If you asked where I could go if I could go anywhere, anytime between 20 years and two months ago, I would say the giant redwood trees in Northern California.
We finally made it.
There are actually ancient redwood trees growing in many places throughout Northern California. You don’t have to drive the Avenue of the Giants to see them, but it’s a good place to start.
The Avenue of the Giants is a quiet two-lane highway that runs along the eastern side of the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. This 31-mile stretch along old Highway 101 parallels the new Highway 101. We almost missed it! If you find yourself clipping along in the sunlight, you’re on the wrong 101.
The tops of the trees almost form a tunnel that blocks out much of the daylight and you feel like you’re driving in a tree-tunnel. Every once in a while, you’ll catch a glimpse of the South Fork Eel River shimmering through patches of the massive, round trunks.
“It feels like dinosaurs could roam here,” said Jake. At dawn, the forest looked like a scene out of Jurassic Park. There were no other cars in sight.
We had left the Benbow Inn before sunrise, hoping to arrive in Portland before dinner. At this early hour, all of the visitors centers and tourist attractions were closed. The forest felt like it was all ours, or we were all of its.
Small signs and pull-offs pointed towards groves of trees. We paused occasionally to admire fallen trees as large as bridges, their massive roots dangling in mid-air. Other trunks appeared so wide we imagined they were millions of years old.
Those who want to spend a lot of time here would be better off doing their homework. With an exception a few small clusters of touristy-looking businesses near beginning of the Avenue, the stretch is relatively pure of flashy signage, or any kind of signage, really. Researching points of interest ahead of time or consulting with a visitors center will help you know where to pause and explore. If you feel compelled to drive through a tree, the Shrine Drive-Through tree will let you pass through for $6. We took one look and moved along.
In between pockets of forest, the Avenue took us past a few tiny towns, plots of land with burnt out trailers, and plots of land plush with beautiful vegetable gardens. This is not a drive you will not soon forget.
We found the drive along Highway 101, north towards Portland equally memorable. For two Midwestern kids, the sight of the ocean made us squeal with joy.
“Beach!” I cried somewhere in the Redwood National State park somewhere near Orick. We soon pulled over to get closer to the water.
The ocean mists rose everywhere us. We carefully navigated the twisty turny highway that hugged the shore until Highway 199 pulled us inland and up towards Portland.
The scenery was mind-blowing. We remarked how strange it felt to almost became numb to the sweeping valleys and misty ocean cliffs. Our only regret on our California road trip was not planning one more day to travel north along the coast.
It’s been too long since we’ve seen the ocean.
Northern California Series