added bonus: You have the chance to spend the night in the tree canopy. Turns out, most anyone can do this. Kovar says he’s taught everyone from 5-year-olds to 85-year-olds.

Embrace forest therapy

Forest bathing – based on the Japanese term shinrin-yokuk, or taking in the atmosphere – encourages participants to "slow down, awaken our senses and restore our relationships with ourselves and the land,” says guide Justin Legge. Despite what the phrase might lead you to believe, nobody's clothes come off.

Redwood National Park is home to 40,000 acres of ancient forests to explore. And there’s no better way to learn about the trees than to sign up for a guided forest therapy trek. Redwoods Adventures takes guests through magical spots like Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, which is located within the national park. Here, you’ll be surrounded by plenty of impressive redwoods, including one showstopping specimen with 220 separate trunks.

“The relative size of the trees, diversity of species, and specific phytoncides found here make this the ideal location to try forest bathing,” says Justin Legge, a certified forest therapy guide with Redwoods Adventures. Don’t worry: Nobody’s clothes come off for a forest bath. Instead, Legge explains, participants “slow down, awaken our senses and restore our relationships with ourselves and the land.”

During your visit to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, check out High Bluff Overlook, where you can scan for whales.

Afterward, head to High Bluff Overlook or above the black sand beaches to look for whales. And walk along Klamath Beach to search for lamprey eels, Chinook salmon, eagles, osprey, pelicans and sea lions.

If you go on your own, Legge says it is best to allow yourself enough time to have a long slow walk along the Flat Zones where the biggest trees are. “Do not try to go to too many groves, select one spot that seems special to you, and focus your time there,” he says.

Zip line among the redwoods in Santa Cruz

Feel a need for speed? Mount Hermon Adventures features six different zipline rides.

See the redwoods from another perspective by opting for a zip line adventure at Mount Hermon Adventures’ Redwood Canopy Tours, high up in the redwood canopy. The guided eco-adventure has six thrilling zip lines and two suspension bridges. The highest one is at 150 feet.

Cruise among the giants

No redwood road trip is complete without driving down Avenue of the Giants, a curvy two-lane road also known as Route 254.

No redwood road trip is complete without driving down Avenue of the Giants, a curvy two-lane road also known as Route 254, which parallels Highway 101. For about 30 miles, you will pass redwood after redwood. Or even drive through one if you so choose. One unusual albino redwood, often called the Spirit Tree or the Christmas Tree, is worth a gander.

“Seeing it is a special experience,” says Legge. “Of course, be super gentle in the forest and do not remove any of the leaves from the tree, as it is rare and special. It is in a very easy to find place called Founders Grove. From the entrance gate, walkalong the road – probably less than 50 yards in – keep a lookout to your right-hand (west) side and you should see it. Once you spot it, it really stands out.” 

It’s one of only dozens of albino redwoods known to exist in the world. Experts say it’s OK to visit this one, located in the Women’s Federation Grove, however, the location of others is kept secret in order to protect them.

Visit the Lost Coast

The redwoods in Mendocino's Lost Coast Trail have been twisted by the salty sea air along with fire and coastal winds, creating trees that resemble candeabras.

Mendocino County’s Lost Coast Trail takes hikers through 11 acres known as the Enchanted Forest. The redwoods here have been shaped by the salty sea air and by fire and coastal wind. The result: some seriously twisted, candelabra-like trees that are a sight to see. Instead of growing straight up, these trees have reiterated trunks (that look like branches) just feet from the ground that shoot upward in all directions. Take the Peter Douglas Trail to the remote Shady Dell forest to see them. It also happens to be home to loads of wildlife.

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