Nothing beats a stroll through the giant sequoias in Yosemite, Sequoia or Kings Canyon National Parks. That said, there’s also a different kind of a giant — the redwood — in many groves throughout Northern California. And although some of these redwood forests are not wheelchair-accessible, these four Northern California state parks offer wheelchair-users and slow walkers an up-close-and-personal look at these stately giants.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Located just north of Orick in Humboldt County, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=415) boasts 14,000-acres of old growth coastal redwoods, and offers the nicely accessible Foothill Prairie Creek Trail. This 2.3-mile loop begins just to the right of the visitor center, and travels along the fern covered banks of the creek. The hard-packed dirt trail is covered in duff and crushed granite, and features a number of benches along the way. The trail crosses the creek several times, before it passes through a fallen redwood, then crosses the parkway and continues back to the visitor center. It’s a very doable hike for both manual and power wheelchair-users, and as an added bonus the second part of the trail is very lightly trafficked.
Hendy Woods State Park
Although it’s a little off-the-beaten-path, Hendy Redwoods State Park (www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=438) is definitely worth a stop when you’re in Anderson Valley. The grove is dotted with 300-foot high redwoods that date back 1,000 years, and it features the nicely accessible All Access Trail. This .3-mile hard packed dirt trail leads from the day use area through the dense forest, and ends out on the park road. From there you can either double back along the same trail or just follow road back to the parking area. Doubling back is the most pleasant — and safest — route though. There are also two accessible picnic tables on cement pads in the day use area, if you’d like to enjoy a mid-day repast. It’s a beautiful grove and the good news is, more access upgrades are in the works there!
Armstrong Redwoods State Park
Two miles north of Guerneville, Armstrong Redwoods State Park (www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=450) also offers a nice accessible jaunt through a redwood forest along the Pioneer Nature Trail. This 3/4-mile hard-packed dirt and asphalt trail is wide and level and offers a comprehensive look at the forest. It leads past the tallest tree in the grove — the Parson Jones Tree — which measures more than 310 feet tall. From there the trail continues through the Burbank Circle to the Icicle Tree, which bears an unusual burl that resembles the namesake frosty formation. From this point, you can continue along the trail for another .1 mile to the accessible picnic area, or turn left and take the .3-mile accessible Armstrong Nature Trail. Either way, the grove is a must-see on any Sonoma County itinerary.
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Last, but certainly not least, if you find yourself in the Santa Cruz area, be sure and take a short detour to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park (www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=546). The accessible Redwood Grove Loop trail begins next to the visitor center, and travels .8-mile through a grove of coastal redwoods dotted with Douglas firs . The hard-packed dirt trail meanders past the 270-foot high Fremont Tree — named for John C. Fremont who camped in the hollowed out base with Kit Carson in 1846 — before it loops back to the visitor center. There’s also an accessible picnic table next to the Fremont Tree, which is a perfect spot for a secluded lunch. And every now and then you’ll hear the whistle of nearby Roaring Camp Railroad, as it travels through the forest on an equally scenic journey. As an added bonus, the drive to the park along Highway 9 also offers more than a smattering of drop-dead gorgeous views of the surrounding forest.