Pros: Old growth redwood forests, nice and level trails
Cons: Poor trail signage, false trails, noisy campground
I?m a sucker for redwood trees. I love hiking among them, even second-growth redwood forests. But I experience a special indescribable exhilaration when hiking among old growth redwoods.
Hendy Woods State Park is an 850 acre state park in the heart of the Anderson Valley, about 3 hours north of San Francisco in Mendocino County. The park offers two superior old growth redwood groves: Big Hendy and Little Hendy. Big Hendy is 80 acres of pure old growth bliss, a large enough area to immerse yourself among the trees and have some peace and quiet to yourself. Little Hendy is a splendid 20 acre grove, a fine destination that pales only when compared to Big Hendy.
Go to both. Spend as much time as you can in these groves. You won?t be disappointed.
Unless the Anderson Valley is your vacation destination, most people visit Hendy Woods on their way to or from the Mendocino Coast. Heading west on Highway 128, after passing through the bucolic Anderson Valley towns of Yorkville, Boonville and Philo, turn left on Philo-Greenwood Road. You?ll pass over the Navarro River, then turn left into the park (about ? mile from 128). There is currently a $2 entry fee.
For day visits, the rangers will direct you to the day use area at the end of the road (about 3 miles). However, the ranger station has a few parking spots, and if you?re only visiting Little Hendy, it is easier to hike from there. If you?re camping, you can start at the campground and hike to either grove easily.
Just outside the park is the Apple Farm, a local institution. We didn?t find much when we visited in June, but many people worship this place. Personally, I always stop at McGowan?s Oak Tree right on 128, which has a much bigger selection.
On the way there or back, you?ll drive through vineyards and grazing lands. Look back at the groves and see the massive green trees towering over the tan grasslands. It?s an impressive sight, even from afar.
Despite its relatively small size, the park has a good network of trails. If you want a short trip, you can hike Big Hendy in 20 minutes. Or, doing all the trails should take at least a half-day. Proper admiration for the trees, however, takes even longer?a lifetime, perhaps.
The trail map shows 3 progressively larger loops through Big Hendy. In practice, the signage is so poor, it?s impossible to hike any of the loops as illustrated on the map. It doesn?t matter?follow whatever path you want. The trail is bounded on one side by the Navarro River and service roads on the others, so it?s pretty much impossible to get lost in this grove. The total distance of the largest loop is 1.6 miles, and it?s level, so the hike should take 30-45 minutes. The All Access trail, a wheelchair-accessible dirt trail, is interwoven with the Big Hendy loops, and the signage doesn?t help distinguish the trails clearly.
The Little Hendy trail forms a short loop through the heart of the Little Hendy grove. It probably takes 10-15 minutes to walk around the loop, unless you want to take it slow.
Whichever of these trails you hike, you?ll experience massive trees towering to the sky, beautiful ferns, rhododendrons blooming in the spring, babbling brooks in the winter, and that redwood duff smell.
While the Big Hendy and Little Hendy loop trails are spectacular and get all of the attention, don?t miss the other trails. All of the park?s trails are top notch.
For a little more ambition beyond the Big Hendy loops, hike the Hermit Hut trail. After ascending from the river valley, this is a mostly level trail that leads to 2 redwood logs that were the residence of the Hermit, a Russian who emigrated to the US and somehow ended up in Anderson Valley. He lived a primitive and solitary life in these logs until he died in the early 1980s. A bulletin board contains some of the articles written after his death. The logs themselves are modest, but the hike is nice and takes you through a mixture of redwood forest, other evergreen trees, and chaparral.
The Azalea Creek trail offers some additional hiking to more ambitious folk. However, the trail is also mostly level, so it?s perfect for a non-rigorous hiking extension. Signage on this trail wasn?t great either.
Note that some of the Hermit Hut trail and Azalea Creek trail run very close to the road.
The Eagle Trail is basically a service trail offering an efficient way to get from the day use area to the campground. This trail has a number of unmarked false trails that lead to the river.
The park has two campgrounds, Wildcat and Azalea. There is no difference between them. In total there are 92 campsites, 4 small cabins and a hike ?n? bike camp area. The cabins are a nice touch. You get 2 bunks, a small table, a fireplace and an outdoor picnic table. They are small, however, and smelled a little musty.
We didn?t stay at the campground but it had all of the typical indicia of a large California campground. The scenery is pretty but the sites are pretty close together and full of families with small kids and people who bring all of the comforts of home to the campground. It?s a little busy and noisy for my tastes, at least during summer.
If you want the ultimate redwood experience, go north to the Redwood National Forest. But I rate Hendy Woods as fine a redwood experience you?ll find south of there?and this includes such famous destinations as Muir Woods and Big Basin. If you?re going to Mendocino, definitely make the short detour. But even if you?re looking for a redwood day trip destination from San Francisco, put Hendy Woods on the list. And when you?re there, don?t be surprised if you want to spend a little extra time soaking in the experience in the groves.
For more details about Mendocino and getting there, see my review at http://www.epinions.com/trvl-review-2FE1-FF14238-38AE26D4-bd1.
For more information about the park, see http://www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=438.