Trailhead: Redwood Bowl Staging Area parking lot at approximately 10600 Skyline Blvd., just north of the main Roberts Recreation Area entrance.
Parking: Parking is free and the lot is large
In a Nutshell: A short but strenuous hike into deep redwood and madrone forests. Very quiet and almost entirely under the shade of impressive trees.
Approximate Length: 2 mile loop
Approximate Time: 45 min – 1 hour
Terrain: Steep inclines with good footing on narrow gauge trails in abundant shade.
BIG. That’s all I could think as I looked around at the redwoods on this hike. And it occurred to me that these trees are not just big in stature, they are large in spirit, too. In addition to the wonderful things trees do like provide oxygen and clean our filthy air, I had recently read that way up there on those redwood branches are mini-ecosystems for all sorts of other living plants and insects. There are even certain species of salamanders and earthworms who will spend their entire lives 300 feet up in the air, in the cradle of redwood branches (http://baynature.org/articles/in-the-shadow-of-giants/).
Even the felled redwoods are generous. Whether it’s a tree trunk uprooted by a storm that now provides a habitat for plants and animals on the ground, or the harvested timber used for building homes and cities, the benefits from the redwoods seem endless. And there I was, a mere speck, standing next to these giants. A speck in size, but admittedly, in generosity too. I had to ask myself, how much do I selflessly do for others?
And I confess to these benevolent trees around me: It’s possible that when an opportunity comes my way to do something for someone else, I ask myself: “What’s in it for me?” “How will I benefit?”
Now honestly, I don’t think friends and family would consider me an especially self-absorbed person. But by what stick are they measuring me? Certainly not against the virtuous sticks I stand next to here.
At first, I feel so ashamed I believe penance must be extreme. Should I give up on a having a profitable career, a mortgage, and instead start spending all my time and energy crusading for some noble cause? I look to the trees for approval. They do not reply.
Maybe I need to start smaller and stop looking around for approval. Maybe I need to drop the cost/benefit analysis. Rather than my standard “What’s in it for me?” How about, “What can I offer?” Or “How can I help?” Because there is always something or someone right in front of me who could use a little help.
The plant that is withering away in my garden: Put down the phone and feed the plant some compost.
The birds need safe places to nest: Shut down the computer and put up a birdhouse.
The elderly woman down the street is afraid to leave her house: Turn off the TV and check in on her, see if she needs anything.
These responses will cost me time and energy. Sustaining this approach will demand a considerable amount of discipline on my part. But what is that compared to what I have received? Compared to these magnanimous trees?
From the Redwood Bowl Staging Area parking lot, follow the signs for the West Ridge Trail. Eventually, you’ll pass the Redwood Bowl picnic area on your left.
Keep following the trail, past the Roberts Ridge and Graham trails until you reach a major trail intersection. To the right, you’ll see and smell a bright Eucalyptus grove to start off the Madrone Trail. I chose to go left and conquer the Redwood Peak Trail first.
A few steps up the trail and you are greeted by a toppled tree creating a Gothic archway into this woodland cathedral. When you get to the fork in the trail, going to the left will put you on a short path up a hill along the Archery Range on the left. Up at the top, you’ll find several large rocks which, sadly, look like they have been carved in by people for years.
Retrace your steps back down to the fork and this time go to the right. Here, we begin a descent of about 300-400 feet in ½ a mile. Despite the steep incline, there are lots of rocks and tree roots that make stepping down easy. Even after a bit of rain, there were only a couple spots that were a little slippery. It was incredibly quiet on this trail that follows a gulch down to the valley floor. Once in a while, I heard or saw a bird. Other than that, nothing seemed to be stirring but me.
Redwood Peak Trail ends at French Trail—go right. As you continue to descend, you’ll find yourself flanked on either side by armies of redwoods and ferns covering the hillsides, all the way up on your right, and all the way down to the valley floor on your left. I had to stop for a while to admire this incredible landscape and see if it were possible to see the tops of any of these giant redwoods.
At the bottom of the hill, you’ll come to another crossroads. At this point, the signage was a little confusing to me my first time, so I’ll make it easy and tell you to just keep going right until you’re back up at the top. In fact, you are turning right onto Starflower Trail and, shortly thereafter, turning right onto Madrone Trail.
From the start of Starflower Trail you begin the ascent; from this point forward it’s all uphill. I found it rather intense. Fortunately, similar to the Redwood Peak Trail, there are plenty of natural footholds along the way that make the climb easier.
Less than ¼ mile from the end of the trail, I finally saw some wildlife. A graceful deer was leaping away from the sound of me, her tail bobbing through the forest.
The trail winds around back up through the Eucalyptus grove we saw earlier near the West Ridge crossroads. Take the West Ridge Trail back down to the parking lot.
While the shade of this trail makes it perfect for hiking on sunny days, I highly recommend getting up there on a foggy morning, too, for an extra-ethereal experience.