Visiting California’s redwood forests is an unforgettable experience. In 2015, readers of VIA magazine named the Redwoods “California’s Top Lifeforms.”
Looking upward through the branches of a stand of Sequoia Sempervirens
Walking among the towering trees is like stepping back in time. Many of the trees are thousands of years old, and the forests themselves have existed for tens of millions of years. It’s possible that dinosaurs may have walked among the redwoods!
The trees – Sequoia Sempervirens, or Coast Redwoods – are found only on the Pacific coast of the United States, in a small area stretching from Northern California into Southern Oregon.
They are the tallest trees on earth. They can grow to over 300 feet in height. The current record-holder, called Hyperion, is 379 feet tall! One of the best ways to appreciate the redwoods is to lie on your back at the base of a tall tree and look straight up at the sunlight filtering through the branches.
Tourists Discover the Redwoods
Logging of the redwood trees began in the 1850’s, and millions of trees were cut down to provide raw materials for the boomtowns of the California gold rush. But as word of the redwoods spread, people began visiting the area just to see the trees. The redwoods became one of California’s first “tourist attractions.”
By 1910, many people had become concerned that logging would destroy the redwood forests forever. They formed the Save-the-Redwoods League, and eventually succeeded in establishing several state parks to protect the most important areas.
The American Car Trip Comes to the Redwoods
The advent of the automobile brought a new era to tourism in the redwoods. The early highways wound through the magnificent forests, following the topology of the land. Cabins, diners, and quirky tourist attractions sprang up along the roads as the flow of visitors increased.
The heyday of the road trip spanned the 1940’s through the early 1960’s. Eventually, however, new highways were built… modern, straight, high-speed roads that bypassed the redwood groves.
It’s still possible, in a few places, to experience a nostalgic road trip while enjoying the beauty of the redwoods. The best-preserved stretch of the old highway is the Avenue of the Giants, a 32-mile road that parallels US 101. It’s just four hours North of San Francisco.
Visiting the Avenue of the Giants
If you’re travelling on 101, you can enter the Avenue of the Giants from the South, at Phillipsville, or from the North, at Pepperwood. Just getting off the highway is restful. As you drive slowly along the winding, two-lane road you can enjoy the serenity of the forest, without ever stopping. But it would be a shame to miss the many attractions along the Avenue!
Stop at the Visitor Center to learn more about the redwoods. The staff is very helpful and will be happy to advise you on hikes and places to see. You can also buy maps, books, and souvenirs. You’ll find a beautiful redwood grove just a couple of hundred feet from the Visitor Center parking lot.
There are many other great places to stop for a hike, or to see particularly fine specimens of Sempervirens. Many of the best places are identified with roadside markers.
The Founder’s Grove Loop Trail is just 1/2 mile, but it passes by the magnificent Founders Tree, as well as the Dyerville Giant – the largest fallen redwood log in the world.
At Bull Creek Flats you’ll find a 3 ½ mile trail that takes you by the 354 foot tall Giant Tree. Although it’s not the tallest redwood in the forest, it is believed to be the most massive.
Of course, no road trip would be complete without a bit of kitsch.
At the Drive Through Tree, in Myers Flat, you can literally drive through a tunnel in the trunk of a giant redwood.
The Living Chimney Tree, at Phillipsville, is a living tree hollowed out by lightning.
Living Chimney Tree
You’ll also find lots of souvenir and gift shops along the Avenue. The Legend of Bigfoot is one of the most unusual. In addition to chain-saw sculptures and souvenirs, you can pick up maps and guidebooks for your own bigfoot hunt, and even get tips from the store’s owners.
Carved Bigfoot at the Legend of Bigfoot shop.
Stay a Few Days
There’s so much to do along the Avenue – especially if you like to hike – that you’ll probably want to stay a few days. You won’t find any chain motels, but there are two RV parks, and a California state campground across from the Visitor’s Center.
There is also a charming cabin park, Miranda Gardens, that first opened in 1927. The cabins have been modernized with amenities like WiFi, and there is a swimming pool and basketball hoop for relaxing at the end of the day.
Cabin at Miranda Gardens
Avenue of the Giants is the perfect combination of nostalgic fun and incredible natural beauty!
Article courtesy of AveoftheGiants.com.
Photos by Jennifer Stephan.