Road Trip Vacations in the California Redwoods

The Northern California redwood forest was one of the first vacation destinations in the state, and is still among the most lauded.

When Californian families first started taking road trip vacations in the 1920s and 1930s, logging roads dating from the late 1800s gave access to the redwoods. The first “all year” highway into the redwoods (one that would not wash out in Winter) was completed in 1922.

The first tourists in the redwood country found unparalleled nature wonders. The California Coast Redwoods – sequoia sempervirens – are the tallest trees in the world; they can grow to more than 350 feet tall. The oldest redwoods are believed to be over 2,000 years old.

Narrow, twisting roads and hiking trails wind among the trunks of the great trees. The ground is covered with flowering sorrel, clover, and ferns. Hikers will come across the trunks of fallen giants, which may take hundreds of years to decompose, along with the blackened trunks of trees that have survived great forest fires, and even “chimney trees” hollowed by lightning.

In some places seedlings may grow around the base of a redwood. When the central tree eventually falls, it leaves behind a perfect circle of redwoods – a “fairy circle” or “forest cathedral.”

Several rivers pass through the redwoods, and there are many small tributaries that feed them.

Where to See the Redwoods

The redwoods once covered large parts of North America, but they can now only be found in a small stretch, roughly 40 miles by 450 miles, near the Northern California coast.

The greatest concentrations of redwoods, including old-growth trees, can found in the Richardson Grove State Park and the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and the surrounding lands. This area begins about 3 hours drive North of San Francisco. There are several campgrounds in the state parks, as well as private campgrounds, RV parks, cabins and motels nearby. Reservations are usually require din the Summer.

There are many unforgettable sites in the area, but a few particularly popular hiking destinations include:

The Interpretive Nature Trail at the Richardson Grove State Park Headquarters features signs pointing out unique sights and information about the redwoods and other native species of plants and animals, as well as the history of the area.

The Giant Tree at Bull Creek Flats. The tree is 354 feet tall and 54 feet in circumference, and is considered the most massive known redwood. (The tallest tree called Hyperion, is 380 feet tall. It’s located about an hour further North, on a steep slope in a remote part of Redwood National Park.)

The Founders Tree on the Dyerville Loop Trail is 346 feet tall and has been listed as the fifth tallest tree in the world. Its name honors paleontologist John Campbell Merriam, attorney Madison Grant, and geologist Henry Fairfield Osborn, who founded the Save the Redwoods League in 1918.

The California Federation Women’s Clubs Grove is a day use / picnic area with easy access to the Eel River for swimming. The major attraction of the grove is the Hearthstone, a magnificent four-sided stone fireplace designed by famed architect Julia Morgan, designer of the Hearst Castle. The Hearthstone is built of native stone and redwood. It was built in 1933 to commemorate the Federation’s role in saving the park’s old-growth redwoods.

Touristy Stuff!

In addition to the natural wonders of the redwoods, visitors can still see many of the tourist attractions, souvenir stands, and cabin camps that sprang up during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. These nostalgic attractions are found chiefly on the highway through Richardson Grove, and on the Avenue of the Giants. The Avenue is a 310mile stretch of winding two-lane roads that was bypassed with US Route 101 was rerouted in 1960.

A few of the most notable attractions include:

Confusion Hill, which was built in 1949, features the “World Famous Gravity House,” a miniature train ride, and the World's Tallest Redwood Chainsaw Carving, as featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not.

One Log House, built from a single hollowed out log in 1946. The inside is 7′ high by 32′ long, and features a seating area, dining table, kitchen and bedroom. It's located a little south of Richardson Grove.

The Chandler Drive-Thru Tree, located at Leggett, CA, and the Shrine Drive-Thru Tree, located on the Avenue of the Giants.

Plan Your Trip – You Won't Regret It!

Whether you're looking for outdoor recreation, family-friendly fun, or just a place to relax and unwind, a vacation in the redwoods is an unforgettable experience; many people return year after year.