The nearest redwood groves to the Rogue Valley hadn't exactly lost their charm. But having visited these sites along Highway 199 many times over the years, often with out-of-state visitors we were eager to impress, we longed for a new adventure among the towering trees.
Even if we had to drive farther down into California to find it.
We discovered the fresh experience we were looking for on the Berry Glen Trail, 40 miles south of Crescent City. Don't bother searching for it on your Redwood National Park map unless you own a very recent edition.
"It's our newest trail," the ranger at the visitor center near Orick told us. "And the trees along it are magnificent."
Opened in October 2010, this first addition to the park's trail system in nearly a decade offers a moderately strenuous hike without the creek crossings required on the nearby Redwood Creek Trail. My wife, daughter and I quickly decided that plunging into Redwood Creek was more adventure than we had in mind, although the ranger assured us that the water was "only" knee-deep. Maybe we would find the water refreshing in July or August. But this was December.
After a short drive from the visitor center, we spent three hours on the Berry Glen Trail, hiking to its junction with the Lady Bird Johnson Grove (named after the first lady who dedicated the national park at this site in 1968), then back — six miles round trip.
The path was carpeted with deciduous leaves at the start, but soon nothing but evergreen needles paved the way, as we came under the canopy of redwoods, the tallest trees in the world.
The swooshing of cars from Highway 101, punctuated by the grumbling of occasional semitrucks, gradually faded, and a tranquil dripping became the dominant sound. Drops of moisture, falling from branches hundreds of feet above our heads, were plopping onto the forest floor.
It was a foggy day — no surprise. But not foggy enough to ease the worries of scientists tracking temperature trends on the coast. At the visitor center, we learned that redwoods depend on fog for up to a third of their annual moisture. Research has shown that, because of global warming, fog has been decreasing — raising disturbing questions about the future for coastal redwoods.
Pushing dreadful thoughts to the back of our minds, we focused instead on how dreamy it felt in this world of centuries-old giants — and how delighted we were to have the place all to ourselves. We encountered no one else on the Berry Glen Trail the whole time we were on it. Maybe the 1,200-foot elevation gain helps keep crowds away. Or maybe the trail just isn't well-known yet. Or maybe a dozen cars pulled up to the trailhead right after we left, and we were just lucky.
Anyway, if you are acquainted with the redwoods closest to home, you probably have your favorite spot where you can hop out of the car, stretch your legs, hug some big trees and then continue on your way.
This trail offers a deeper, more aerobic redwoods ramble — with the hope of some priceless solitude, especially if you don't visit during peak tourist season. You even could add a mile and a half to the hike by looping around LBJ Grove once you reach the junction.
During our undisturbed hours on the trail, we started seeing "people" in the trunks of the trees. My daughter and I agreed that one pattern of bark and burl looked just like J.R.R. Tolkien's wizard Gandalf. My wife saw a well-dressed Victorian lady with moss for her collar and ferns for her skirts.
Clearly, we had spent too much time alone in the woods, and it was time to head back to civilization.
Begin your Berry Glen hike at Elk Meadow Day Use Area, or shorten it by a half-mile each way by picking up the trail at Highway 101, just south of the Elk Meadow entrance. You'll find ample parking space along the east side of the highway. Either way, be sure to check out Elk Meadow, where a herd of Roosevelt elk is likely to be grazing.
Paul Hadella is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at email@example.com.