Giant Red

In an Ancient Grove

By Dennis Pence

It’s like walking through a cathedral,” Marty said during an over-the-fence conversation early one sunny morning.

She was speaking of the Giant Red Cedar National Recreation Trail less than a dozen miles from the tiny town of Elk River in northern Idaho’s heavily timbered backcountry. Dominating these huge trees is a record western red cedar that has been growing for three thousand years and is eighteen feet in diameter at breast height. I was hooked by her vivid description.

Having spent my childhood in a land of big trees on the Washington coast, I had to see this “cathedral” for myself. The next day my better half, Teri, and I went in search of Elk River’s big cedars.

Less than a two-hour drive from our Kooskia area home, we arrived in Elk River. I had been to the community several times over the last few years but, strangely enough, had never heard of the Giant Cedar Grove. I pinpointed the location on a forest service map, yet still spent a few minutes hunting for the road that traverses the dozen or so miles up Elk Creek to the grove. With a population of only around 125 people in Elk River, the Elk Creek Road couldn’t be that hard to find. I drove through town, spied Elk Creek Valley, and took a road to the left. When the road started climbing out of the valley, I decided I took a wrong turn. How does one get lost in tiny Elk River?

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