Many of our national parks are found at northern latitudes, high elevation or both, and it is not always easy finding a weather-friendly location for winter shooting. If you are looking to schedule a winter shoot, Redwood National Park, flush against northern California’s Pacific Coast, should be considered. With ocean currents warming the land, the resulting mild climate can make the park a great winter photo destination. Each year is different, of course, but December in this part of the state can be delightful.
Redwood National Park is a patchwork of state parks and federal lands cobbled together to form a fragmented and spread-out whole. The various components are stitched together by U.S. Route 101, which runs right along the edge of the land where it meets the blue Pacific.
With Redwood National Park’s great variety of topography comes a wide choice of photo subjects. Within the park are rugged coastal cliffs, beautiful beaches and the prime reason for the park’s existence—the last great stands of coastal redwood trees. Once widespread in North America, coastal redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are now confined to a few remaining pockets in northern and central California.
The giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum)is a different species, the biggest by overall volume, and these redwoods are found high up in the Sierras. The slender coastal redwoods are the tallest.
After wandering among them for a while, surrounded by the quiet and peace of the primal forest, you cannot help but feel a certain bond with these enormous trees. They seem to take on a majesty and an individuality not found in any other flora.
Generally speaking, the best forest photography here will usually be found early in the morning or whenever the skies are bright, but overcast. Bright, contrasty light will not make for good forest images.
Among the very best areas in Redwoods National Park are the Lady Bird Johnson Grove just east of Orick with its easy two-mile loop trail; the fairly mild, but somewhat steep Damnation Creek Trail in Del Norte State Park found directly on Rt. 101 at mile post 16; and, the Stout Grove in Jedediah Smith State Park accessed via the wonderful Howland Hill Road. Just head east out Crescent City, turn right at the fork and keep going after the pavement ends. Taking this drive at dawn can be simply magical.
Cal Barrel Road and Prairie Creek are good spots to get acquainted with these ancient giants. As you drive in this area, you will notice other smaller groves of coastal redwoods that are worth taking in if you have the time.
For a really dramatic composition, try getting right up against one of these tall trees with a very wide angle lens and point it almost straight up.
The perfect beach of False Klamath Cove, right along the highway, is a great spot for both sunrise and sunset photography.
Hiking Fern Canyon can be muddy, but it is well worth the effort for a change of pace and macro photography.
Your best choice for a base during any photo trip to Redwood National Park will be Crescent City, the northernmost town on the California coast. There you will find a few excellent motels, some good restaurants with varying hours and all the goods and services needed. Battery Point Llighthouse out in the harbor even makes a good evening shot right from some of the city streets.
Jerry Ginsberg is a widely published freelance photographer and co-founder of Master Image Workshops. He has photographed all 59 U.S. national parks as well as most of South America with medium-format cameras. More of Jerry’s work can be seen at www.MasterImageWorkshops.com which also lists photo workshops. E mail – firstname.lastname@example.org.