I had always wanted to visit the giant redwood trees in the extreme northern part of the state of California. As a child I watched the Disney movie, The Gnomemobile – an extremely wholesome, albeit, cheesy movie starring Walter Brennan and the kids from Mary Poppins. Set in the magical, giant redwoods it was from that moment forward that I knew that one day I wanted to explore the lush woodland wonderland and forests where these trees grew.
There are some truly incredible facts when it comes to these trees. Their scientific name is the Sequoia Sempervirens and/or in layman terms, the Coastal Redwoods. They only grow in three places on the planet:
- The northern coast of California stretching from a few found in Muir Woods just north of San Francisco, to the densely populated areas of northern California, and then on north where a few more are found on the extreme southern coast of Oregon.
- Mariposa Grove at Yosemite National Park in the eastern part of California.
- The Lichuan county in the Hubei province of China – although they are nearly extinct here and efforts are being made to save them.
They are the tallest trees on Earth growing up to 300 feet tall! They are also the oldest living things on Earth living 1,200 years or more! It is amazing to think that there is nothing on the planet that is older than some of these trees. I don’t think of myself as an environmental extremist, but I will tell you, I do love these trees! To the point where I could imagine putting myself in between one of these giants and a bulldozer in order to save it from destruction!
With so many “big tree” attractions to see while in the area, it’s hard to narrow it down to the “best” – they are all worthy of that descriptor in someone’s opinion! There are also a lot of GREAT things to see and do in this area that have nothing to do with tree attractions, but this post is all about the trees. So, I will describe them from the north to south, starting in Crescent City, California at the extreme northern end of Highway 101 (and the state) and ending in Leggett, California – about 175 miles south. This 175 mile stretch is where the largest concentration of redwoods and attractions are located.
CRESCENT CITY, CALIFORNIA
Boy Scout Tree Trail – Be sure to hike this trail located in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. This trail is deep inside the forest, down a two-mile, narrow, gravel road where you can hear NOTHING but the whisper of the wind in the treetops and the eerie creaking of the massive trees. The drive itself is stunning with the trees literally towering over your vehicle. Take the 2.8 mile trail to Fern Falls – where you’ll find a small cascade of water and 2.8 miles back for a hike that feels truly of another world. And the return hike is even more beautiful than the hike in – if that’s possible – a completely different perspective! This longish hike is fairly easy with slight inclines, streams, and in many areas dense trees that nearly block out the sunlight. Contact Info: Howland Hill Rd., Crescent City, CA / 707 465-7335 / www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=413
Simpson Reed Trail – Also located in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, this trail is a 1-2 mile double loop that is ADA accessible so it is perfect for an easy hike to see some amazing giant trees. The downside, especially after being on the otherworldly Boy Scout Tree Trail, is you can hear traffic on occasion which some people say takes away from the experience just a bit. This trail features lovely streams and lots of fern and dense ground cover. There are a couple of benches on the trail and interpretive signs educating about forest ecology. Contact Info: Walker Rd. off Hwy 199, Crescent City, CA / 707 465-7335 / www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=413
Tour Thru Tree – This kitschy tourist stop will cost you a whopping $5 to drive up to the top of the hill where you will find the famous Tour Thru Tree. I understand the road, climbing the hill, can be crowded at times but there were only a few cars visiting the tree on the weekday that we toured. The road is very twisty and narrow and you have to toot your horn as you round corners. The tree is around 800 years old and the base has been carved out to accommodate cars and even large SUV’s. Not sure why – but I experienced quite the exhilaration driving through this tree. There is a small gift shop and restrooms on the property. Contact Info: 430 California State Route 169, Klamath, CA / 707 482-5971 / www.famousredwoods.com/tour_thru/
Trees of Mystery – The first thing to greet you at Trees of Mystery are giant statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. If you like quirky roadside stuff, you will LOVE these guys – excellent photo opportunities! And the gift shop is one of the best in the area. You walk in and the aroma of freshly-cut redwood charms you right into buying a redwood stamp holder. Or a redwood paper towel holder. Or a redwood dish to hold your loose change. Whatever it is you need – they have it and it’s made out of redwood. The free End of the Trail Museum is also located in the gift shop and houses artifacts and historical information about Native Americans from the area.
Next, stroll the winding pathway through this giant redwoods-inspired theme park. Hike the mile-long Forest Experience Trail where interpretive trail signs guide you through incredible trees with names like The Brotherhood Tree, The Candelabra Tree, and The Elephant Tree. See the Trail of Tall Tales to learn the story of the famous larger-than-life folklore hero, Paul Bunyan. And don’t miss a ride on the Skytrails tram. This gondola ride has you soaring up and through the tops of the trees for a bird’s eye view of the area. Contact Info: 15500 U.S. 101, Klamath, CA 95548 / 1 800 638-3389 / www.treesofmystery.net
Big Tree Trail – This hike in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is located on the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway and is another great way to to get out of the car and into the giant trees. We hiked about 2 miles to the Big Tree only to find out that if we had driven on down the road about 1/4 mile we could have parked and walked just a couple hundred yards to the giant. That is the nice thing about this state park – there are several trails including the Prairie Creek and Cathedral Tree Trails that interconnect and enable you to customize your hike to a longer or shorter hike. In the early 1900’s, the Big Tree survived a pioneer’s attempt to chop it down to create a dance floor and is now the site of weddings and other gatherings. Contact Info: Newton B. Drury Parkway, Orick, CA / 707 488-2039 / www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=415
Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway – This scenic parkway runs parallel to Highway 101 for about 10 miles through Prairie Creek State Park. Hike the Zigzag, Rhododendron, Brown Creek or Big Tree Trails – all located along the parkway. Visit the Prairie Creek Visitor Center for trail info and history of the area. And if you only have time for one stop – make it at one of the many meadows along the parkway where herds of Roosevelt elk roam throughout the grasses of the coastal prairie land. Contact Info: Prairie Creek Redwood State Park, Orick, CA / 707 465-7765 / www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=28434
Avenue of the Giants – This spectacular drive begins just south of Scotia, California and winds its way for 31 miles alongside (and sometimes crossing) Highway 101 until it terminates near the town of Garberville. Many of the famous “big tree” attractions can be found along this byway, as well as souvenir shops, campgrounds, Visitor’s Centers, eateries, and more. Hop off the busy Highway 101 for this leisurely meandering 31 mile stretch – you won’t be sorry! Contact info: Scotia, CA / 707 946-2263 / www.avenueofthegiants.net
Drury Chaney Trail – This wonderful 2.4 mile hike is located right along Avenue of the Giants. It is flat and lush with incredibly tall trees that make you feel as if you’ve been dropped right down into Mother Nature’s wonderland. The trees creak and moan as if they’re trying to impart some secret of nature. Be sure to watch the following video and listen to their eerie “music”. This trail is lightly traveled and noted to be one of the prettiest on the avenue! Contact Info: Avenue of the Giants, Scotia-Pepperwood, CA / 707 946-2263 / www.humboldtredwoods.org
Immortal Tree – This thousand-year-old tree just will NOT give up! It has caught fire, withstood a logger’s ax, outlasted a flood, and has been struck by lightning! Originally 300 feet tall (before the lightning strike), it currently stands at 250 feet tall. It is located on the property of the Ancient Redwoods RV Park (one of our favorite places to stay – see our review HERE) in Redcrest, California. There are restrooms and a gift shop with some of the most beautiful redwood burl furniture in the area. Don’t miss this top on the Avenue of the Giants. Contact Info: 28101 Avenue of the Giants, Redcrest, CA / 707 722-4396.
Founder’s Grove – This huge redwood grove is conveniently located off of Highway 101 in Humboldt Redwood State Park. Its most popular trail is the half-mile Founder’s Grove Nature Trail Loop that features dense amounts of trees that often block out the sun and sky. Two famous trees are also found along this trail, The Dyerville Giant (see below) and The Founder’s Tree. Although with the highway nearby you will experience traffic noise, this grove offers everything that comes to mind when you think of the giant redwoods. Contact Info: Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Weott, CA / 707 946-2263 / www.humboldtredwoods.org
Dyerville Giant – This sentinel tree is located in Founder’s Grove along the Founder’s Grove Nature Trail. This giant succumbed to gravity and fell in 1991. When it crashed to the ground it registered on seismographs, like an earthquake, and the roar could be heard up to 10 miles away. These awesome trees have shallow root systems that intertwine with other surrounding trees creating a network of roots that withstand time. But eventually they do fall. They also withstand fire because their bark is THICK – sometimes up to a foot thick – and does not contain sap or resin that fuels fire. Additionally, the cores of the trees retain little water. Often fire will only burn a hollowed-out part of a redwood, where the same fire would burn another variety of tree to the ground. It is a very different perspective to walk all the way around this massive tree as it lies horizontally on the ground, rather than looking up at it vertically. Many parts of the tree are beginning to decay and become one again with the earth. Contact Info: Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Weott, CA / 707 946-2263 / www.humboldtredwoods.org
MYERS FLAT, CALIFORNIA
Shrine Drive-Thru Tree – This hollowed-out tree is the only one of the three drive through trees that has a natural opening that vehicles can drive through. Created by fire more than 100 years ago, it was the first major roadside attraction on the redwood trail. You can still drive through the old giant today but it appears to be in decline and has been supported by cables for many years now. Once these drive through “wonders” are gone there will be no more as this is the kind of thing that makes environmentalists crazy, you know? Altering incredible natural resources such as these for our amusement – can’t say that I disagree. Other attractions on property are the Step-Through Stump (ha ha!), the Drive-On Tree (featuring a ramp to drive up on top!), tree houses for the kids, and a gift shop. Contact Info: 13078 Avenue of the Giants, Myers Flat, CA 95554 / 707 943-1975 / www.famousredwoods.com/shrine
Chimney Tree – This house in a tree reminds you of something out of Alice in Wonderland. In 1914, a fire burned out the center of the tree creating this 12.6 foot diameter room in the base of the tree. The tree is 78 feet tall and the top is open to create a chimney and space for light to shine inside the tree – like a natural skylight! It’s free to tour the tree and the Chimney Tree Grill is next door offering burgers, sandwiches and ice cream. Contact Info: 1111 Avenue of the Giants, Phillipsville, CA 95559 / 707 923-2265.
One Log House – The One Log House just might be my favorite “tree thing” in the area. Built in 1946, it is a huge tree base that was hollowed out, turned on its side, and turned into a little house! Outfitted with a kitchen, bunk beds, chests of drawers, and a sitting and dining area, it was pulled around the country as advertisement for the giant Redwoods during the 1950’s. It’s on wheels so I guess it is sort of a “Tree RV”, right? No wonder I LOVE it! Today you can tour this legit “tree house” but first you must buy the SECRET CODE for a dollar at the souvenir shop next door. (You can get ice ream while you’re there, too). Is this great, or what? Contact Info: 705 N Highway 101, Garberville, CA 95542 / 707 247-2717 / www.oneloghouse.com
Grandfather Tree – This 1,800 year-old tree is appropriately named! It is 265 feet tall and 24 feet around making it big and fat! It is located right next to the One Log House (above) making it a nice time to see TWO wonders at ONE Stop. There are several gift shops on property selling everything from moccasins to wind chimes and all of your typical redwood trinkets found at all of the other shops in this area. Contact Info: 779 N Highway 101, Garberville, CA 95542 / 707 247-3413.
World Famous Tree House – So this might be the biggest tourist trap of them all but I was only too happy to plunk down my $2 to see yet another house built in the base of a giant redwood tree. It had a cute little door and windows and reminded me of a place where the Lost Boys would live in Never Never Land. It was featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not which I suppose warrants the $2. The little lady that guarded the entrance (there is NO sneaking in) was happy that we stopped by and seemed surprised that we were willing to pay to go inside. The tree house was dark with an old dim light bulb hanging way up high inside the tree and was shabbily furnished – lending to its charm. The gift shop smelled musty and the inventory had not been “turned” in quite some time. They also sold amazing wood carvings outside – the kind carved with chain saws – and I imagine they stay in business from the sale of those rather than admission charged for the tree house. It has certainly seen better days but I will absolutely be stopping again the next time I’m through the area. Contact Info: 74800 N Highway 101, Piercy, CA 95587 / 707 925-6406.
Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree – Can you ever have too many trees to drive through? I think not! And that’s good because this one will only cost you five bucks to drive a mile on a graveled road to reach the famous tree. Created in 1937 to draw tourists from San Francisco, you can still drive through the carved-out tree while posing for pictures. There are restrooms, picnic tables and a gift shop at the site, as well. Contact Info: 67402 Drive Thru Tree Rd., Leggett, CA 95585 / 707 925-6464 / www.drivethrutree.com
And with that, we’ve reached the end of the the 175 mile stretch of “redwood paradise”! Hope you are able to enjoy a visit to this area VERY soon. If you are traveling from the south and heading UP the coast, just reverse this list and all of the attractions will be in order for you! It is truly a majestic area of our United States – one that should be on everyone’s travel “bucket list”.
This is their temple, vaulted high,
and here we pause with reverent eye,
with silent tongue and awe-struck soul;
for here we sense life’s proper goal.
To be like these, straight, true and fine,
to make our world, like theirs, a shrine;
sink down, oh traveler, on our knees,
God stands before you in these trees.
By Joseph B. Strauss, from “The Redwoods”, 1932
Have YOU ever been to this part of California? Did you visit any of these TREE attractions? Share your favorites in the comments below!