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A change of pace among the redwoods

According to fossil records, redwood forests once were plentifully strewn across the world. But over geologic time, what once was a world empire shrank into a 450-mile-long strip along the California coast — the redwood belt.

This moderately difficult, one-mile loop in Oregon's Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest highlights the world's northernmost redwood grove. Located about 10 scenic miles east of Brookings, this hike offers an inland change of pace from the coast, and it's for the entire family.

From Brookings on Highway 101, head east on North Bank Chetco River Road. At about nine miles from Highway 101 is Alfred Loeb State Park, and less than a mile east of that is the Redwoods Nature Trailhead on the road's north side.

Head up the trail along a creek unnamed on the map. You'll quickly reach a T in the trail, and you should head left. Steeply climb a steep bank and pass some old rigging equipment from past logging operations. Follow the switchbacks.

After climbing a calf-burning 350 feet, the trail enters an area dominated by giant coastal redwoods. This is the specie's northernmost range, and the large timbers here are growing on steep slopes uncharacteristic of California redwood habitat to the south.

Growing among the large redwood trees are some Douglas firs that measure up to a few feet in diameter, and the understory is dominated by tanoak and huckleberry. The trail winds through a couple of draws, and at three quarters of a mile into the hike you'll come to a footbridge.

Between here and the T are the best trees, interspersed with some stumps from legacy logging projects. It's tempting to head off trail for pictures, but this grove could be "loved to death" like its sisters to the south if too many hikers veer off trail and compact the shallow roots of champion redwoods.

The most unique tree is one whose core was carved out by lightning, creating a blackened borough to admire. It stands there scarred, seemingly proud of the centuries of life under its belt.

At one mile, you'll cross a bridge and reach the T near the trailhead.

If a mile isn't enough to satisfy your hunger for hiking, check out the Chetco by way of the Riverview trail accessible from the same trailhead, just across the road near the river. It stretches for about a mile west to Alfred Loeb State Park, where there is great camping with quick river access, bathrooms, showers and electric hook-ups. It also has a couple of cabins available for rent.

Fossils of the redwoods are found all over the world in petrified forests. Evidence suggests they were (mostly) wiped out by glaciation after the tertiary geologic period, but why redwoods grow only in a belt that extends as far north as this grove, and not in similar climates where they once reached, is still a mystery.

There is dispersed camping along the Chetco near Little Redwood Miller Bars. Those spots are a few miles up from the trail and hit or miss. Sometimes you may have the Chetco all to yourself, and for free; other times it may have been overrun by weekend partiers. Harris Beach State Park just north of Brookings is also a great camping option, and it has the same amenities as Alfred Loeb, as well as easy beach access.

Freelance writer Gabriel Howe is executive director and field coordinator for the Siskiyou Mountain Club. Contact him at howegabe@gmail.com.

An unnamed Chetco River tributary runs along the trail to the world's northernmost redwood grove. (Photo courtesy of Gabriel Howe) - Photo courtesy of Gabriel Howe