Truth be told, world-class hikes are easy to find in a state with as many ecosystems as Oregon, but come winter, a few trails stand above the rest. This is the best time to wander through the fairy-book wonder of the redwood giants.
Clustered inland from Brookings about 6 hours south of Portland, groves of these magnificent trees — in their northernmost range — tower hundreds of feet into the air. Ten feet thick. Centuries old. Needles that inhale water out of fog. To hike among these creatures is to feel tiny in the most inspiring of ways. Here’s where to hike amongst them yourself.
A Woodsy Winter Wonderland
Winter is a great time to hike among the redwoods. That’s because the Coast’s temperate climate means trails won’t be snow-filled like so many in the Cascades. What’s more, the mist lends an ethereal beauty to these forests. Sometimes, the canopy overhead can be so complete that the trees will even keep you dry in a rainstorm, says Erin Gates, an interpretation and education program manager who regularly hikes and works among the redwoods.
Perhaps the easiest and most accessible way to witness these giants is to drive out to Alfred A. Loeb State Park, about 8 miles east of Brookings, nestled among ancient myrtle trees on the banks of the Chetco River. From there you can pick up the Loeb Park Riverview Trail as it follows the river for about three-quarters of a mile upstream to the Redwood Nature Trail. The Redwood Nature Trail has a parking area, too, saving you 1.5 miles in all if you park there, but you’ll miss hiking along awesome views of the river.
The trail heads away from the river and makes a loop about a mile long, taking you through a grove of redwoods tucked among Douglas fir trees rising over a forest floor thick with salal, huckleberries and rhododendron. The higher you go, the larger the redwoods become. About halfway through the hike, be on the lookout for the biggest one of them all, the Chetco Giant, which stands 10 feet in diameter with a canopy hundreds of feet in the air.
You’d think that trees this large would have a deep root system, but they don’t, Gates says. Instead, they stay upright using a different strategy. “You can’t really see it, but they’re all holding hands underground,” she says. “That’s how they weather the storms. They do it together.”
Trails for All Among the Redwoods
If you have a high-clearance vehicle and can safely navigate a bumpy, narrow Forest Service Road for about 4 miles, it’s worth checking out the Oregon Redwoods Trail in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Winding slowly upward, about 11 miles southeast of Brookings, the tree-lined road is tucked into the Winchuck River watershed — Oregon’s southernmost river — and takes about 30 minutes, so plan ahead. Though there’s generally no snow in winter, rainy conditions may provide particular challenges, so be sure you’re prepared.
“It’s an adventure,” Gates says. “Make sure your vehicle can handle it.”
Once you arrive, you’ll be treated to a 1.6-mile-long loop trail into the grove of trees. The first quarter-mile of the trail is known as the Oregon Redwoods Barrier-Free Trail, a wheelchair-accessible route that follows a wide path of packed aggregate gravel at a gentle slope. Don’t miss the short wooden deck along the trail that leads to the inside of a hollowed redwood tree.
The rest of the loop can be steep and challenging at times, but your reward awaits when you hike down toward Moser Creek and spot monster trees rising out of the forest. “Suddenly, out of the corner of your eye, you’ll see one,” Gates adds. “They’re like these scattered surprises.”
A Weekend in Redwood Country
Back at the state park, you can rent a rustic cabin, one of which is pet-friendly. The park also has over 40 RV sites with electricity and water. Reservations are required year-round. Bring a fishing rod and license. Winter is prime salmon time.
AtRivers Edge RV Resort also sits on the Chetco River near Brookings. There you can rent cabins or book a pull-through site. To fall asleep to the sound of the crashing waves, get a room at the Beachfront Inn, where every room has a private balcony and ocean views. Treat yourself to a special add-on sampler of locally made fudge when you book.
After hiking the redwoods, it’s worth taking a spin along the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, one of the most spectacular stretches of Oregon Coast, with craggy sea stacks, beachcombing galore and forested overlooks. When it’s time to refuel, head to Pacific Sushi & Grill in Brookings for spicy-tuna rolls or belly-warming bowls of ramen. Zola’s on the Water is always a hit, too, not just for wood-fired pizzas and oysters but also for the ceiling, where legions of customers have decorated pizza boxes and dollar bills that now hang overhead.