Thursday, December 8, 2022

Redwoods National and State Parks

In my experience, the hardest thing about the Redwoods National Parks was getting there,  I planned to meet my brother and his kids there in Spring 2000 ... but Covid jumped onto the scene, and the parks closed.  After the pandemic closures abated, I hoped to go with my husband, but West Coast wildfires closed that area in in late summer 2000.  Finally, in the summer of 2021 conditions allowed us to meet my brother and family there for several days of tree hugging and neck-crimping gazing.  

and a separate picture
for the tops!
It was a wonderful trip, followed by the second most difficult challenge -- transferring my experience to words online.  Despite a fantastic trip, accompanied by well-documented and accessible trails that were artistically photographed by my teenage nieces, I was stymied by by my own reliance on technology (I usually keep notes on my mobile phone, but there was no electricity to re-charge the battery), as well as the procrastination inherent in a busy life and in human nature.  Of course, the longer I waited, the more difficult it became to reconstruct my travels and travails, based solely on photographs.   Fortunately, others have documented the accessibility of  CA redwood trails in detail, and I can at least provide encouragement to go (GO!) and direction toward some useful information.

Accessible cabin
at Elk Prairie in 
Prairie Creek Redwoods

The northern redwoods region in CA includes Redwoods National Park and 3 state parks.  Redwoods National Park has no developed campground of its own, but it is home to back-country campgrounds, a visitor center, and several redwood groves and trails.  Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park is the most steep and inaccessible, although Mill Creek Campground and several beach overlooks are wheelchair accessible.  The most accessible hikes are found in Prairie Creek and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Parks -- each boasting a visitors center, at least one developed campground with a few accessible sites and restrooms, a few accessible cabins, and a network of accessible trails.  

Accesible restroom --
except for the threshold
and the loose gravel!
The great thing about national and state parks is that most of them try to comply with the ADA, whenever possible.  In general, visitor centers, restrooms, vault toilets, picnic grounds are more apt to be accessible than in non-governmental areas.  The problem, of course, is that accessibility -- even ADA compliance -- is not always practical, complete, or even effective.  For example, although there are many "accessible" restrooms in these parks, several of them are built on concrete pads with a 2" threshold (sometimes
adjoining a soft surface).  And the visitor center at Prairie Creek State Park is indeed accessible -- once you get to it, which entails going up a short yet steep bank.

ADA campsite across from
the field of elks
We ended up camping at the aptly named Elk Prairie Campground in Prairie Creek State Park, and our campsite provided front-row observation of the herds of elk grazing in the prairie that draws tree-weary tourists from all over.  Our campsite wasn't very private in front, but it was very accessible -- with a large paved center and a nearby accessible restroom with a separate accessible toilet/shower.  There were also accessible cabins for rent nearby and there were accessible campsites more surrounded by trees behind us (though they seemed more crowded).

The large herds of large mammals were impressive, but the true stars were the redwood trees themselves.  Towering over 200 (and a few even over 300) feet and more than 50 feet around, these giants watched over us mortals as we travelled between groves and craned our heads upward to gaze.  Several of the trails in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park were wheelchair-accessible (see below). 


Cal-Barrel Road in Prairie 
Creek Redwoods SP

Even those not wishing to hike could take a gentle stroll or roll underneath the trees and feel their majesty. In fact, one could drive on Cal Barrel Road or on the Newton B Drury Parkway and see and feel the giant trees without even exiting the car.

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, at the north end, also offers a multitude of choices for visitors with wheelchairs.  In fact, it was really a coin-toss as to whether we camped there or in Prairie Creek.   This
park also boasts accessible picnic grounds and waysides, redwood groves, campsites, and trails (see below), as well as drives along the big trees. such as the Howland Hill Road. 

The Redwoods parks offer excellent trails for hiking with wheelchairs. Several paved, boardwalk, and dirt trails are firm, wide, and well-maintained, with good thresholds.  Of course, some trails have gentle to serious slope, and there is some cross-slope on hilly areas.  

CA has done an excellent job of documenting slope, cross-slope, and other accessibility features in printed literature and at trailheads.  The non-profit group Save the Redwoods has done an outstanding job of including disabled visitors in its marketing.  In fact, they have actually teamed up with the Disabled Hikers to publish a guide to hiking in the CA redwoods for those with disabilities.  

In Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Redwood Access Trail (.7 mile ow), Revelation Trail (.3 mile loop), Foothill/Prairie Creek Trail (2.3 mile loop) and the Big Tree Wayside/Circle Trail (.16 mile) are all accessible. 

In Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, the Simpson Reed-Petersen Memorial Trails (.93 mile loop) and the Leiffler Trail (.88 mile ow) are accessible.  

Two of the more famous redwood groves are only sort-of accessible but worth it if you can do it.  Stout Grove in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and Lady Bird Johnson Grove in Redwood National Park both are truly magical with their displays of huge trees, surrounded by wood sorrel, ferns, and rhododendrons.  The trails around both groves (. 5 mile for Stout Grove and 1-2 miles for Lady Bird Johnson) are mainly accessible, with wide, moderately firm dirt surfaces that are well-maintained and seem to be kept clear.  (Some areas have slopes steeper than 1:12, so hikers in manual chairs may need assistance in the groves.) 

Entrance to Lady Bird
Johnson Grove
Unfortunately, both groves are reached via a very steep slope.  There are
blog posts from a hiker in a power chair who was able to go down and up, but hikers in manual chairs will definitely need strong assistance. 

I frequently encountered
roots in trails;
almost all could be
Keep in mind that this is a land dominated by nature. Even in summer, the air was cool in the woods and even cold and foggy at the coast.  Phone connectivity was spotty to non-existent.  On trails, we frequently encountered tree roots which had broken through above ground or had pushed up the trail in their attempt to do so. Thresholds between trail and bridge or boardwalk were generally well-maintained and low exposure, although I can easily imagine this may change in inclement weather.  There were numerous fallen trees, although in my experience the trails had always been cleared for through-hiking. We had to schedule our travel between parks around major repair work on Highway 101 between the two state parks.

I found the trees and forests magical, the cool temperature lovely, the crowds manageable, and the accessibility surprisingly good.  I have a feeling that recent publications for disabled hikers make accessibility decisions even easier and worth a return trip!

For more info on this area, the following websites may provide helpful information:

Many people also visit the redwood trees farther south, where there is a famous drive-through tree, as well as several accessible hikes.  The following websites may provide helpful information: