California’s Van Damme State Park has a strange forest growing within its borders. The trees here don’t tower skyward like the ones in the state’s more famous woods tend to do. Instead, many of the trees within this Pygmy Forest are just a couple feet taller than an average human.
Though most of the trees are over a century old, they’ve only grown to be no taller than eight or nine feet. The cypress and pine trees look more like house plants or shrubbery. Walking among them will make you feel as though you’re a giant stepping through a toy forest.
This Pygmy Forest is the result of a rare, complex ecological phenomenon. The park’s underlying wave terraces are covered with poor soil. The soil’s lack of fertility, coupled with the wet climate, makes it difficult for the trees to prosper. Though the trees do survive in their less-than-ideal habitat, the conditions stunt their growth and render it difficult for them to truly thrive.
The Pygmy Forest Trail lets hikers wind through the dense foliage and view the tiny trees from atop a wheelchair-friendly boardwalk. It’s a peaceful place, as there are seldom others on the trail at the same time. The raised walkway makes the trees look even shorter than they really are.
Know Before You Go
The pygmy section of the forest is right by the entry of the park. It's almost always empty, and free parking is provided.