It’s one thing to read about California’s redwoods, and to look at pictures of the behemoth trees towering over tiny-looking people standing around them, but it’s another thing entirely to experience them for yourself. For all their ginormous size, they’re quite delicate; proper conditions for redwoods to thrive are mostly only found along the coast of Northern California, although centuries ago, they once stretched into the Pacific Northwest.
While the Avenue of the Giants is the most popular redwoods road trip, you can find stands of the trees as far south as San Francisco, and as far north as Crescent City, a few short miles from the Oregon border. In fact, Redwoods National Park includes a string of state parks and other forests, making the park itself a kind of road trip. Along the way are tons of redwood-themed roadside attractions, including classic drive-thru trees. Mixing the kitsch in with the powerful experience of feeling minuscule among the ancient giants makes for one heck of an adventure.
1. Muir Woods National Monument
You don’t need to go far from the city to experience the majesty of wandering among massive redwoods. Muir Woods National Monument is in San Francisco’s backyard, right across the Golden Gate Bridge. Federally protected as a National Monument since 1908, Muir Woods National Monument is both rich in history and full of hiking trails to explore. Home to the Coast Miwok people in the past, and now a centerpiece of ongoing conservation efforts, it represents an honest look at the intersection between humans and nature and how we coexist. The main trail is a 2-mile boardwalk around the forest, or take the quicker loop from the visitor center through the stunning Founders Grove and back.
2. Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve
Offering a glimpse at what used to be, long before logging changed the landscape forever, the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve is the perfect spot to connect with magnificent living trees and explore the natural wonders of the world. The redwood trees tower over 200 feet tall and can live for more than a thousand years. Stop by the visitor center to kick off the day, then navigate your way through a handful of scenic self-guided trails as you take in the beauty of this incredible and breathtaking nature reserve. And don’t worry if the weather is a little grey or misty… the fog makes the forest look all the more magical.
3. Van Damme State Park
No, it’s not named after Jean-Claude, but this park is still epic. Unload your camping gear and get ready to call Van Damme State Park home for a few stress-free days of relaxation. Van Damme State Park offers beaches, lush forests of ferns, and plenty of camping. Whether you’re looking to go hiking, biking, fishing, or kayaking, the park has you covered and is one of the more popular campgrounds in the surrounding area. The park is well-known for its past connection with the lumber industry and offers an honest and raw look at our relationship with nature.
The Pygmy Forest is one of the more unique features here; mature, cone-bearing cypress and pine trees stand an adorably minuscule six inches to eight feet tall! Or if you’re looking for a hike, the Fern Canyon Scenic Trail System is the best place to start.
4. Drive-Thru Tree Park
Ever drive through an ancient redwood tree? No? You’re in luck. Head on over to Drive-Thru Tree Park, and you’ll get to cross that off your bucket list. A perfect stop for the entire family, this quick tour lets you drive through a real-life Chandelier tree. At the end of the trip, hop out and take a few photos in front of the tree trunk! It’s only $5 for the chance to say you drove through a redwood tree, and since this is the only place on Earth where you can experience this, you’d be remiss to not stop by. Plus, the park and gift shop make a great place to stretch your legs.
5. One-Log House
How many logs does it take to build a home? Only one… if the famous One-Log House is your standard, that is. It was hollowed out in 1946 from a single redwood log rumored to be over 2,000 years old and weighing over 42 tons. One could even argue this home was the first tiny house! Although the one-log cabin doesn’t come with a two-car garage, it was built on wheels as the original artist had hoped to tour the home across the country; ultimately he was unable to, due to the tree’s size. The tour of the home won’t last long, but it’s a unique experience you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. The gift shop next by is an excellent place to pick up a few souvenirs and learn more about the home’s history.
6. Avenue of the Giants
Located in the center of Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Avenue of the Giants is a world-famous, 31-mile drive which offers arguably the best views of the majestic redwood trees that California has to offer. With eight key stopping points, there are plenty of opportunities to get out and take in the surrounding trees. Feeling adventurous? Go fishing or swimming in the nearby Eel River. Craving some kitsch? The Immortal Tree might not be the oldest tree in the forest (it’s only 950 years old), but it’s survived floods, lightning strikes, and a lumberjack’s saw. The route was once a part of old Highway 101, so you know the two-lane road is gonna show off some amazing views.
7. Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Home to the world’s largest remaining contiguous old-growth forest of coastal redwoods (and the aforementioned Avenue of the Giants), Humboldt Redwoods State Park is one of the best places to feel the magic of the redwood forest. The Save-the-Redwoods League formed the park in 1921 largely from lands purchased from the Pacific Lumber Company. More than 100 of the 137 trees known to stand over 350 feet tall are found in this park. The tallest is the 4th tallest living redwood, the Stratosphere Giant, which measures 370.5 feet. If you’re looking for a quick but worthwhile hike, be sure to give Founders Grove loop a try.
8. Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park
One of the lesser explored Redwoods state parks is Grizzly State Park. It offers the beauty of the Redwood trees without the typical tourist rush. Three units make up the park, but the Cheatham Grove is the highlight. If the grove feels familiar, then it’s probably because the one-mile-long trail through it was used to film scenes from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi set on the Forest Moon of Endor. It really does feel like an Ewok might pop out from behind a tree at any minute!
9. Redwood National Park
If the towering redwoods you’ve seen so far aren’t cutting it for you, then head to Redwood National Park, where the tallest of the redwoods reside. For those who loved the Avenue of the Giants, cruise the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. Or head to the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center for some stellar exhibits about the redwoods (and to pick up a permit if you’re backcountry camping here.) The adventurous can hike Yurok Loop to Hidden Beach (there are lots of sandy beaches in the park to explore), or make it a quick stroll around the Lady Bird Johnson Grove loop.
10. Prairie Creek Redwood State Park
Founded in 1923, Prairie Creek Redwood State Park is just 50 miles north of Eureka and home to sandy beaches and herds of Roosevelt elk. Set up camp at the popular Elk Prairie or Gold Bluffs Beach campgrounds and spend days exploring the surrounding trails and sights. With over 75 miles of hiking trails and a popular 19-mile bike loop, there’s plenty to keep you active and satisfied in this incredibly well-kept state park. With Fern Canyon (seen in the hit movie Jurassic Park) nearby, be sure to head that way for a photo that will make your friends and family jealous. All the fun of Jurassic Park without the chance of getting eaten by a T-Rex? Count me in!
11. The Trees of Mystery
With less than three stops left of your California Redwoods adventure, be sure to take your time at one of California’s most popular attractions. In the center of the Redwood National and State Parks area, the Trees of Mystery is a natural attraction that has been educating and entertaining guests since 1946. Walk the trail devoted to legendary logger Paul Bunyan (Babe the Big Blue Ox is there, too), explore the Trees of Mystery museum, or peruse the gift shop for some last-second souvenirs.
You can also see a Candelabra tree, a fallen redwood with several other trees growing from its trunk, the twisting, massive roots of an Elephant tree, and the Cathedral tree, which is actually 9 separate redwoods growing together as one. The distinctive shape comes from the fact that the trees grew around a dead redwood, which rotted away over the years. The one must-do thing here has to be the gondola ride, though… you’ve spent plenty of time looking up at the trees, and the chance to peer at them from above is amazing.
12. Del Norte Coast Redwoods Park
Established in 1925, Del Norte Coast Redwoods Park is a can’t-miss stop as you drive Highway 101. Spend some time camping at the Mill Creek campgrounds, or venture down the Damnation Trail to the ocean. There are plenty of reasons why Del Norte Coast Redwoods Park remains such a popular attraction. It’s a pretty rugged park, with 8 miles of coastline and dense forests, so expect to enjoy some adrenaline-pumping views here.
13. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
All good things must come to an end, but there’s no better place to wrap up your California Redwoods adventure than with a stop at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Just a few miles from the coast, the park is covered with majestic redwood trees. With few directions or markings, Jed Smith’s core is rich in mystery and wonder. Hike over 20 miles of lush, temperate rainforest trails or even snorkel and kayak in the Smith River! Considering that this northernmost redwoods park contains 7 percent of the old-growth redwoods left in the world, I’d say it’s the perfect place to wind down a redwoods adventure.
As the saying goes, you have to see it believe it, and that couldn’t be more tree of the magnificent California redwoods that line the California coast with their beauty. Whether you need a few days’ break from your busy everyday life, or you’re just looking for a chance to get in touch with Mother Nature, this ultimate coastal redwoods road trip is one you soon won’t forget.