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“Old Survivor”, the oldest redwood in Oakland

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After the news last week stating a fire killed an 800-year-old redwood in Marin, I felt compelled to share with you one of my favorite “secret”, short, and adorable hikes that will take you to see Oakland’s “Old Survivor” (also known as “Grandfather”). This coastal redwood is an Oakland landmark which clocks in at 250 feet high, over 28 feet round, and somewhere around 480 years old.

view of old survivor above a grove of trees with Oakland in the background

“Old Survivor”, left, stands tall above the rest of the tree canopy – photo by the East Bay Times

Old Survivor is located on a steep hill which may have saved it from destruction during the logging boom in the 1800s. Back then, the Oakland hills were covered in redwoods until massive logging cut down the forest. With one exception – Old Survivor. It’s crazy to think that at one point redwoods were covering the area. The grove of trees extended across the spine of the Oakland hills and all the way over to Lafayette.

Old survivor tree pokes through a large canopy of trees - a photo of a very narrow path

Views from the trail – “Old survivor” on the left comes into view between a canopy of trees

Oakland’s oldest surviving coastal redwood is worth the short trek up to see it. There is no trail directly to the base of the tree but its distinctive flat t-shaped top makes it hard to miss from the trail closest to it. To see it, take the York Trail from Leona Heights Park and climb a steep and freakily narrow trail along a creek canyon. Once you cross the creek again via an old bridge, walk up to a tall log and then turn around and look directly up and to the left. There, framed by younger redwoods, you’ll see Old Survivor.

two images of the trail - woman walking across a bridge and another woman with brightly colored cardigan touches giant redwood

Views of the trail up towards “Old Survival” include bridges and 100+ year old redwoods

While on your walk up to see this iconic tree, you will be surrounded by younger redwoods which are around 100-200 years old. You’ll also stumble upon an adorable altar where folks put photos, letters to loved ones, and small trinkets to bless the area.

I tell my friends it feels like Fern Gully on the York Trail as you’re surrounded by lush green plants, trees, and a seemingly wild and rarely groomed trail.
One word of warning is that the trail is very narrow and there are moments where the trail has an 8-foot drop next to an estimated 12” width path. I wouldn’t recommend this activity for a kid who has any balance issues. Definitely not for a child under 6. The trail is also moderately steep. That being said, the hike is not very long. To see this redwood tree and head back to the car will take you about 30-45 minutes.

There’s even a 22-minute documentary about “Old Survivor” worth watching if you love local history, nature, and stories of resilience and perseverance.

If hiking through a gorgeous small canyon to view a redwood isn’t your thing, check out these rad (and super easy) self-guided art walks!

Oakland Tribune article about the rediscovery of this tree by Naturalist Paul Covel - photo from Localwiki

Oakland Tribune article about the rediscovery of this tree by Naturalist Paul Covel – photo from Localwiki


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Katy Atchison

Katy Atchison

Katy has lived in The Bay Area since the age of 3. While other kids were attending summer camp & soccer practice, she was raised selling wares at craft shows with her working artist parents and spent vacations in a small 1920s Montana log cabin. This has all given her a unique perspective on the ever-changing texture of San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Currently a blend of all that is The Bay Area - she's a web designer at a tech-company, artist and DIY teacher.