Coastal Redwoods: The Trees of Mystery and Fern Canyon

 

The drive to our next camping spot was our second shortest yet. (The shortest was while staying at Lake Cushman in Washington.) From Crescent City we drove a mere 19 miles south to Klamath, California where we would be staying at the Mystic Forest RV Park, just minutes from the Trees of Mystery and the famous statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

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The Mystic Forest RV Park is an older, smaller park but we were instantly charmed by the adorable older woman running the front desk. Her name was actually Carolyn but we referred to her as “Sweet Caroline” for the rest of our stay. (Thanks Neil Diamond, that catchy tune was stuck in our heads for days.) Carolyn was super friendly and told us about her grand kids and great-grand kids. She also gave us a map of the area (a photocopy of her own hand-drawn map) and spent at least 15 minutes telling us about all of the major attractions and her favorite places. We picked up other maps along the way but none were as useful as Carolyn’s hand-drawn version. 

KLAMATH OVERLOOK

Our first stop was the Klamath Overlook, where the Klamath River washes into the Pacific Ocean. To get here, take a right (West) on Requa Rd. just before you reach the town of Klamath.

This area is home to the Native American Yurok Tribe, who have been fishing salmon from these waters for generations. The nearby town of Klamath mostly consists of tribal government and community buildings, along with a tribal casino and a large gas station.

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The viewpoint is stunning. You can distinctly see the color difference between the river and the ocean. You can also hear sea lions barking down below (although we couldn’t actually see them). And if you are looking for a coastal hike, you can take the six-mile round-trip hike from the viewpoint to hidden beach. We didn’t do the hike, but it sounded nice.

Although the scenery all around Klamath is lovely, the poverty was hard to ignore. This area of California is very isolated from major cities and major roads and does not appear to have much industry outside of logging and fishing.

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THE TOUR THRU TREE 

A visit to the redwoods wouldn’t be complete without driving through the center of a giant tree! We stopped by the Tour Thru Tree, which is right outside the town of Klamath. All of these drive through trees are tourist traps but it was still fun. It costs $5 and 15 minutes of your time (bring cash), but in return you get a classic California road trip photo of your car inside a tree!

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THE TREES OF MYSTERY

The Trees of Mystery are a road trip tourist trap so classic it would be a shame not to stop. During the summer months, the gigantic concrete statue of Paul Bunyan greets visitors and responds to inquisitive children, all in his booming voice over a loud-speaker. We were there in the off-season, unfortunately, apparently Paul’s vacation time. To hear some of Paul’s voice and learn the secrets of the giant speaking statue, check out the first few minutes of this episode of This American Life on NPR. Spoiler alert: the “voice” of Paul Bunyan uses an old sink for a toilet and can see the tourists through holes in Paul’s chest hair.

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The second bear we’ve seen on this trip!

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For whatever reason, we decided to stop by the gift shop first (the Trees of Mystery trail leads you directly through the gift shop, so there is no way to avoid it). It was full of silly souvenirs, like Paul Bunyan’s coffee cup, but also houses a more serious Native American art and cultural museum. The shop is full of “You break it, You buy it” signs and I think I was making the lady in the background suspicious.

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The Trees of Mystery consists of a series of trails, all leading to their new SkyTrail arial tram ride through the forest canopy. You will not find the largest of the redwoods here, but you will find a number of interesting and unusual trees, along with thoughtful signage and some kitschy exhibits.

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The Cathedral Tree was actually really lovely in person and would make a nice location for a small wedding. They even had a special trail gated off so the bride could make a dramatic entrance without being seen beforehand.

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The Brotherhood Tree was the park’s primary “big” tree. While impressive, its location within this particular park made it less impressive than it would have been seeing it “in the wild”.

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However, the Brotherhood Tree is accessible to those with mobility limitations while many of the other “big” trees are not. The park offers a shuttle from the gift shop up to the SkyTrail, which is very close to the Brotherhood Tree.

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The SkyTrail was a highlight of the tour. Unlimited rides on the lift are included in the $16 entry fee to the park.

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The SkyTrail is essentially an enclosed ski-lift. Although it does take you right through the forest canopy, it does not take you through a canopy of giant redwood trees (as the tour brochures imply). This makes sense, of course. It would have been detrimental and damaging to the remaining redwoods to build the lift right through the middle of them.

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The lift takes you to a viewing platform at the top of the hill. On a clear day, I imagine the view is quite nice. We saw mostly fog.

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There are two ways back down from the top of the lift: take the lift in reverse or hike the 1 mile trail to the bottom. We thought we could use the exercise and picked the trail. There is a sign advising visitors to check with the lift attendant before taking the trail. He looked to make sure we were wearing appropriate shoes and told us we should each take a grab a complimentary walking stick (we would need it). He also advised us that the trail is very steep but there are ropes to help you lower yourself down the more intense portions.

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The mile long trail consisted of a series of six steep switch backs. They probably would have been more manageable if it had not just rained. The muddy trail was very steep and slippery. We were very thankful for the guide-ropes and walking sticks.

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The trail eventually intersects with one of the main park trails and leads back the SkyTrail loading area. During dry weather, the trail down is probably pretty manageable. During wet weather it was slippery and didn’t offer anything particularly notable. But at least we got a good workout in and neither of us fell in the mud. That’s still a win in my book!

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The trees below demonstrate one of the many survival strategies employed by the redwood trees. When a tree falls, new trees begin to grow from the branches.

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Paul Bunyan is at the center of the Trees of Mystery Tourist attraction. It’s a bit silly, but don’t miss a walk through the Trail of Tall Trees. The short trail brings to life the various stories about Paul through a series of wood carvings done almost entirely with a chain saw. It’s even more impressive when you think about how hard it is to do anything of precision with a chainsaw.

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A QUICK STOP AT BIG TREE

The next day we drove south from the Trees of Mystery and stopped by “Big Tree”. This was, indeed, a big tree. However, I’m starting to think that these giants are most impressive when you’ve put in some physical effoet to find them. Big Tree is maybe 1/10 of a mile from the parking lot. Not much effort. On the other hand, this is another one of the big trees that is accessible to those with mobility limitations and a great stop if you’re just passing through and short on time.

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HIKING FERN CANYON

From the Big Tree we continued south to our primary destination of the day, Fern Canyon.

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Fern Canyon is a bit off of the tourist trail but it is more than worth the journey. To get here, drive south from Klamath and turn right onto Davidson Road. During most of the year Davidson Road is a prime viewing area for the local heard of Roosevelt Elk. We were there during rutting season, when the males are challenging each other, all hoping to court the females, so the elk were mostly invisible. From Davidson Road, you take an 8 mile dirt road through the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park to the parking area at the trail head of fern canyon.

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Fern Canyon is exactly what is sounds like, a giant canyon of ferns. The hike follows along the creek bed, passing over and under logs and across small bridges.

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At one point we found a stream of water dripping down the side of the canyon.

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The hiking isn’t difficult but we did have to climb over and under a number of old logs. We thought it made the hike more fun.

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At the end of the canyon the trail wanders up to the top of the canyon wall  and back to the parking lot. We had been chatting with the couple hiking behind us and they decided to trust our judgment and follow us when we went left instead of right at a fork in the trail. After about 10 minutes, it became clear that we were following an elk trail that led to nowhere. All four of us turned around and followed the muddy path through the weeds until we came back to the real trail, and went right at the fork.

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One positive side of our little detour was finding a few view points into the canyon from the top of the canyon wall.

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Back on track. We hiked with our new friends all the way back to the car. They had driven down from Portland to go camping for a few days. We were happy to hear that they planned to stop by Jedediah Smith State Park and hike to the Boy Scout Tree before returning home.

As for us, we have one more stop in the redwoods before we make our way south to San Francisco!

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2 thoughts on “Coastal Redwoods: The Trees of Mystery and Fern Canyon

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