Pleasant Surprises at Portola Redwoods State Park

After several weeks of life getting in the way, as it often will, my husband and I finally got to go out and commune with nature again.

Whenever we decide to go hiking, we always do research to find out a bit about the park first. Just little things such as location, how long it will take us to get there, accessibility, and, of course, what the weather will be like. In doing so, we will often come across interesting facts such as trees of some notoriety, but our number one criterion is the variety of trails because it does no good to go to a park if there are no trails suitable for me to hike. For these reasons, Portola Redwoods State Park fit our criteria.

When we arrived, we went into the visitors’ center where I spent a few minutes talking with the visitor service aides. They were extremely helpful and very happy to know that I was there to explore and share my experiences with the Save the Redwoods League. It was apparent in their enthusiasm that this was not just another job for them, but that they were passionate about why they were there.

One thing that I noticed outside of the visitors’ center that I don’t recall seeing at the other parks was a sign that indicated the level of difficulty of the park trails and a very definitive accompanying graphic. This is a valuable tool to help hikers of all types determine which trails are most suitable for their skill level. Unfortunately, this beautiful park does not offer wheelchair accessibility, but if you can manage the short hike to the Sequoia Trail, this is a very easy trail to traverse.

When talking to service aide, Lauren, as to which trail we may want to take, she suggested the Iverson Trail, which leads to Tiptoe Falls. She was then kind enough to plot it out on a map for us. As we struck off for this trail, we found ourselves behind a family of four. This family consisted of a mother pushing a 2-year-old girl in a stroller and a 4-year-old boy throwing rocks the size of his head in the creek, all the while, his dad dragging the boy’s bicycle behind him.

I find it difficult to express the feeling of peace that overcame me at Portola…once we headed off on a different path from this lovely family. Now before you judge me, I raised a family, but I didn’t take them hiking until they could walk on their own and carry the picnic basket. So yes, we took a slight diversion and followed the Sequoia Trail, and bless that family and their toddlers in helping us to decide to do so because it was amazing, and we might have otherwise missed it.

Portola itself, or at least the part that we explored, is an absolute gem. I am not sure how many redwood parks we have visited, but I was quite surprised by what we found along the Sequoia Trail. We saw some of the grandest trees we have yet seen, and they were larger than we expected and in sizeable groups.

Not only were we agog at the stunning trees that we encountered, but this was the first time we saw real, live banana slugs! We found it exciting because the first four that we saw were in a giant deadfall, demonstrating the interconnectedness of environmental systems. (Yeah, we are the nerds your mother warned you about.) By the way, the banana slugs are much cuter than you might think.

Unfortunately, one of the formerly massive trees that we came across along the Sequoia Trail was called the Shell Tree, the remains of which are located in the Louise Austin Wilson Grove. This miracle of nature was over 2,000 years old and had a circumference of 54 feet when it was decimated by a camper’s fire in 1989. I am sure there are many who will find this silly, but seeing such majesty destroyed by a moment’s inattention causes me actual grief. This may be because my soul is most at peace when surrounded by a forest, any forest, but those of us who love redwoods know that there is something extra-special there.

It is just as hard to explain the spirituality that I feel among redwoods as it is to convey their magnificence through photography. We took so many pictures while at Portola, but in reviewing them when we got home, they seem insignificant compared that we saw; those which I felt compelled to reach out and caress as though I were touching the hand of Nature herself.

Once we completed the short (3/4 mile), yet grand Sequoia Trail, we decided to brave the Iverson Trail, toddlers notwithstanding. Well, this trail was an entirely different kettle of fish than the previous one. In retrospect, I doubt the family went very far on this trail. The parents were young and fit, but is it solely my opinion that this was not trail for children even though it was marked as an easy hike on the sign back at the visitors’ center. Although beautiful, it consisted of some fairly steep grades, a few sharp turns, and areas where you had to cross over the creek a few times. As a caution for other parents, be mindful of your children on these trails as the drop-offs on either side of the trail are pretty steep.

Having said this, it was a beautiful hike. We followed it to the end of the Iverson Trail where we found the diminutive, yet peaceful, Tiptoe Falls and the small, crystal-clear pool at its base. As we were quite warm at this point in our journey, naturally we removed our shoes and placed our feet in the frigid water. This is why we hike; to sit there listening to the sounds of nature, cooling our feet, holding hands, and allowing ourselves to be grateful to share it all together.

I had some difficulty with this trail. As I have said before, I am older and have health issues, so that is a consideration. The various grades were difficult on my knees, whereas I had no issues on the Sequoia Trail, and the grade of this trail left me breathless. Bless my husband for being patient with me and waiting as long as necessary for me to catch my breath. Both trails combined resulted in a little over three miles of hiking for us which is quite good for me. Consequently, you would have thought I had just conquered Denali by the time we returned to the car.

There is no need for me to recount information about camping, fees, various trails, and so forth, as there is a wealth of data readily available online. I strongly encourage you to add Portola State Redwoods Park to your list of adventures. We knew that we would enjoy it, but we were delighted by so many of the joys, both large and small, that we found there.

One tip when visiting Portola or any of the other attractions in this region, please keep in mind that it may take you longer than you might expect. We learned this on our way to Portola because it was not quite as accessible as we first thought. It took us longer to get there than our directions stated, but that could be, in part, due to the existing damage that several roads sustained during last year’s storms. There are also many cyclists in the region, so caution needs to be used as the roads are often curvy which limits sight distance. Finally, the last leg of the in-road is a bit tricky as it is mostly a single lane, and there are some private driveways along it, so be on the lookout upon your approach to the park.

Avatar for Patricia VanEyll

About the author

Patricia is a seasoned writer who relocated to the Bay Area from North Carolina. She currently volunteers with Save the Redwoods League and strives to explore all the diversity that this region as to offer.

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