Unquestionably the main attraction for visitors to the area are the redwoods. The tallest trees in the world, tallest living thing in fact, have a way of drawing a crowd. But it’s a surprising (and sobering) fact that as large as the vast tracts of old-growth redwood seem, what you see in the Jed Smith Forest and in other national and state parks to the south is just a fraction of what were once endless square miles of redwood forest. Most arborists and ecologists agree that right now, less than five percent of the redwood forest that existed before the arrival of European explorers remain.
Still, the nearby parks and numerous trails off Howland Hill Road just a few miles from the bnb seem overflowing with redwood trees. While it’s good to educate yourself on the past and present threats to the redwood, it’s also permissible to take some hikes and just enjoy the trees that survive.
If you want to really get to know the redwoods – their science and history – one of the best and handiest resources is the 1940 book The Redwoods of Coast and Sierra. A slim book at just 84 pages, it was written by James Clifford Shirley, once a National Park ranger and then professor of botany. In it is all you need to know about the coast redwood. It’s not easy to find a used copy so stick with the online version, available here.
Another fine online reference is PD Haemig’s scholarly yet easy to digest entry on redwoods on the ecology.info web site. A more modern take on the redwoods, Haemig still circles the bases to discuss history, biology, and ecology of the redwood forest as well as addressing the current threats to the species.
Other trees and shrubbery you are bound to come across in the local area are a diverse but limited bunch of species as only a handful of plants can survive the tanins that rain down on the forest floor. Those include fern, huckleberry, skunkweed and rhododendron, which all do well in the acidic, loamy soil created from the dropping and decomposition of redwood needles. Douglas fir and tanoak can also endure under a redwood canopy.
Species to look for while hiking in the forest include:
- Ferns, including Western sword fern, Western five finger fern, California maidenhair fern, and giant chain fern
- Western azalea
- Tanbark Oak
- Big Leaf Maple and Maple vine
- Coast Redwood
- Red Alder
- California Bay
- Sitka Spruce
- Douglas Fir
- Western Hemlock
Probably the most impressive friends to the redwood tree are the big leaf maple and maple vine. Come fall, nearby hillsides start to explode with color. Not quite Vermont, but close. A drive north of Hiouchi on Hwy 199 will offer a display of fall colors as will various and unexpected locales in the forest. Two secrets spots to aim for when the colors are popping are the very last portion of the Damnation Creek Trail (well past the redwoods, as the trail approaches the beach) and also the point where the Hiouchi Trail and Mill Creek Trail meet, just west of where Mill Creek empties into the Smith.
Regardless of your specific goals regarding the redwood forest, one’s action plan should be similar across all visitors. Gear up safely and get out into the forest. Your vantage point when staying at the bnb is excellent for both short and simple forays into the forest as well as hikes that are double digit in length as well as those that present the opportunity for primitive camping trailside.