I've been wanting to write about one of my all-time favorite road trips. A trip that's both easy to accomplish and equally rewarding to take part. I call it The Grand Tree Tour. You hit all three world-famous trees: the oldest, the tallest and the most massive trees in one big rope around the state. There's a good chance you'll want to do some camping and some National Park visiting, get your National Park Passport stamped -- remember your park stamp collection we've written about before. Pick up a National Park Annual Pass if you plan on hitting a few National Parks, it'll save you money, time, you get a cool collectable souvenir and you're supporting public lands.
METHUSELAH - THE WORLD'S OLDEST TREE
AGE: 4,847 years old
ALTITUDE: 2,900 - 3,000m above sea level
Since we're fresh off the heals of our famous drives article, let's head 200 miles down the fabled US-395 through Mojave and see the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, and most importantly, the Methuselah Grove. Unsurprisingly, the exact Methuselah tree is not disseminated public information. Want to take a guess why? You got it, someone cut down the previous oldest known tree in 1964. This is why we can't have nice things. Incidentally, and I know this will anger some readers, there's another tree allegedly older than Methuselah, but the NPS doesn't talk about this tree for the same reason mentioned above--the latest oldest tree, also nearby, though seemingly an unnamed Bristlecone Pine, is 5,065 years old. That means the seed germinated in 3056 BC -- wayyyyy before the Roman Empire, we're talking the first pharaohs of Egypt old.
When you get to the forest, take the 4.5 mile Methuselah trail loop and it'll lead adjacent the Methuselah grove where you'll snap tons of photos and incidentally take a photo of the now-second oldest tree. Honestly, it seems like every couple decades we find an older tree, so it's possible the oldest tree is next to you on the trail, they're all many, many thousands of years old.
All Bristlecone Pines have a characteristic gnarled and twisted shape, with deep red and yellow trunk fissures, growing in large open stands (instead of dense forests). A hearty and robust species, the tree can exist in harsh arid, cold and drought stricken climates. They've also adapted to live in harsh soils and do well where other trees and plants suffer.
It should be noted that these old Bristlecones are acknowledged as non-clonal organisms. Clonal trees can live several orders of magnitude longer. Some of the genetically identical clonal individuals, in Utah for instance, have thrived for a staggering +80,000 years.
HYPERION - THE WORLD'S TALLEST TREE
AGE: 700-800 years
HEIGHT: 379.3ft (115.6m)
Hyperion was discovered, no joke, in 2006. It always blows my mind when these kinds of discoveries are so recent. Goes to show you how the frontier for discovery is always in front of our noses. The specific location of Hyperion was kept secret, but the location is easy to track down online. Just be respectful and dignified while at this sacred ground, humans have a way of carving their names, desecrating and stealing things like record-holding wildlife. Nevertheless, you can get to the Hyperion Grove through Humboldt County by Redwood Creek. Hyperion is 323 miles north of San Francisco, from US-101 just north of Orick, turn onto Bald Hills Road and drive 7 miles to the Tall Trees Grove Access Road. You'll need to pick up a permit from the visitor center where they'll give you a combo for the lock.
Dispersed camping is allowable here, the only place in the Redwoods where this is permissible, though this is an easy day hike, as it's only 2 miles from the parking lot. Viewing from the ground, it's impossible to tell the difference between trees that are towering a length of two stacked Statues of Liberty.
Talk about living the dream, the botanist team from Humboldt State University, led by Steve Sillett, climbed to the top of the tree and dropped a measuring tape to the base. Who needs sophisticated technology when precise analogs methods work perfectly well.
GENERAL SHERMAN - THE WORLD'S MOST MASSIVE TREE
HEIGHT ABOVE BASE: 274.9 ft
GROUND CIRCUMFERENCE: 102.6 ft
VOLUME: 53,500 cubic ft
ESTIMATED AGE: 2,300 - 2,500 yrs.
Seeing General Sherman for the first time is a divided experience. The tree seems like it shouldn't be the most massive tree on earth, the top is dead and inactive, which gives the tree a crop-top and an incomplete feeling, among a grove of full complete sequoias. But there it is, with its massive 100ft base, and surrounded by giants.
While visiting Sequoia National Park, you'll want to walk the Grant Grove, an easy day stroll and see the President Coolidge tree and the Big Trees trail. Arguably, the Big Trees trail is one of the most humbling places in California. Staring at these enormous living giants, which are flattened and hardly magnanimous in photographs, feels like you're seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. You should put your hand on the spongy sequoia bark and feel that fire resistant outer layer.
Incidentally, there's been a couple other more massive trees that we've known about. Both Coastal Redwoods, the Crannell Creek Giant (15%-25% larger than General Sherman) in Trinidad was cut down in the early 1900s, and the Lindsey Creek Tree, also a Coastal Redwood, was uprooted and felled by a storm in 1905. the Lindsey Creek Tree was evaluated to be twice the size of General Sherman.
The tree tour, completely do-able in a week, plus you get to engage a couple of California's National Parks, which is awesome. Obviously, camping in the National Parks takes some planning, but I recommend seeking campsites outside of the National Parks, find dispersed camping, or head to adjacent State Parks. Many have first-come first-serve spots, and the camp hosts have always recommended great sites in last minute binds.
If you enjoyed this piece, take a look at our article on famous California drives, and our collection of places to camp on California beaches. Shoot us a message in the comment section with stories, recommendations or favorite road trips of yours, we'd love to read them.
Banner image: David Wood