Montgomery Woods: A quiet respite under the redwoods near Ukiah

Redwood trees are quite the California celebrities. And just like their human counterparts in Los Angeles, they enjoy quite the range of fame, some grabbing all the headlines while others toil away in near-obscurity.

Luckily for Mendocino County, we have plenty of homegrown celebrities who are just as awe-inspiring as those trees in Marin and Humboldt counties, but ours don’t attract the mobs of fans who clog the trails and parking lots, requiring all visitors to pay to see them after making reservations months in advance.

And I don’t mean the coastal celebrities in the very popular California State Parks such as Russian Gulch and Van Damme. I mean very humble, ancient trees, like those living quietly in a lush forest tucked about halfway between Ukiah and Mendocino on Orr Springs Road called Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve.

The drive there takes about 35 minutes from Ukiah, and on a recent weekday it was mostly quiet and pleasant with great views of mountains in the distance. But there are some treacherous sections, especially when the road becomes much more narrow as it snakes down the canyon.

The trail along Montgomery Creek
The trail starts along Montgomery Creek.

Your reward at the bottom of the winding drive is the brown hills becoming green trees as the road follows a creek to the park’s small parking lot (about 10 spaces), which was empty mid-morning on a recent weekday. The park offers seating areas, pit toilets and trash cans, and while there is no drinking water, there was a large, gorgeous pool of water created by the generous flow of Montgomery Creek, which comes down from the South Fork of the Big River to the north.

Before the trail there is a map and a sign introducing you to the park’s most famous redwood: The Mendocino Tree, measuring 367.5 feet, which for six years was considered “the tallest known tree in the world.” But as of 2006 it lost that distinction, and became just one of many glorious redwoods in this gem of a park, which respects the super tall tree’s privacy, because the signs don’t tell you how to find the former celebrity.

As the trail leaves the parking lot behind, there are picnic tables near the creek, and plenty of moss and ferns. There were few wildflowers left in early June, save for some saxifrage, plenty of redwood sorrel, and just a few Irises.

The trail is a bit steep at first, but you might not even notice as you drink in the forest, and the mosquitoes drink you! You should know that any pause to savor a sight will bring the mosquitoes in for a snack, so be sure and slather yourself in whatever insect repellent you prefer.

tall trees at Montgomery Woods
Montgomery Woods used to be home to the “tallest known tree in the world.”

Repellent you must remember to pack, because unlike other parks, there are no businesses nearby selling food, water or sundries. So before you make that drive, be sure to bring everything you will need, which is mostly layers of clothing, a good pair of walking shoes, and a camera.

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