We live pretty far away from both of our families, so we weren’t able to spend Thanksgiving with them. Instead, we headed to the Redwood Forest to spend Thanksgiving in the woods, camping and hiking. And eating our Thanksgiving feast over a campfire. The Redwood Forest is only about 3 1/2 hours south of Eugene, so we made a very foggy drive down to the campground at Jedediah Smith State Park and set up camp for Thanksgiving. I thought we were being pretty crazy and original camping on Thanksgiving, but there were actually a lot of people at the campground, so I guess it’s a cool family tradition for some folks.
Anywho, let me just brag about this campground’s level of awesomeness. It’s in the Redwood Forest, so there are huge trees throughout the grounds, and the Smith River runs behind a bunch of campsites. We picked a spot (campsite #55) that backed up to the river (so we could fall asleep to the sound of flowing water) with a few big ‘ol trees. All the sites have a fire ring and a picnic table for easy eating (and Dutch Blitz playing!). Now let’s talk bathrooms. Campground bathrooms are generally absolutely disgusting. These were the finest campground bathrooms I’ve ever seen. Like, nicer than our bathroom at home. They must clean these things hourly. Plus, they are heated, so it made a nice respite from the chill.
But enough about that.
Let’s talk about winter camping. (I hope we’re all okay with me referring to anything Thanksgiving and beyond ‘winter’ because that’s how it works in my mind.) I’ve never camped in the winter before (although the nights in our Grand Teton and Crater Lake camping trips felt pretty winter-like), and it offers a few challenges. First of all, it gets dark around 5 pm. What are you supposed to do from then until you go to sleep? I, being the 80-year-old woman that I am, begged Eric to let me go to sleep at 5:30. (I have a terrible internal clock that shuts down about 10 minutes after the sun sets.) But for some reason, he insisted we need to stay up until at least 9.
Along with early darkness, it’s also cold. The forecast said lows would be in the mid-40’s during our trip, but it definitely got much colder than that at night. When we got into our car in the morning, the temperature was only 40 degrees, so I’m going to guess it was mid-30’s during the night. We tried to be prepared for cold weather with lots of layers, but it was still pretty chilly.
So, I’ve said before that neither of us are big fans of traditional Thanksgiving meals, so we weren’t too upset about being limited to what we could cook over a campfire. Before we left home, I baked some biscuits to take along. We used those to make some fine ham and cheese biscuit sandwiches. (Speaking of which, I forgot to pack the cheese, so we stopped at a gas station by the campground to buy cheese and firewood on Thanksgiving. The cashier asked if we were camping for Thanksgiving, and as we walked out the door, she said, “Well, that’s…different.”) We used a cast iron skillet to heat up the ham over the fire, and then stuck our ham and cheese biscuits in the skillet under some foil to get the biscuits warmed and the cheese melted. Let me tell you, these were top notch. We ate the same thing for breakfast the next morning.
We also cooked some sweet potatoes in the coals from the fire. We poked some holes in the potatoes and wrapped them in heavy duty foil before placing them in some hot coals to bake. It took about an hour to get them nice and soft with the help of this little oven that Eric built from some rocks. We sprinkled some brown sugar and cinnamon on those bad boys, and I declare them the best sweet potatoes I’ve ever eaten.
And you can’t very well celebrate Thanksgiving without dessert. I made this snickerdoodle cheesecake before we left, and it made for a delicious campfire treat.
So, we didn’t go all the way to the Redwoods just to camp. After a brief visit to this area on our way back from the Lost Coast in August, we knew we had to come back to find the Grove of Titans. This is home to 10 of the biggest trees in the world. The exact location isn’t published anywhere, but after some research, we knew it was somewhere off the Mill Creek trail in Jedidiah Smith State Park.
So we started our hike in Stout Grove, and quickly turned off to get to the Mill Creek Trail. Unfortunately, you have to cross a creek to get to the trail. During the summer, there’s a footbridge that keeps you dry. This was not the case in November, so we had to walk through the freezing cold creek, which gave us some nice wet shoes and socks for the rest of the day. Brrr.
Let me give you a little rundown of our conversation on this hike.
“That’s a big tree.”
“Oh, that’s a big tree.”
You get the picture.
After a lot of wandering, we found the Grove of Titans! I was hoping there would be some clear sign that we’d found what we were looking for because at the time, it was hard to tell if these “Titans” were actually any bigger than any of the other trees we’d seen so far. I mean, they are all huge. But after looking back through our pictures, it’s clear that these things are enormous.
After posing for photos with the big trees, we headed back toward Stout Grove. We still had plenty of daylight left, as finding the Grove of Titans didn’t take nearly as long as we thought it would (hint: you can spot the scraggly El Viejo Del Norte from the Mill Creek Trail), so we did a quick hike on the River Trail, which turned out to be pretty lame. But we ended our day by taking a nice little stroll through Stout Grove on our way back to the car. It was pretty cool to see the Grove of Titans, but I still declare Stout Grove the best place to see some seriously impressive Redwoods.