Family Vacation 2017: The Redwoods Edition

Day Six: Jedidiah Smith State Park

On day six we woke up in Gold Beach and climbed in the car for a shorter drive into California to set our eyes on the Redwoods. We arrived at Jedidiah Smith State Park in the late morning and feasted on the sights. There really is nothing quite like being dwarfed by those huge trees. I expected tall trees, but even more amazing was the width of the trees.

As with most things in nature, you just can’t really capture the true beauty with a photograph. I still took tons of pictures…I’ve picked out just a few to share in this post. But mostly I just wanted to stand and stare, and let it all soak in through my skin to my soul so I could take it home with me forever.

With three little ones, we weren’t sure how trail walks/hikes would go, and how long they would stay interested in the trees. While initial excitement was almost a sure thing, developmentally, little kids just aren’t able to appreciate scenery in the same way adults can. We decided to keep hikes short and move around to see as much as we could.

We started at the Simpson-Reed Grove in Jedidiah Smith State Park because there was an easy one mile trail loop. As it turns out, the Redwoods are a little boys paradise. They were thrilled with all the sticks, rocks, logs, and other interesting places there were to explore.

We got a family picture next to a particularly large tree. It’s the classic Redwoods photo that makes you look like tiny ants.

Caleb and I had fun trying to get a picture to show just how tall the trees were, and how we pretty much had to bend over backwards looking up to see the tops of the trees.

Another way to tell how large the trees are is from the fallen logs. Sometimes it felt like walking through Jurassic Park.

We all had fun on this mile loop. We got our excitement and wiggles out, and then headed over the visitors center in Hiouchi to eat a picnic lunch and pick up some junior ranger booklets for the boys.

After lunch we decided to head down the highway for a bit, and we stopped at the Trees of Mystery. It’s not part of the National Park, and is a bit of a tourist trap, but they have a really fun gondola ride which takes you through the forest.

To get up to the gondola ride, there was another easy to moderate trail through the trees. We saw many more interesting and very large trees. There was a giant cathedral tree where people have actually gotten married. We saw octopus trees and “upside down” trees. Here, they are looking at the “lightening tree.”

On the ride, we gained over 500 feet in elevation and ended up on top of a small mountain where we had views of the forest and even saw the ocean in the distance. We had to wait over an hour to get on the gondola, but in the end, the boys thought it was worth the wait.

Here we are riding up the mountain in the gondola:

We stopped at the top to take in the views.

And then we rode back down:

Down at the bottom of the hill we stopped for some ice cream and smashed pennies. Then, the boys got to play outside on Paul Bunyan’s boot. There was someone somewhere who was watching and talked to the kids playing out in the courtyard. Simon was so tickled when Mr. Bunyan answered his questions and held a conversation with him.

Thus ended our first day viewing the Redwoods. We headed down south to our hotel, and awaited more fun the next day.

Day Seven: Avenue of the Giants

On day seven, we decided to go explore the Avenue of the Giants. It runs parallel to 101 in Humbolt Redwoods State Park. Our first stop on the avenue was at the Eternal Tree House. It was a large room which was burned/carved out of a living redwood tree. In the past, people used it for shelter both for themselves and for livestock.

While in the room, Elias signed us in the guestbook.

Outside, the boys got started on their junior ranger booklet activities.

And Caleb was just excited to be out running around.

After the Eternal Tree house and some junior ranger activities, we headed out to the Big Tree area. It was down a long mostly unpaved road, and there were a number of different trails leading off from the area. We chose one that would lead us to “giant tree.” It was also a relatively easy loop. This hike was one of my favorites of the trip, other than the fact that I pretty much got eaten alive by mosquitos.

Here are the boys next to “giant tree.”

And Nathan hugging the same tree.

We took our time and enjoyed just being in the forest. There were many interesting trees to see, but mostly it was just amazing how grand everything was.

After we finished the hike in the big tree area, we headed back a ways up the road to a nice picnic area. After lunch, we let the boys play in a nearby stream. Caleb wanted to throw rocks into the water. Elias and Simon built a rock bridge in the stream.

Our next stop was Founders Grove. I don’t know much about it because Caleb had fallen asleep and so I stayed back in the van with him while everyone else went on another short hike. They returned happy. The boys had been particularly happy because they got to climb in an alligator log and see a particularly large fallen tree.

Our final stop on the avenue of the giants was the Shrine Drive through tree. We were a bit nervous taking our van through. According to our owner’s manual, we would have three inches of clearance on each side if everything went well. My parents went through first and I took some photos of them going through and after safely making it.

Our van also made it safely through with no dings, dents, or scratches. I never questioned Nathan’s driving skills anyway.

After the drive through tree, we headed back to our hotel for some swimming. It had been a full day!

Day Eight: The Rest Day

After so many fun filled days, we knew we needed a day with a bit of an easier pace. Plus we needed laundry done, and we had to go to the store to restock on fruit and other such groceries. Our day began by checking out a local park in Eureka. They had these really cool slides coming out of a tree house that the boys liked.

After an hour or so at the playground, we checked out the Sequoia Park Zoo. It is a small zoo, but there are many interesting exhibits, and many animals that we don’t normally get to see at our zoo. There were a couple of animals I had never even heard of before! We even got in at half price because they are members of the reciprocal zoo program. The boys enjoyed a river otter tunnel, the eagles nest, the aviary, and the petting zoo. Their favorite animal was the red panda.

After the zoo we went home to rest, went shopping and swimming, and prepared for our last day at the redwoods.

Day Nine: Trees, Ferns and Birthdays

Day nine of our trip was my birthday. The boys, who had mostly been choosing to ride with Ama and Baba declared that they would ride in the van with me once since it was my birthday.

We drove to Prarie Creek Redwoods state park. Our first stop was fern canyon. I had read amazing reviews of the place, and was really looking forward to it. The road to fern canyon is mostly unpaved and very dusty. All of the trees and plants look almost fossilized because they are so caked in mud. It was a long, windy road, and in the end we had to ford the van across a stream a few times. Nathan drove like a pro again and we arrived safely at the trailhead.

At first, the trail seemed no different from the others. But then, we crossed a stream on foot and turned the corner into a canyon. It was amazing! Fern canyon is…well…a canyon filled with ferns. It is like a vertical garden. Pictures can’t really do it justice, but I tried.

Along the canyon floor there were a lot of downed trees, over which we helped each other climb.

It really was a little boy’s paradise. And the adults had a lot of fun too!

After awhile, we reached a place where the vegetation was much thicker on the canyon floor, and there were a ton of mosquitos. We decided that was a good point to turn around and go see something else! Fern canyon may be my favorite hike of the trip.

After fern canyon, we crossed the van back over all of the streams, and headed to Gold Bluffs Beach for a picnic. We let the boys play for the last beach time of the trip.

Eventually it was time to move on and we hiked back to the car.

From there, we headed to the Prarie Creek visitors center where we saw some elk, and went on one last short hike in the trees.

The boys also earned their junior ranger badges, and very proudly said the pledge.

Afterward, Elias took his duty very seriously, and decided he wanted to learn as much as possible about ferns so that he could write a nonfiction book about them and help other people learn.

After this, we sadly had to say goodbye to the trees for now. We’ll have to go back again some day!

When we returned to the hotel, we went out to eat for my birthday dinner. Then, we went out for a birthday ice cream treat on the bay. The hotel conveniently had a complimentary limo so I got to take my first limo ride on my 33rd birthday. What fun!

In these few days at the Redwoods we made memories I’ll (hopefully) never forget. While the main part of our trip was over, we still had a few fun days and amazing sights planned. Stay tuned for the next episode – Family Vacation 2017: Caves Edition.

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