Sixty-five million years ago the Earth changed dramatically when a giant asteroid struck. A mass extinction ensued with dinosaurs disappearing as the planet warmed. Before the asteroid, conifers, like dinosaurs, ruled. Almost unimaginable forests of cone-bearing trees decorated the Earth with as many as 20,000 species, including nine different redwoods. With the global warming that followed, mammals replaced dinosaurs and flowering plants did mostly the same to conifers.
However, Humboldt County remains, in some ways, as it was in the Jurassic period. While the large dinosaurs are gone (we still have rattlesnakes), the conifers are not. Along the coast, redwoods rule, taking advantage of a perennial cool, moist, foggy climate in the summer, torrential rains in the winter and a temperate year-round growing season. Northern Humboldt averages upward of 80 inches of rain, making it a true temperate rainforest. Southern Humboldt averages less but still nurtures monstrous trees along the banks of steep-walled river canyons of the Eel and Van Duzen.
Farther inland, behind the Redwood Curtain, it is too warm and dry in the summer for redwoods. Instead one finds North America's most valuable lumber tree — the Douglas fir — in the mixed conifer forests of the inland river country. As the Klamath Mountains rise, Humboldt even offers subalpine environments with hanging lakes decorated by true firs and hemlocks. The diversity of Humboldt County never ceases to amaze and the following three hikes are just a sampling.
- León Villagómez
- Cheatham Grove
Southern Humboldt Grizzly Creek Redwood State Park
Getting There: Approximately 35 miles southeast of Eureka, drive past Swimmers Delight on State Route 36 and watch for a parking area on the left just past a bridge over the Van Duzen River. The short 1-mile Owen Cheatham loop is easy and family friendly.
What to watch for: Along the beautiful Van Duzen River, a small bench of old-growth redwoods has been fertilized over the centuries by river deposits. The soils are rich and the trees are tall. Watch for Ewoks — the speeder chase on the moon of Endor, in Return of the Jedi was filmed here. Also, the Humboldt County Office of Education and California State Parks have developed a family activity called a Quest for the hike. Brochures are at the kiosk and www.redwood-edventures.org.
Redwoods might just be the grandest species in the plant world — from top to bottom they are the epitome of grandeur. The tallest redwood is 379 feet (and still growing), while one of the most massive redwoods is a mere 320 feet but has a basal diameter of nearly 26 feet. Those are some impressive beings. The Owen Cheatham Redwood Grove is a great place to visit these giants and its larger-than-life landscape is surely why George Lucas chose to shoot part of his Star Wars sequel in the redwood forests of northern California. What better way to appreciate conifers, one of the world's most ancient plant groups, than a stroll through this otherworldly redwood forest?
- Greg Nyquist
- Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Northern Humboldt Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Getting There: Approximately 50 miles north of Eureka, park at the Prairie Creek Visitor's Center and hike the moderately strenuous 8-mile Miner's Ridge - James Irvine loop.
What to watch for: Some of the most spectacular old-growth redwood forests on Earth are decorated with other large conifers like Sitka spruce, western hemlock and Douglas fir. Also visit Fern Canyon, where The Lost World: Jurassic Park and IMAX's Dinosaurs Alive were filmed.
This is the world's premier hike for big, tall trees. The world's tallest living thing is found somewhere deep in Redwood National and State Park but its exact location is shrouded in secrecy. Along Prairie Creek itself, it is said that three of the 10 largest trees by volume in the world can be found. Miner's Ridge - James Irvine loop goes through only old growth, enshrouded in big trees like Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), western hemlock, Sitka spruce and redwood. This hike will take you back in time.
- Sean Jansen
- Coffee at the peak of Salmon Mountain
Interior Humboldt Trinity Alps Wilderness
Getting There: Approximately 100 miles northeast of Eureka, pass through Orleans and carefully follow Six Rivers National Forest roads to the strenuous Salmon Mountain Trailhead. Salmon Mountain is the highest point in Humboldt County at nearly 7,000 feet, so come prepared for any type of weather.
What to watch for: Montane and subalpine conifer forests common in other famous California localities like Mount Shasta or the Sierra Nevada. As many as 11 species of conifers can be found on this hike, including Pacific yew, noble fir and western white pine.
If you love the mountains, this is the Humboldt County hike for you. The trail traverses a long ridgeline to the summit of Salmon Mountain, which is the divide between the Salmon and Trinity watersheds. At the summit, you will stand at a triple-divide between Humboldt, Siskiyou and Trinity counties with views to Mount Shasta to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. In addition to the summit, several small lakes can be found with some side exploring. The lakes are not deep but this makes the perfect habitat for frogs and reptiles — ancestors of the dinosaurs!
Expanded descriptions and information for these hikes can be found in Hiking Humboldt Volume 1 by Kenneth Burton, Hiking Humboldt Volume 2 by Rees Hughes and Conifer Country: A natural history and hiking guide to 35 conifers of the Klamath Mountain region by Michael Kauffmann. All are available in local bookstores. Visit www.HikingHumboldt.com and www.ConiferCountry.com to learn more.
- Sean Jansen
- At the base of Salmon Mountain
Before you go
GPS units don't always work in rural Humboldt, so bring a good map or download one ahead of time on your phone. I recommend the GAIA Mapping App.
Food, water, plenty of gas and a change of clothes are always a good idea. And don't forget to tell someone where you are going!