Forest bathing in action
A refreshing hike through Van Damme State Park
We’re getting excited here at the inn to offer our new Shinrin Yoku package with both full and half day options. As it’s all brand new for us, we’re still working out plans and schedules in preparation for our first booking, coordinating closely with our lovely guide Delphine Davidson. One of the questions that we pondered for a while during the planning process was which bit of the local forest would be best for a truly peaceful forest bathing experience. Redwoods were of course a must. Distance from the inn was an important consideration. Also, we wanted it to be a quiet, not so highly travelled section, a space where one could enjoy the peace of the trees without being frequently interrupted by boisterous hikers.
After much consideration, the upper levels of Van Damme State Park came out as a strong contender for a prime shinrin yoku location. So, we decided to go explore the park’s Fern Canyon Trail to see if it would work… and wow. Was it ever perfect.
In the mood for a longer trek, we started from the Van Damme Beach parking lot across the street from the park itself and hiked in. Everything was breaking out in full spring glory, with a million shades of fresh green everywhere we looked, and happy little wildflowers nodding by the path. The lush ferns that give the trail its name filled every bit of space available between the redwood trees and cascaded down the slopes of the little gulch, much like the rushing stream that bent in and out of the trees, full from the recent rains. We squelched through the muddy patches, stepped over gnarled roots, felt touches on our cheeks from the wind that tossed the topmost redwood branches, listened to the burbling waters, and inhaled deeply of the fresh, clean air.
Invigorated by the occasional steep-ish section of trail, we ascended to the upper reaches of the park, passing only one other hiker along the way. It was so peacefully quiet up there. The rushing stream was gentler, mellowing out into almost a sort of water meadow at certain sections. The myriad bridges crossing the water were charmingly picturesque, and the shorter trees of the pygmy forest at the very top allowed more sunshine to filter through to our backs and shoulders with its calming warmth.
We stopped for a moment on a bench, breathing deeply, watching the clouds sweep across the sky, and stretching out our legs as we simply enjoyed the moment. As we dug our snacks out of our backpacks, we eyed the prolific huckleberry bushes that teased us with their delicate flowers, promising a big harvest of plump berries come fall. We drank deeply of the cool water well water we had filled our bottles with that morning and sat in companionable silence for a while. Ah. This was true refreshment for our spirits, a rejuvenating break from the normal busy-ness of life.
After too short of a pause, we hefted our packs and headed back down the trail, content that we had indeed found the perfect place for putting our forest bathing ideas into action. We logged 12 miles by the time we made it back to the cars at the beach parking lot, but our faces were wreathed with happy grins. It just felt so good to be out there in the woods!
PS. If you’re more in the mood for a less ambitious hike than the 12 miles we did, you can drive into the park and start from the trail head. From there up to the pygmy forest and back is about 8 miles, although you by no means have to hike the whole thing. Or, as we will do with our Shinrin Yoku Package, you can drive a little farther south to Little River Airport Road and take that inland a few miles until you reach the parking lot next to the pygmy forest. You can then enjoy as much or as little of the trail as you so feel inclined.