At the time of writing this article, Hyperion at 115.85 m (380’) is the tallest tree in the world. I’ve included some basics on how we got down to see it, followed by our more detailed account. Please be respectful of these very old trees. Especially with Hyperion on a slope, it is very easy to damage its base. Much of the year, the water can be too dangerous to attempt! Check in with the ranger’s office first. Be safe when adventuring. Cheers!
Basic Steps in Finding Hyperion:
- This hike requires travelling in flowing streams. Check weather and make sure water levels will be safe. Ask the rangers first!
- Acquire the permit to get to Tall Trees Grove Trailhead Parking Lot (unless hiking in).
- Distance from parking lot: 4.75 miles
- Ascent: 890 feet
- Duration: 2-4 Hours (We were on the longer side taking photos)
- From the parking lot, hike down to the Tall Trees Grove at just over 1 mile. This will be where the trail starts leveling out. There’s a park bench and quite the collection of trees.
- Continue past the grove (at roughly 1.5 miles from the parking lot), the trees will begin to open up on the left revealing the shore of Redwood Creek. There should be visible trails leading to the creek.
- When standing at the bank of the creek, look across and to the left (upstream). There lies the mouth of Tom McDonald Creek. Walking a little further upstream may help locate it.
- Carefully cross the creek and only do so if at safe levels only.
- Travel up Tom McDonald Creek about ½ mile. It will take longer than a normal hike since it is upstream and there are several downed trees.
- After the third set of overgrown downed trees, continue up the creek while looking to your right. You will see through an opening in the vegetation, a pair of VERY tall trees approx. 30 feet up the bank. A smaller tree had fallen down towards the creek revealing a rough path next to it.
- Out of the two trees, the one on the right is Hyperion.
- Rough Coordinates:
- 41°12’17.7″N 124°00’56.0″W
- 41.204910, -124.015560
- Note: If you climb up, do not disrupt the area around the trees. Erosion has already begun to expose its root system and people climbing to touch it have damaged them.
- For those who prefer backpacking versus driving, there are several major trails that will lead to where the Tom McDonald Creek and Redwood Creek meet. There really isn’t any good camping near Hyperion, so plan to hike back on Redwood Creek trail to find a camping spot. Just a short hike on 44 Camp Trail off Redwood Creek Trail is a backpacking campsite.
Towering like skyscrapers, the mystical redwood forests along the Pacific coast in northern California and southern Oregon are a sight to behold. Redwood National and State Parks in California are an obvious choice when seeking out these wonders. Growing up in a town built around the Redwood Highway, I feared I had taken their presence for granted. Hiking under these giants or even driving through redwood groves on scenic roads is humbling. As we planned to move to the Midwest in July 2020, I knew I needed more time with the trees.
Before moving, I need to take advantage of the fact that the world’s tallest and largest trees are both redwoods and BOTH in California! General Sherman, a giant sequoia believed to be 2200-2700 years old, is relatively easy to access in Sequoia National Park in Southern California and holds the record as the largest tree in the world by volume. Despite its size, it is not the tallest. At the time of our trip, that record is held by Hyperion, a 115.85 m (380’) coastal redwood located in Redwood National Park. Unlike its bigger sequoia cousin, it is far less accessible and little documentation is offered on its whereabouts. After scrounging through maps and reading through others’ experiences, we felt we had compiled enough information to attempt our adventure in finding Hyperion.
To the Trailhead:
Were cutting through the twisting forest roads of Northern California just west of the Hoopa Valley (belonging to the Hoopa Valley Tribe). The towering redwoods are immense. At hundreds of feet tall, it is nearly impossible to identify which trees are taller than others. How on earth could we tell Hyperion from its unnoticeably smaller friends?!
There are two ways to get to Hyperion. We can hike in from any point in the park, but this can range from taking an entire day to being a multi-day hike depending on where we start. Backpacking is a great way to explore the many groves, water features, and vistas of the National and State Parks (there are many in the area), but if you’re looking to find the closest parking spot to Hyperion, the Tall Trees Grove trailhead located in the heart of the national park is only a couple hours hike from the tree. Our plan was to enter the park from the south, find Hyperion, and continue north where we would set up camp the same night.
Since we camp in our 4×4 rig, we decided to take advantage of having a vehicle to maximize our time in searching for the elusive tree. The Tall Trees Grove is behind a locked gate and requires a permit with gate code from the NPS (National Park Service). This was relatively easy to obtain and has gotten easier since COVID has put everything online. Originally, it was required to arrive at the NPS office in-person to obtain a permit within 48 hours of any planned entry. Instead, we were able to call in, and they emailed our permit with gate code to our smartphone. (Note: Permit process may change with COVID restrictions lifting.)
Though we had our National Parks Pass at the ready, we entered the park from the south through an alternative track. The road headed straight up the mountain towards the eastside of the park where we would expect to find this gate. When we arrived, the gate was indeed locked. Be sure to lock it behind you! The park rangers thank you!
On the other side of the gate, we began to descend southward into the valley towards the Tall Trees Grove. We were surprised to find we were not alone. There was a small collection of vehicles and we saw quite a few backpackers making their way through. Many people enjoyed this trail which leads to some beautiful redwood groves and access to the beach-like banks of Redwood Creek. We parked our rig and got ourselves ready for the hike. It is important to note that to find Hyperion, we were going to have to wade through several creeks which during peak flow, can be very dangerous. Attempt this at your own risk. For much of the year, the water is too dangerous to cross. Be sure to contact the ranger before making the drive and risking the water. For us, we found the water level during the summer-fall of 2020 manageable and the temperature was not too cold.
The Tall Trees Trail:
The trail starts relatively level before diving down through minor switchbacks into the valley. Just as our initial drive into the National and State Parks, the trail was equally filled with soaring trees. The entire hike down the hill is under the shadow of the redwood canopy. This made things a bit chilly, despite the hot dry summer California was experiencing. Throughout the hike, we found giant trees that had fallen to become home to moss and clovers. Some of these had left gaps large enough for us to walk under the toppled beasts.
As the trail levels out once, we arrive in the Tall Trees Grove. Here we find a bench and a great opportunity to look up at the redwoods reaching for the sky. Though this is roughly the halfway point in distance, the stretch thus far would be the easiest of the day. At one point you may notice the trail fork. This is where the Tall Trees Trail makes a loop to either turn back around, or meet up with the Redwood Creek Trail. If you’re coming from the Tall Trees Grove, you’ll want to stay left. Very shortly after the fork you’ll see the trees on the lefthand side thin out and give view of Redwood Creek. If you look closely, you’ll see some trails already made leading off the main trail to the creek. Stay on the most developed one to avoid unnecessary trailblazing.
Slippery When Wet:
We made it to the creek and now it’s time for the wet part! Remember, if it’s even slightly chilly out, the water can be bitterly cold. Any point around the wet season, the water level will be high and the current extreme. It is dangerous and impossible to cross during this time of year! It’s a pretty rocky creek and almost the entire trail from here to Hyperion will be in the water. We knew to attempt this hike in summer, so the water was quite refreshing and we had selected our clothing and gear accordingly (see list below).
From stepping off the main trail, we walked straight to Redwood Creek. From where we were standing on its banks, we looked across and to the left to find the mouth of a smaller tributary creek. This is the Tom McDonald Creek, where upstream, Hyperion sits up on its bank. The area where the two creeks connect is quite overgrown, but following Redwood Creek a hundred feet or so upstream, it becomes more visible.
We started our way into Redwood Creek at its widest point and marched to the mouth of the Tom McDonald. For the most part, it was much smaller and lower than Redwood Creek, but there were several avoidable spots where it dropped more than waist-deep. When hiking in wet conditions such as this, we line our backpacks with drybags to keep things waterproof. The hiking water shoes we picked up at an REI parking lot sale helped protect and maintain traction on the rocky river bed. We recommend these for anyone who enjoys hiking in water. Though we were trying to avoid it as much as possible, the occasional dunk into the deeper sections was part of the fun.
The trees (most being tall redwoods) shrouded the creek from the sun. Everything was damp and moss managed to grow just about everywhere. The banks were covered in ferns and we were incessantly amused by frogs leaping in every direction from our path. Shortly up the creek, there was a very large downed tree. We managed to crouch and pass underneath, but this would not be the last roadblock. The next set of downed trees required us to climb up the bank and make our way across their slippery bark. As the creek continued, we found a couple small sections deep enough for a swim. If you’ve been backpacking all summer day, this could offer a nice refreshing break. Compared to the busier Redwood Creek, it also granted a bit more privacy. Eventually, we were once again forced to hike up the bank and around another massive log cluster, but at this point, we were almost there! We had GPS coordinates of “roughly” where it was (see detailed list) and heard of folks making their way up the creek encountering three sets of fallen trees blocking the way to Hyperion. This was our third pile of logs and we were close to the coordinates.
We kept our eyes to the right side of the creek, but there were dozens of redwoods that we felt could be the tallest. One clue is that Hyperion has a very close friend. They stand as a pair about 20 or 30 feet up the creek bank. It looks like there used to be a smaller third friend, but it has since fallen towards the creek clearing the overgrowth for a better view. Unfortunately, we were enjoying the hike a tad too much and missed all this on our first pass. So we continued up stream for a while more. We eventually reached a fourth and VERY large fallen tree. We climbed on top to get a better view and see if we can make heads or tails of the many record breaking candidates.
Ultimately, we turned back. We knew our best chance was to walk between the two sets of fallen logs. It was on the return that we noticed the very tall pair of redwoods, the right being Hyperion. We climbed up the bank and took extra care not to disturb their root system. The tree that had fallen offered a safe platform to stand upon. It is obvious people have been climbing all around the base of Hyperion. The ground was eroded, and with it, the exposed base was also deteriorating. Water is washing the dirt from between the roots and this could lead to Hyperion being the next big road block along this creek. Please tread lightly when visiting for the tree’s sake.
We got some photos and had lunch under the shade of the world’s tallest tree. To make it back to the Tall Trees Trail head, we just retraced our steps. The journey back down the creek was downstream which made things a bit easier. Once we crossed Redwood Creek though, it was all uphill to the parking lot.
What to Expect (minimum):
Roundtrip (Tall Trees Grove Trailhead Parking Lot – Hyperion)
- Distance: 4.75 miles
- Ascent: 890 feet
- Duration: 2-4 Hours (We were on the longer side)
Gear We Brought (Peak Summer):
- Hiking shoes that can go in water
- Light wool socks (to keep some warmth with cold water)
- Quick drying shorts and shirt
- Light jacket and additional long sleeve shirt
- Dry bags, backpacks, and a towel
- Food and water for a half-day hike with extra.
- First aid kit