The photograph below shows Rhododendron macrophyllum, a shrub or small tree that grows in parts of the Coast Redwood forests. This plant's range extends north into Oregon, Washington. slightly over the border into Canada, and south towards Monterey County, California. Most people call it a shrub, and the size can be just a few feet. But the tallest are upwards of 35 feet tall vertical, or 40 feet horizontal if they lean over. And the name Rhododendron means "Rose (Rhodo) Tree (dendron)". Scroll beneath the photo for more information about viewing and photographing. Personally, I really like the dark bright pink buds of the closed flowers, and prefer Rhodies with both buds and open flowers on the truss. These Coast Rhododendron are different from Rhododendron occidentale, or Western Azalea (very fragrant) which also grows in the region. There is little resemblance between the two species for leaf size and the flower truss.
There are good years and and poor years for viewing Rhododendron macrophyllum blossoms. One of the worst years was 2010, and one of the best years was 2009. Typically, Late May to mid June is the premium time to view and photograph these Rhododendrons. Lower elevation plants can sometimes bloom later than higher some in higher elevations.
It's going to depend on variables of winter and spring weather conditions, including cloud cover and how the Rhododendrons "perceive" day-length. The amount and length of light during daytime(s) affects the flowering of plants. The amount and frequency of cloud cover can alter this, especially under the shade and cover of tall Coast Redwoods along the coast. So the target is the last 2 weeks of May & first 2 weeks of June: but possible 2 to 3 week variation some years. One person aptly described it as a crapshoot.
There are some camp sites where the flowers can be seen, but I am going to omit that suggestion, because it seems somewhat rude to direct visitors through campgrounds where campers probably prefer less traffic.
If you are early in the season, and desperate for just one shot of like one flower, a few Rhododendrons on Hy. 199, about 1 or 2 miles west of the Jedediah Smith redwoods campground, bloom weeks earlier than most everywhere else. I keep seeing them year after year in the same area. Just a few nice flower trusses far in advance. Parking is skinny, so be careful. But they are right in view, driving by.
Here are a few suggestions if you are hiking:
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park: Hiouchi trail (Hy. 199 end), Little Bald Hills trail,
The first mile or so of Boy Scout redwood trail
Del Norte Redwoods State Park: Damnation Creek trail
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park: Rhododendron trail, Brown Creek trail
Redwood National Park: Lady Bird Johnson Grove
If Redwood Creek is low enough to wade and the bridges are not in yet, the trail up Forty Four Creek was the only place I saw a lot of flowers in 2010, one of the worst years everywhere else. It was a mix of Douglas Fir and Redwood, with more openings in the canopy. I suspect that this area will be one of the best spots on any given year, to view or photograph Rhododendron macrophyllum. But this will be a moderately lengthy hike, and may require pulling off boots and socks. You would not know until after hiking one of 2 trails that lead that way.
Suggestions if you are driving:
Highway 199: west of the Jedediah Smith redwoods campground and bridge over the Smith River
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park: Stout Grove or east end of Howland Hill Rd. (easy parking)
Del Norte Coast Redwoods: right along Hy. 101 heading south up the hill from Crescent City
Bald Hills Road: Lady Bird Johnson Grove to Redwood Creek overlook (do not park along curves)
Highway 101 above Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park: southbound about 1 mile before the summit where the brake check area is for trucks. From the exit where Drury Parkway meets 101 by the north end of the park, head south on 101, several miles up the hill. Slow your speed at bit. Before the summit, there is an expansive grove or Rhododendrons on the right, or west side. The curb mellows, so you can pull over farther too. These blossoms seemed to last until about July 4th. A few plants behind in the shade still had pink buds, not yet open.
Photography tips for the professionals:
Pros usually know a lot about photographing: lenses, polarizers, etc.. But I figured it's worth tossing out the ladder tip. I plan to bring mine in following years: it stands 6 feet tall and will get me up 3 to 4 feet higher.
Some of your shots are going to be aimed up, like the classic Rhodies in the Mist photography. And in some places like Hy. 101, you can aim your lens downward. But there are several places like Howland Hill Rd., where you may find the perfect blossom for looking down, except that it's at shoulder level or a foot over your head.
Photography tips for everyone else: