Salt Point State Park's Pygmy Forest in Gualala
Just south of Gualala on the Sonoma Coast, set at the highest elevation within Jenner's Salt Point State Park, lies one of the world's wonders: a pygmy forest. The Bishop and Bolander pines, Mendocino cypresses, and redwoods here are fully mature (and in some cases, more than a century old), but at only a few feet tall, are uniquely miniature.
These trees' stunted growth is caused by an inhospitable combo of highly-acidic, nutrient-free soil and a below-surface hardpan layer that blocks soil drainage and prevents the trees from setting the deep roots they need to thrive.
The 3.8-mile, two-hour loop of the Pygmy Forest Trail takes you through a mixed evergreen forest, a grassy prairie surrounded by pines, and lots of mushrooms and wildflowers (in season) before you reach pygmy tree territory.
Start out on Central Trail, located near the ranger station. You'll pass madrone, Douglas fir, tan oaks, and eucalyptus as you ascend steadily upward. The occasional interpretive signs are interesting, describing various plants and the way they were used by the area's first residents, the Kashaya Pomo.
After you've walked about one-and-a-half miles you'll come to an intersection; turn left onto the North Trail, which brings you through the pygmy forest. Turn left again at the Water Tank Trail; it's short, less than a quarter mile, at which time you rejoin the Central Trail by turning right. This brings you back to the ranger station and your vehicle.