Redwood National and State Parks
Both the California State Parks Department and National Park Service manage this vast complex, where you will find an impressive variety of landscapes to explore, from fog-shrouded beaches to ancient redwood forests. Opportunities for hiking, cycling, camping, and scenic drives will keep you busy for days. Most hiking trails are difficult or inaccessible for wheelchair riders; however, the two trails covered below, Lady Bird Johnson and Redwood Creek, are worth visiting. Other trails within the complex are described on the pages for the individual parks. Stop at any of the wheelchair-accessible visitor information centers within this park system—Prairie Creek, Kuchel, Hiouchi, Jedediah Smith, and park headquarters in Crescent City—to pick up maps and brochures.
Lady Bird Johnson Grove
Trailhead: Opposite end of the parking lot from the restroom
Length: 1-2 total miles
Typical Width: 4 ft. & above
Typical Grade: Mostly level or gentleThe approach is very steep and other sections of the trail may be greater than 1:12.
Terrain: Moderately Firm
Obstacles: The very steep approach at the trailhead was not a problem in my motorized wheelchair, but manual wheelchair riders will likely need assistance.
DescriptionLady Bird Johnson Trail was dedicated to the first lady in 1969 in honor of her work to beautify and conserve the land and for her staunch advocacy for the creation of Redwood National Park. This popular mile-long loop trail winds through an old-growth redwood forest that crowns Bald Hills Ridge. The forest is more open than many others in this region, due to heavy logging; today, less than 4 percent of old-growth redwoods remain, yet there are still some specimens of stupendous stature to behold.
Don't let the steep approaches—first the climb in your car up to the park, at 1,200 feet above sea level, then to a wooden pedestrian bridge that spans Bald Hills Road, and then to the trailhead––deter you from venturing into the woods; you will be richly rewarded. I confidently made the climb in my motorized wheelchair, but some may be unnerved by the steep grade. A colossal redwood at the trailhead beckons you to continue and serves as a harbinger for what's in store. Here you can pick up a brochure for a self-guided tour that explains the history of the grove and the lifecycle of the redwood forest.
For the first few hundred yards the trail dips and climbs––there is one steep, 50-foot descent at the start–– before leveling out. At about an eighth of a mile, bear left at the fork to complete the loop in a counter-clockwise direction. You'll pass through a mixed forest of redwoods, Douglas fir, and western hemlock with an understory of many types of ferns, salal, salmonberry, and redwood sorrel. Large rhododendrons scattered throughout are likely to put on a good display from May to mid-June.
A good place to linger is an opening that served as the site for the park's dedication ceremony, with a dedication plaque, informational sign, and benches. Immediately past this is a cutoff for the inaccessible Berry Glen Trail; continue on the main trail down a slight descent where ferns fill the forest floor. Beyond signpost 9 is another climb that is possibly greater than 1:12.
Past signpost 11, the trail hugs the hillside. Here the outer edge has no protection from the steep drop-off, so proceed with caution. Where redwoods have fallen, look for the numerous plants that flourish on them. At about the halfway point, the trail makes a sharp turn to return along the forested north side of Bald Hills Ridge. Park brochures designate this trail as accessible, but some manual wheelchair users may find the terrain challenging. Unlike the serene Redwood Creek Trail two miles down Bald Hills Road, Lady Bird Grove had many hikers and the feel of a tourist attraction—though it was lovely nonetheless.
Redwood Creek Trail
Trailhead: At wooden bridge by parking lot
Length: 1-2 total miles
Typical Width: 4 ft. & aboveThe trail narrows to less than 24 inches at about .75 mile.
Typical Grade: GentleOccasional cross-slopes greater than 8 percent may be an annoyance to manual wheelchair riders.
Terrain: Moderately FirmMay be impassable in wet weather
DescriptionRedwood Creek Trail travels for eight miles along an abandoned logging road on a gentle ascent from the trailhead inland to Tall Trees Grove. At least the first mile is accessible, but I turned around after that because the path became too bumpy for me to enjoy. According to the park service, 1.5 miles are accessible, but after that the rough terrain is impassable in a wheelchair.
At first you pass through a fairly dense forest of Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, and redwoods. A steep, fern-covered hillside flanks the left side of the trail; to the right it appears that Redwood Creek is not far off, though the undergrowth is too dense to be sure. Abundant moss drapes the trees and the air is laden with moisture. This damp climate is what allows redwoods to flourish in the region.
Signs at the entry warn that this is bear territory, and it was fun, albeit a little disconcerting, to look through the forest for trees that might make good bear dens. A dense green carpet of oxalis, ferns, and salmonberry blankets the forest floor, and where redwood duff covers the trail, the otherwise bumpy terrain is cushioned.
About half a mile in the canopy opens up a little, allowing some light to filter through. You soon see the cause: a huge fallen redwood. The tree fell across the path, but the park service cut it so that hikers can pass through. Try counting the rings to see if you can tell how old the tree is, but don't worry if you lose count—you can tell from its enormous size that it is old.
After you pass a second fallen tree, similarly cut, the landscape opens up, revealing a grassy prairie (bone-dry in mid-September) on one side. Here the trail was less than 24 inches wide where it was clear of debris, but I could still straddle that section and roll over the dried grasses on either side. I crossed 11 mostly accessible bridges and returned after the last bridge because of the bumpy terrain. Be cautious crossing the bridges; some had at least a two-inch lip, which when covered by duff can be an unwelcome surprise. I was struck by the blissful quiet and look forward to exploring this trail further.
The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.
Visitor Center: Accessible
Accessible Parking: YesNo access aisle at Redwood Creek Trail lot
Accessible Restroom: YesBoth Redwood Creek and Lady Bird Johnson trails have vault toilets by the parking lot; neither has running water.
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Reviewed by Bonnie Lewkowicz, September 3, 2012
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