Northern California is the perfect place to get away from it all. Whether you’re getting some solitude among the stands of massive redwood trees, or you’re taking a peaceful walk along the misty shores of the aptly-named Lost Coast, a road trip here will have you feeling completely spellbound.
In the initial stretch of the Fern Canyon Hike though Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, you’ll be met by five-ﬁnger, deer, lady, sword, and chain ferns that cover the precipitous walls of the canyon. Bright yellow monkeyﬂowers and fairy lanterns (creamy white or greenish bell-shaped ﬂowers) also hang in clusters along the path. It’s no wonder that the production team chose this place as one of the filming locations for The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Keep an eye out for giant salamanders as you head toward Clintonia Trail, which will lead you through a mile of virgin redwood groves toward Miners Ridge Trail, named after fortune seekers who used it to reach Gold Bluffs Beach. In 1850, prospectors erected a tent city on the bluffs overlooking the beach after finding gold flakes mixed in with the sand. The walk along Miners Ridge Trail really makes you ponder what it must have felt like to be one of those hopeful residents looking for fortune on the beach.
Redwood National and State Parks feature trees that are bigger around than your car and so tall that you can’t see the tops! The Hyperion tree is the world’s tallest living tree—and most elusive, as its exact location is hidden! But don’t worry; there are loads of massive trees along the two-mile hike to the Ladybird Johnson area. It all makes for a beautiful and relaxing trek.
The National Park Service and California State Parks protect vast prairies, oak woodlands, and wild river ways, along with nearly 40 miles of pristine coastline, all supporting a rich, diverse mosaic of wildlife and cultural traditions. From May through August, the brilliant yellow-orange blossoms of the Columbia Lily, also known as the Tiger Lily, give a burst of color to the roadsides and forest edges. Plus, Ewoks roamed the area once upon a time! “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” filmed at various spots throughout the parks.
Next up, another natural landscape so amazing and otherworldly that “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” was filmed here. It also might be the best spot in the world to view a sunset... but you’ll have to be the final judge of that.
With several miles of hiking trails, a Yurok village, a native plant garden, three group picnic areas, and a dramatic shoreline ranging from broad sandy beaches to cliffs that rise above the Pacific Ocean, Patrick’s Point offers a lot to see and do. Don’t leave until you’ve spent time exploring the tide pools—this is a beachcomber’s paradise! If you’re lucky, you’ll see a starfish or two along with a bevy of other sea plants and creatures. The park is dog-friendly; while your dog plays, keep an eye on the water to catch a glimpse of whales or sea lions frolicking off the coast.
If you’re a dog person, make sure to visit Clam Beach County Park, another canine-friendly spot along the coast. The south end connects to a small area of inlet water where you can watch ocean wildlife, such as sea lions at play. Plus, the beach is big and broad enough that it never really feels cramped. Pack a kite or a bocce set to take advantage of the space. This is a great spot to pull over to stretch your legs, even if it’s just for 15 minutes (though you’ll want to stay longer).
If you’re driving the Pacific Coast Highway, take a detour to the Road to the Lost Coast. The 100-mile drive might add a day or two to your trip, but it’s absolutely worth it, especially if you’re game for the four-hour (or so) hike to the absolute end of the road. Plan accordingly though—it’s called the Lost Coast for a reason. You won’t see much, if any, development along the way, and the route can be tough in bad weather. But if you want to see what untouched California coastline has to offer, this is the way to do it. Take Mattole Road (aka “The Wildcat”) south toward Petrolia, heading for Cape Mendocino where the road takes a steep drop and ends near the ocean.
In the early 1900s, loggers came to what is now Humboldt Redwoods State Park to cut down the giant ancient redwoods for grape stakes and shingles. Today, Humboldt Redwoods span an area almost twice the size of San Francisco. About one third of the park is old-growth redwood forest—the largest expanse of ancient redwoods left on the planet.
The park has hiking for all levels of difficulty, and it’s also the best place to see redwoods by car in the North Coast region. Be sure to stop by the visitors’ center: It’s open every day of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas, and provides lots of educational information about the park’s history and visitor outreach goals.
New rule: Stop and smell the redwoods. This 32-mile section of old Highway 101, lined with giant redwood groves, features lots of gorgeous areas where you can pull over and get a closer look at your surroundings or enjoy a picnic. Some of the best stops along the way are Founder’s Grove, with its fallen 362-foot Dyerville Giant, and the California Federation of Women’s Clubs Hearthstone, designed by famed architect Julia Morgan. The detour to Rockefeller Forest will bring you up close and personal with some of the largest trees in the area.
After you’ve experienced what it feels like to stand beside a redwood, join the club of nature-lovers who know what it’s like to drive through one. The Tour-Thru Tree is located at the northern end of Redwood County. Even though the tree was scarred by a forest fire and lost its top to a storm, it still stands today as a healthy, living monument to a storied past. It costs a little bit of dough ($5.00 per car of three occupants), and, of course, you might want to call ahead to make sure your car will fit, as there are some size restrictions. If you’re in a larger vehicle, you can still walk through the tree, if you’re after the iconic photo op!
The Trees of Mystery attraction has been welcoming visitors for more than 65 years. The park is loaded with redwoods, but they have some more unique things to do here as well. One of their offerings is “The Trail of Tall Tales” and will delight you with depictions of the stories of Paul Bunyan. If you (or anyone you are traveling with) aren’t comfortable walking far, no worries! Take the Sky Trail, an enclosed gondola ride that lets you get a totally unique perspective of the forest.
When you arrive at the Trees of Mystery attraction, you will be met by a 49-foot 2-inch-tall Paul Bunyan and his 35-foot-tall friend, Babe the Blue Ox. They do more than just wave at you, but we don’t want to spoil all of the fun! You easily can spend a half day touring and exploring this little redwood treasure, and at $15.00 or less a person, that’s basically a steal for the memories.
If you have it in you once you arrive at Crescent Beach, walk the half-mile hike to the Enderts Beach overlook for the best view of this long, wide-sweeping beach. If you’re tuckered out from a day of hiking, though, take it easy: Park in the main lot near the midpoint of the crescent-shaped beach, find a driftwood log the winter storms have tossed on shore, and simply relax.
You’re probably in need of a good meal after all of this hiking and exploring! The Good Harvest Cafe has been serving up healthy meals since 1993. You’ll find no trans fats, tropical or hydrogenated oils, margarines, or artificial ingredients. All food allergies are treated with equal care and consideration. This is not a stop if you’re rushed, though. Quality food takes a little longer, but the signature dishes and local twists on classics such as burgers and fish ‘n’ chips are well worth the wait.
There’s something absolutely poetic about a lighthouse, and the Battery Point Lighthouse is no exception. You only can reach the lighthouse at low tide, but once you do, you can walk through most of the rooms for a $3.00 donation. Very knowledgeable tour guides are on hand to answer questions and share the history of the place—some volunteers even live in the lighthouse at certain times of the year. If you don’t actually make it to the lighthouse, at least find a little time to explore the tide pools nearby.
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is one of the oldest redwood parks in California. When you arrive, you’ll drive a 1.5-lane dirt road for several miles before you reach Stout Grove, an area of old-growth redwoods that are absolutely majestic. The road will be bumpy, so take it slow, but keep in mind that there was a time when there was no road at all.
With 200 miles of hiking trails, cozy small towns dotted around the outskirts, shaded campsites, and kayaking along the bubbling scenic rivers, Redwood National Park is more than just the groves of trees for which it’s named. Since the National Park is co-managed with three redwood state parks (Jedidiah Smith, Prairie Creek and Del Norte Coast) visiting any of them can give you a taste of the forest, but each provides their own distinctive experience.
Flowing through several of the most awe-inspiring landscapes of Del Norte County, the Smith River is a lifeline to the giant redwoods and the surrounding ecosystems. Oh, and the river is absolutely stunning. In fact, it’s the only river on California’s Pacific Coast that has no mud. Its granite-based riverine system and local, active watershed organization help keep the river and the areas around it clean.
Along with salmon, anglers can catch steelhead here from wintertime through April and big fish year-round. And, because there’s only one dam along the river line, it’s a great spot for white-water rafting and kayaking if you can handle the cold weather.
You can’t miss the Ship Ashore Resort because of the giant luxury yacht providing a rather opulent welcome. The on-site estuary is home to lots of ocean birds, including pelicans, Canadian geese, loons, egrets, and cormorants that swim and fish in the water. No matter if you get a room with a balcony or patio, you’ll have a front-row seat to nature’s highest-rated performance: the sunset.
If you’re in the area to explore the redwoods and the Wild River area, then the Crescent City / Redwoods KOA Holiday can’t be beat for location and convenience. It’s a 17-acre park, surrounded by plenty of redwood forest with rental bikes and goats on-site in addition to more typical amenities such as laundry facilities. Even though you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of nature, you’re still only about five minutes from local restaurants and stores. Spots can fill up fast, though, especially in summer, so be sure to make a reservation ahead of time. If you’re tent camping, request the Blackberry Loop or Redwood Way for the best experience.
Staying right in the middle of the redwood beauty is the best way to fully immerse yourself in this special landscape. Disappear among the trees, even if its only for a day or two, and enjoy getting a little lost here.
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