By: Mary Caperton Morton
National Parks protect some of the oldest, largest living organisms on Earth: from 300-foot-tall Redwoods to 5,000-year-old Bristlecone pine trees, these five hikes will take you to the noble bases of some of the world’s most incredible trees. If you like what you see, check out my new book, The World's Best National Parks in 500 Walks to find more.
The Rainforest Figure 8 in British Columbia’s Pacific Rim National Park
If you wait for sunny weather to visit this national park on Vancouver Island, you may never get to go; drenched by over 100 inches of rain a year, Pacific Rim National Park is one of the wettest parks in North America. But all that rain gives rise to a lush temperate rainforest home to towering western red cedars and western hemlock trees, decorated with colorful mosses and lichens. Pack a rain jacket for the two mile double loop trail, which runs along a raised boardwalk that will keep your feet out of the mud.
Lady Bird Johnson Grove in California’s Redwoods National Park
Visit some of the tallest trees on Earth on this easy 1.5-mile loop through a grove of exceptional redwoods, named in honor of a former First Lady. If your neck gets sore from craning to see the treetops over 300 feet above the forest floor, rest it by studying the understory too: verdant ferns and blooming rhododendrons make for a beautiful forest setting.
Congress Trail in California’s Sequoia National Park
The title of the world’s largest tree belongs to a Giant Sequoia, measured not just by height but also by volume. The 3-mile Congress Trail loops through the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park, delivering visitors to the base of the General Sherman, the world’s largest tree. Estimated to be between 2,300 and 2,700 years old, the General Sherman is 275 feet tall, with a diameter of 36 feet at the base, more massive than the tallest Redwoods.
Bristlecone Pine Glacier Trail in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park
Visit Nevada’s only remaining glacier, on the flanks of Wheeler Peak, the state’s second highest peak at 13,063 feet. On the way up the 4.6-mile-round-trip trail you’ll pass through a grove of twisted Bristlecone pines that rank among the oldest trees on Earth. Dating ancient trees is tricky without cutting them down but some of these exceptionally hardy bristlecones are estimated to be over 5,000 years old!
Boardwalk Loop Trail in South Carolina’s Congaree National Park
This tract of old growth hardwood forest is home to some of the tallest trees in the Eastern United States. A 2.6 mile long raised boardwalk offers a unique and mud-free perspective on the seasonally wet lowland floodplains that give rise to stately bald cypress and tupelo trees. Plan to visit in the fall, winter or spring to avoid swarms of summer mosquitos.