In the land of giants

In the land of giants

Just a handful of miles from Oregon's southern border is a land of giants.

Among the oldest living things on Earth, redwoods can exceed 2,200 years in age. They grow only in a narrow tract of coastal land, from Southwestern Oregon to Northern California, and in isolated pockets along California's central coast.

The highest concentration of redwoods is in Redwood National Park, which harbors the world's tallest tree, a 379-foot behemoth named "Hyperion" that seems to touch the sky. The park boundaries also encompass three state parks — Jedediah Smith Redwoods, Del Norte Coast Redwoods and Prairie Creek Redwoods — all ripe for exploration.

Experiencing some of the most stunning scenery in the park requires only a slight turn of the head as you drive the roads. The Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway cuts through the entire 10-mile length of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. The dense forest transforms ordinary sunbeams into a celestial light show.

Cal-Barrel Road extends three miles into one of the most colorful areas of the park. Rhododendrons, monkey flower and leopard lilies paint the forest pink and yellow in late spring and early summer.

If only one thing could be said about the drive on Howland Hill Road, it's this: It will make your jaw drop! The unpaved, six-mile road in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park reveals a classic redwood forest, accentuated by gorgeous Western sword ferns, Sitka spruce and Douglas fir. Don't miss Stout Grove, where a sorrel-colored footpath brings you close to impressive specimens.

Smack in the middle of the national park, follow the Coastal Drive (from Highway 101) about three miles and stop at Gold Bluffs Beach overlook, a spectacular meeting of land and sea. The overlook is unmarked, so keep your eyes peeled for a tiny oval pullout.

This forest has intricate patterns and detail that can't be seen through a car window. Some 160 miles of hiking trails offer endless discoveries, including bizarre lichen and moss. Start with an easy 2.5-mile trek on the Rhododendron Trail. The Damnation Creek Trail is only two miles long, but it drops steeply to the ocean, rendering the quadriceps writhing blobs of jelly on the way back.

For a more ambitious jaunt, hike the eight-mile Redwood Creek Trail to the Tall Trees Grove. Mile 1.5 is where you will need to cross Redwood Creek to resume the trail, but only if the park service has the footbridge in place (usually in late May or early June).

There is no better place than Elk Meadow to see Roosevelt elk. These gregarious herbivores gather in large numbers to graze the succulent grass. They are habituated to people, but they will flee if you try to approach closely. Calves are usually born in early spring, and are soon strong enough to follow the herd. Black bears, cougars, bobcats and river otters also roam the park.

When you throw in the majesty of the mighty Pacific Ocean pounding the western edge of" redwood nation," it's hard to find a better place on Earth to limber up your limbs.

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