BY DENNIS WYATT
Less than 30 miles as the crow flies from the glittering offices of Silicon Valley stalwarts such as eBay, Oracle, Facebook, Google and Yahoo stands a 330-foot tall tree that has been alive since before the American Revolution.
Save for 80 miles of trails the largest grove of old forest redwood trees south of San Francisco is tucked away from the tech world of the Bay Area in the 18,000-acre Big Basin State Park in Boulder Creek.
If you want to see redwoods, you head to places like Boulder Creek west of the 209. That’s because they are true redwoods, as in California’s state tree. Their kissing cousin — the giant sequoia — are found in Yosemite and other parts of the Sierra. The redwoods that thrive in the moist foggy climate of the California coast are taller than the Giant Sequoias with the tallest reaching 378 feet surpassing the Statue of Liberty in height. Giant Sequoias are older and bulkier.
The redwoods’ average life expectancy of around 2,000 years is topped by the giant sequoias that can reach 3,000 plus years. While redwoods are tall and relatively slender the giant sequoias are tall and bulky. Giant sequoias are only found on the western slopes of the Sierra in un-glaciered gullies between 4,000 to 8,000 feet in elevation. The warmth of the Sierra summer is essential for seeds to pop from its pinecones. The giant sequoia seeds and pinecones are three times larger than those of the redwoods.
Giant sequoia is significantly coarser in texture than redwood. The rings of the redwood are also wider than the giant sequoia.
The world’s largest living organism can be found three hours away from the 209 among the 8,000 plus giant sequoias in Sequoia National Park. General Sherman has more than 52,000 cubic feet, is 25 feet in diameter, soars 275 feet and is between 2,300 and 2,700 years old.
The closest redwood grove to the 209 is Big Basin State Park in Boulder Creek in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The “showcase” trail is the 10.6-mile loop to Berry Creek Falls that takes you past numerous redwood trees. The route is considered strenuous and can be covered in six hours or so. That said, if you are willing to forgo the falls, you can hike about two miles into the loop from the southern end and enjoy gazing at numerous redwoods.
There are much shorter trails that are classified as easy. The day entry fee is $10.
There is also a general store with a small restaurant near the park headquarters.
The park is 17 miles as the crow flies from downtown San Jose. Driving distance from San Jose, though, is 30 plus miles given the windy, curving road you need to take once you leave Highway 17.
Due to it being near the coast, the temperature this time of year while be milder than what you will experience visiting groves of giant sequoias in the Sierra.
Giant sequoias in Yosemite
When most people in the 209 think of giant sequoias they tend to look in their own backyard — Yosemite National Park.
There are 63 groves of giant sequoias in the Sierra with the farthest north being a cluster of six trees in the backcountry of eastern Placer County found on the way to French Meadows Reservoir and the southernmost grove near the Kern River.
Three can be found in Yosemite National Park.
The first is just a mile of so north of the Tioga Road turnoff. It is where you will find the Merced Grove, the smallest and less crowded of the three giant sequoia groves in Yosemite with 20 trees.
The trailhead is at 6,000 feet. It is three miles round trip and takes an average person 2 to 4 hours to hike a relatively smooth trail since much of it was a former road. The trail has a gain of 600 feet which you won’t hit until your way back to our car.
The next collection of giant sequoias is in the Tuolumne Grove that is accessed at a parking lot a half mile east of the turnoff to go toward Tioga Pass. There are more than two dozen trees in the grove. It is here that you will find giant sequoia that you can walk through. The trailhead is at 6,200 feet and involves a 2.5-mile round trip hike with an elevation gain of 400 feet. It is also uphill on the way back to your car. A typical person can hike the trail round-trip in 1.5 to 2.5 hours.
Due to restoration efforts you won’t be able to visit the largest grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite with more than 200 of the woody beasts until mid-2018 at the earliest.
The entrance fee to Yosemite increased to $30 a vehicle for a seven-day pass. If you plan in taking two or more trips in the next 12 months, the $60 annual Yosemite pass is the better day. If you plan to hit Sequoia National Park or Kings River Canyon National Park – both east of Visalia — to see the largest concentration of giant sequoias in the world (actually they’re only fund in the Sierra) including the famous General Sherman in the next 12 months — then the $80 national park annual pass makes sense. Yes, they do take credit and debit cards at the entrance stations.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park
If Yosemite is too crowded for your taste, the other major giant sequoia grove in the 209 can be found at Calaveras Big Trees State Park, three miles north of Arnold on Highway 4.
The entrance fee is $10. But unlike Yosemite where day users can wander around 24/7, the park is only open from sunrise to sunset.
That said, Calaveras Big Trees offers a more pleasant experience crowd wise compared to the Mariposa Grove along with more hiking trails in and around the big trees with somewhat easier elevation gains.