California is trying to make the world’s tallest tree invisible. Now visitors face jail time, fines

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It sounds difficult to hide the tallest tree in the world. But that’s exactly what California Redwood National Park officials have been trying to do since 2006.

Now the 380-foot-tall redwood tree is officially off limits. In a pronunciation last week, the park wrote that visitors caught in the area could face six months in prison and a $5,000 fine.

For 16 years, the park refused to publish the tree’s location in order to protect it. They feared that too many visitors to the site could damage it and the delicate ecology of the surrounding slopes.

The coast redwood (sequoia sempervirens) is estimated to be 600 to 800 years old. Named after the Greek Titan god of celestial light, Hyperion stands deep in the park and has no trails leading to it, but its internet fame has made it a frequent destination for thrill seekers, travel bloggers, and tree enthusiasts. People are fascinated by the size and mystery of Hyperion. Over the years it has been the subject of hundreds of Reddit threads.

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“Give me $7 million and a plane and I’ll find it,” said one user.

“It would be so epic to climb on it and look out,” said another.

One disturbing comment reads: “Think of all the napkins we could make from that thing! We have to find it!”

Given Hyperion’s off-trail location, hikers must walk through heavy vegetation and bushwhack to reach it, the statement said. This causes irreversible environmental damage. People leave garbage, human waste, create secondary footpaths and trample the area around the tree. Some even bring drones or try to climb Hyperion. The result is degradation of the base of the tree and an unnatural lack of vegetation around it. Increased foot traffic also leads to soil compaction, damaging the tree’s shallow roots.

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“A single visitor can make a drastic negative change to an environment,” the statement says. “While you may feel like you’re not making an impact, many people who make a small change have a lasting and devastating effect.”

Visits to Hyperion are also dangerous for visitors. The area has limited cell phone reception and GPS coverage, making rescuing lost or injured hikers very challenging.

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Furthermore, according to the park’s statement, Hyperion isn’t the most impressive tree in the area and doesn’t live up to its hype. The trunk is small compared to other old redwoods and it is impossible to perceive the height from the ground.

“There are hundreds of trees on designated trails that are more impressive to view from the base of the tree,” the statement reads.

The park is doing everything it can to prevent human visitors to Hyperion, especially now that wildfires threaten old trees that are much more difficult to manage.

The park’s statement leaves readers with a choice: “You must decide whether you are part of preserving this unique landscape — or part of its destruction?”

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