Saturday, August 8, 2020

Grieg-French-Bell Grove

Redwood sorrel coats the forest floor at Grieg-French-Bell Grove

0.5 miles loop, 20 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Paved road to trailhead, no parking fee

A little-known roadside redwood grove in California's Humboldt Redwoods State Park presents one of the most magical forest scenes I've ever visited. Located just off the popular Avenue of the Giants, the Grieg-French-Bell Grove nevertheless sees few visitors. While the main trail here visits the Girdled Tree, the far more enjoyable walk is a wander through the north side of the grove, where redwood sorrel carpets the forest floor and the understory is wide open. The trees at Grieg-French-Bell Grove may be fairly pedestrian as far as old growth redwood groves in Northern California are concerned, but the atmosphere set by the redwood sorrel is truly unique.

I visited the Grieg-French-Bell Grove in July with Anna while driving from California to Seattle. Humboldt Redwoods State Park is a good four hours north of the San Francisco Bay Area; to reach this grove from the south, take US 101 north past Leggett to Exit 671 for Barkdull Road. Turn right onto Barkdull Road and follow it briefly to a junction with Highway 254, the Avenue of the Giants; turn left here and drive north a third of a mile to the Grieg-French-Bell Grove. The trees surround the highway and are immediately noticeable and a sign on the left side of the road indicates that you're at the grove. There is parking alongside the road.

From the trailhead, a main path led straight into the grove through the large, soaring redwoods that formed the heart of the grove. This trail leads to the Girdled Tree, a large redwood that had the bark on its lower trunk removed for exhibition by J.H. French, one of the namesakes of the grove. We skipped the Girdled Tree and instead focused on the northern part of the grove, which we reached by following a trail that immediately branched off to the right. This social trail quickly climbed over a fallen log and entered a wonderland of redwood sorrel.

Redwoods of Grieg-French-Bell Grove
Redwood sorrel- a plant many mistake for clover, found all throughout forests on the West Coast- grows everywhere in this grove, taking advantage of the low light conditions created by the dense canopy of the redwoods. Ferns, which are ubiquitous in redwood forests, grow only in small patches here. 

Redwood sorrel carpet
There is no defined path to hike here: just a series of social paths through the sorrel-covered forest floor. Follow the branching paths to different corners of the grove, but avoid leaving existing social paths. The largest trees in the grove are near the parking area but there's plenty of exploring that can be done amongst the more moderate-sized redwoods in the northern reaches of the grove. You can make a loop by heading back south and rejoining the main trail at the far end of the fallen log. 

Redwoods of Grieg-French-Bell Grove
Looking up was of course as magical as looking at the sorrel. The coast redwoods around us soared to over 300 feet tall: these are the tallest trees on Earth. Nurtured by fog coming off the Pacific, these arboreal titans grow only on the Northern California coast, from Big Sur in the South to the Oregon border in the north. Humboldt Redwoods State Park, along with the Redwood National and State Park complex to the north were only protected from logging due to lobbying by the preservationists of the Save the Redwoods League.

Soaring redwoods above a sorrel carpet
We came on a Saturday afternoon in July, usually the busiest time of year to be outdoors. We saw a handful of other groups in the grove, but there were far less people here than the more famous redwood areas in Humboldt Redwoods State Parks, Redwood National and State Parks, and Muir Woods National Monument. The quiet contributes to the magic.

Afternoon light at Grieg-French-Bell Grove

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