Montgomery Woods State Reserve

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Montgomery Woods State Reserve—A Remote Redwood Paradise

Jul 29, 2004 (Updated Jul 30, 2004)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

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Pros:fantastic redwoods, solitude

Cons:tough drive, no services

The Bottom Line: This is a spectacular redwood forest, but other destinations may be a better choice unless you are a redwoods enthusiast


Montgomery Woods State Reserve may be the single best redwood forest I have ever been to. If you love redwoods, this could be the most perfect place on earth. But if you’re not a redwoods aficionado, you might be disappointed. Before you make the drive, make sure you know what to expect.

What to Expect

Notice the name. This is a reserve, not a park. The difference is more than semantic. As a reserve, the focus is on protecting redwoods, not entertaining visitors. You are permitted to commingle with the trees, but don’t expect to be coddled. You’ll find a pit toilet and a few picnic tables (a short steep hike from the parking area). That’s it for visitor services. No visitor center, ranger station, snack shop or campground. Not even a drinking fountain.

Your arrival at the reserve will be similarly inauspicious. The reserve’s entrance is a small dirt parking area on the south side of the road with minimal signage. My buddy and I looked at each other—is this the right place?

If you love redwoods, a few steps on the trail will answer that question emphatically. This is redwood paradise. The reserve encompasses a perfect redwood ecosystem—a large flat drainage area with a year-round creek, huge redwoods both standing tall and slowly decomposing on their sides, and steep fern-covered canyon walls periodically cut by redwood-choked side ravines. Everywhere you’ll find massive redwoods, ferns, moss, rhododendrons and other flora and fauna typical of a healthy, mature, old-growth redwood forest. It’s hard to describe just how breathtakingly beautiful it is.

You can explore the reserve on a short (2+ mile) loop trail. The trail circles the bowl and has short spurs up various redwood-dominated ravines. After a very steep but relatively short hike up to the bowl, the trail is level and easy to navigate. If you walk contemplatively, the loop might take an hour to complete. Of course, you may want to linger as you walk among the ancient giants and soak in the beauty and solitude. On the other hand, if you think that if you’ve seen one redwood tree, you’ve seen them all (my wife’s sentiments), then you can burn through the entire reserve in less than 40 minutes. You can find a trail map at http://www.mcn.org/1/mendoparks/mwtrail.htm.

I’ve read reports that in 1999 the reserve was home to the world’s tallest tree, the “Mendocino Tree” at nearly 370 feet. Personally, I don’t find these rankings all that compelling, because all of the trees are so staggeringly tall and impressive that it’s impossible to make relative comparisons. (Also, the rankings change routinely based on storm damage, new measurements, etc.). However, it does confirm that this is an ideal location for redwoods.

Getting There

Montgomery Woods’ peacefulness and solitude comes at a cost—you have to work hard to get there. Although only 13 miles from Ukiah, it is a slow, twisty, bumpy, painful 45 minute drive over a remote and poorly-maintained road. Coming from Comptche on the west side is even more difficult, with a long stretch on a mountainous gravel road. The roads can be hazardous—please drive slowly and carefully! Whatever road you take, expect tedious and exacting driving and nauseated passengers.

The only nearby tourist destination is the Orr’s Mineral Hot Springs, 2 miles to the east. Otherwise, there are no restaurants, gas stations or other tourist conveniences—just a long drive back to where you came from. Further, you can’t stay nearby even if you wanted to—there are no hotels or campgrounds anywhere (the closest lodging may be back in Ukiah). Bring water and food and fill up the gas tank before hitting the road.

I find it odd that many Mendocino B&Bs tout Montgomery Woods as a tourist attraction. The drive from Mendocino is long and stressful for what ends up being a short destination for many people. I strongly recommend that Mendocino tourists consider great redwood alternatives like Hendy Woods that are a little closer/easier to get to and have other fun destinations to combine into a day trip. I’ve written more on Hendy Woods (http://www.epinions.com/content_69920067204) and Mendocino tourism generally (http://www.epinions.com/trvl-review-2FE1-FF14238-38AE26D4-bd1).

All standard caveats applicable to visiting a redwood forest apply—expect fog and damp conditions, and be prepared for bugs.

Conclusion

If you love redwoods like I do, Montgomery Woods is your Mecca. Make the pilgrimage at least once in your life. However, if you are a tourist that just wants to see a pretty old-growth redwood forest, consider more accessible destinations like Hendy Woods.


Recommend this product? Yes


Best time to go: June-August
Recommended for: Anybody
Review Topic: Overview

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