Bay Area seniors love redwood trees. They make us feel young. In the next few months, when the winter rains have replenished woodland creeks, these forests will be even more seductive – wet, mossy, a million shades of green. These stately groves once covered 2 million acres of the California coast from the Klamath Mountains to Big Sur until early settlers seized on the giant trees as ideal building material. In 1805 Mission San Jose was rebuilt using 500 of them for ceiling beams. Before the demand for housing in post- Gold Rush San Francisco, even the Oakland Hills were swathed in redwoods.
Muir Woods, despite its reputation, is far from the Bay Area’s last healthy stand of redwoods. Though visiting it is always an awesome experience, finding parking on a weekend is close to impossible. It is a victim of its own celebrity.
Fortunately there are a number of alternatives available. A mini version of these forests is Roy’s Redwoods off Nicasio Valley Road in Marin. Surrounded by mcmansions and a golf course, it is a skimpy but very easy 2 mile hike of mostly laurels and madrones to a baby grove of youngish redwoods. A similarly small but more secluded patch of redwoods is Mather Grove at UC Botanical Gardens, which is also available for weddings.
Sprawling in the hills above Oakland, the 1800 acre Redwood Park includes a deep, shadowy forest of 150 foot high Sequoia sempervirens (coast redwoods) mostly along the flat stream trail that snakes along Redwood Creek (where the first rainbow trout were identified). There are numerous picnic sites plus trails that are increasingly challenging as you hike up to either of the two ridges that cradle the park. On weekends from April to October fees are charged -$5 per car (though you can park for free on the road outside the park), $2 per dog. On weekdays the place is almost all yours.
Further afield down the Peninsula coast is a string of redwood forests that even in the summer are likely to include drifts of Pacific fog which makes them dreamy, poetic, otherworldly and, at least for now, much less visited.
Purisima Creek is a mostly hilly 3,360 acres. You can enter either from the top at Skyline Boulevard or the bottom near Half Moon Bay. Criss-crossed by streams and trails as you climb, it is paradiscally rich in vegetation. Your bigger reward is the jaw dropping ocean views at the top. Always free though limited parking. Dogs not allowed.
Nearby in the Santa Cruz Mountains are the Butano Redwoods. A relaxing route is the 5 mile Mill Ox Trail Loop. Canopies of redwoods shelter you as you hike the switchbacks rising to stunning vistas of the Pacific. It is one of the parks hit by the State’s budget crisis and open only from March to December. There are both walk-in and drive-in campsites where dogs are permitted.
Interested in a less-taxing hike? Even with 18 miles of trails Portola Redwoods, may be the most geezer-friendly thanks to its Sequoia Nature Trail along the rippling waters of Pesadeo Creek. Again, because of the economy, it is not open until May. $10 parking fee.
The Geezer, as an advocate of full transparency, admits to getting his outdoor guidance from the Bay Hiker even though many of its reports are a decade or more old.
What natural wonders of the Bay Area do you recommend? The Geezer is always curious.