A low-impact trail – complete with a brand-new 1300ft-long boardwalk – is now open in California’s Grove of Titans, welcoming visitors to wander through the towering redwoods once again for the first time in years.
Located in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, part of Redwood National and State Parks on the northern California coast, the grove’s 3-mile Mill Creek Trail closed in November 2019 after years of social-media popularity took their toll. The revamped version, unveiled in late May, was realigned to minimize the effects of the crowds on the ancient coastal redwoods.
“The Grove of Titans is…an extraordinary old-growth redwood forest that was experiencing significant damage from visitors walking ‘off trail,’” Erin Gates, deputy superintendent, RNSP and North Coast Redwoods District, California State Parks, said in a statement. “This project is really a story about legacy: being mindful of the role we all play in helping to keep our parks thriving.”
To that end, an elevated boardwalk was also installed, featuring interpretive signage on local Indigenous history and present-day relationships as well as educational displays with information on habitat and safe trail use. “We are grateful park visitors will be able to more responsibly visit our ancestral territory and magnificent redwood relatives,” the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Tribal Council said.
Phase one in a multi-year project from California State Parks, Save the Redwoods League, Redwood Parks Conservancy and the National Park Service – “conceived to provide environmentally sensitive access to the Grove of Titans and adjacent forest,” per a joint press release – the trail upgrade cost some $4 million and took roughly 23,000 hours of work.
Much of that was hard labor: to keep the habitat disruption to a minimum, construction crews hand-carried nearly 128 tons of materials and tools to the site. “Balance is key when planning and building a trail in such a rare and beautiful ecosystem,” Save the Redwoods League director of parks and public engagement Jessica Carter said. “With the realigned trail, new boardwalk and signage, we’re respecting the natural grandeur of this special place while also welcoming all visitors to experience and enjoy Grove of Titans for generations to come.”
While the project is an impressive one, it’s not the only measure in the region aimed at improving the experience, both for visitors and for local habitats. In June 2021, the Redwood SkyWalk at Sequoia Park Zoo in Eureka opened its gates, giving visitors a new 100ft-high perch from which to explore the forest. The organization says the entire quarter-mile stretch of raised, connected platforms – suspended from the trees to “ensure negligible impact" – is ADA-accessible, and the longest sky walk in the Western US.
Just days later, some 400 miles to the south, the popular Pfeiffer Falls Trail in Big Sur reopened to the public, 13 years after massive fire damage destroyed much of its infrastructure and forced its closure. Now it offers improved access for hikers, with an impressive new 70ft pedestrian bridge spanning the Pfeiffer Redwood Creek ravine and a more sustainable (and aesthetically pleasing) dirt trail winding nearly a mile to complete a loop with the Valley View trail.
"Before the 2008 Basin Complex Fire, this was one of the most popular trails in Big Sur,” Jim Doran, California State Park's program manager for Monterey District Roads and Trails, said ahead of the reopening. “With the trail’s many improvements completed, we’re happy to welcome visitors once again.”
Then in December, it was announced that Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest – and its main attraction, the huge General Sherman Tree – would begin to reopen in phases, following wildfires that ultimately burned through more than 88,000 acres. Today the park is entirely back in the swing of things, open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, aside from closures for maintenance, repairs, weather and safety reasons.
How to be a respectful guest in the Redwoods
These ancient trees are part of a fragile ecosystem, so first and foremost, stay on trails. When visitors go off-roading, the redwoods’ “shallow root systems become exposed, understory plants get trampled, and compacted soil creates runoff that affects coho salmon and steelhead trout habitat,” Dana Poblete writes for Save the Redwoods League. “Everything in a forest is connected. The best practice is to always stay on trails to minimize your impact.”
Other commonsense “do no harm” rules of thumb apply: camp only in designated spots, don’t interact with the wildlife, don’t pick any plants and don’t leave so much as a crumb behind when you pack up to go.
California-bound this summer? A few details to keep in mind
California’s giant redwoods and sequoias are a major attraction, and they draw public interest accordingly. Plan ahead – accommodations and dining reservations will be in even shorter supply this summer, when Americans are expected to get back on the road in droves. At Redwoods National and State Parks, permits must be acquired online for backcountry camping and hiking Tall Trees Grove, and at Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, a free shuttle is running to alleviate the traffic.
Another factor to consider is the fire situation where you’re heading – summer is fire season in the US West, and the region’s most heavily trafficked outdoor destinations are often affected. (At press time, stage 2 fire restrictions were in place at Sequoia & Kings Canyon, barring smoking and wood and charcoal fires at both campgrounds and lower-elevation picnic areas.) Check the conditions before you go; each park's website has details on prescribed burns, air quality and closures, while Cal Fire has up-to-the-minute info on wildfires.
The Golden State lifted most COVID-19 restrictions last June, allowing vaccinated travelers to go maskless in most settings. Masks are still mandatory on public transit, however, and in some counties – including Los Angeles and San Francisco – proof of vaccination is required for indoor dining and to attend indoor and large outdoor events.