What to do in California unusual and original besides the usual tourists itineraries, always valid and really recommended for a first experience?
Have you ever thought to dedicate some days more to the Northern California?
And – why not? – include a path – maybe through some stages not too famous – discovering the suggestive and boundless Redwood National and State Parks?
I mean a virgin redwood forest with the peculiar reddish wood (the “redwoods” name was after it) among the highest ones in the world, with a stunning size, about 46.000 hectares.
The whole area develops close to the Hwy 101, between the Pacific Coast and the immediate inland of the Northern California, through a national park – The Redwood National Park – and four state parks: the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, the Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and the Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
Difficult if not impossible to be able to explore the park in its whole and to cover all the most suggestive trails, even in more dedicated visits.
Anyway, it’s possible to follow a couple of days itinerary with some tips about where to stay overnight and eat – studied in details and tested for you personally as always – following a path (from north to south in this specific case, but feasible easily also in the opposite direction) of about 300km to discover the most fascinating stages – and according to me not to be missed.
The ideal starting point to discover the Redwood National and State Parks from the north is Crescent City, a small town on the Northern California coast, almost at the border with Oregon, and about 15km far from the Jedediah Smith Visitor Center, the first big info center of the park.
Actually, Crescent City keeps well less of the 1850 seaport: in 1964 a violent tsunami destroyed a good part of the town leaving stand really few original buildings, like the old and suggestive Battery Point Lighthouse which can be visited and from where you enjoy an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean and – from November to April – of the grey whales migration.
Anyway it’s a good place where to stay overnight and to enjoy a savory and cheap catch of the day lunch/dinner at the Chart Room, one among the most crowded diners by locals, directly on the quay where fishing boats and excursions to the open sea leave.
My tip is to go immediately to the Jedediah Smith Visitor Center at your arrival to get detailed maps and informative brochure, to reckon together with the rangers the practicability of some roads and above all to book the admittance (they allow 50 max a day) at the Tall Trees Grove, a very beautiful trail of about 2km to cover through the forest to be able to reach a hidden clearing where some among the highest Redwoods in the world are located.
The Tall Trees Grove is located 90km to the south of the Visitor Center, in the Redwood National Park (see the second paragraph below).
Close to the Hwy101 – called The Redwood Highway by many people – it’s possible to cross literally the log of three giant redwoods, strictly alive, carved in a such way that it keeps untouched the vital functions of the plant and at the same time allows to pass through it on foot or by car without hurting the redwood by any way.
It’s the Tour Thru Tree-Klamath, the Chandelier Tree-Legget and the Shrine Tree near the Avenue of the Giants.
My choice – for logistic reasons about itinerary and travelling times – was the Tour Thru Tree in the lands of the Yurok Tribe along the Klamath River.
The Tour Thru Tree was carved in 1976. It’s located at the exit of he Hwy 101 right to the north of the Klamath River, where a big faded sign indicates the short path on the hill to reach it. Near the redwood there’s a souvenir store and a picnic area with seasonal cafés where to stop.
If you pass by here in the high season – the redwoods quoted are all in private properties – you will be asked to pay a toll (when I visited it the amount was 10$).
Try to imagine the boundless forest of the Redwood National Park.
Its mountains, the overlooks, the paths, the rivers and inside it – in the deepest point of its valleys – a wonderful treasure that few people know: the Tall Trees Grove.
It’s a clearing where it’s possible to admire some among the highest Redwoods in the world.
You walk disbelieving – like gnomes among giants – along a round path skirted by centennial redwoods, with a base less wide compared to the Giants Sequoias of Yosemite, but with stunning heights that in some specimen overcome 110meters.
It’s not easy to arrive there, but get organized in advance with an abundant half day in one’s hands, it’s possible to cover calmly the trail of 2,5km taking to the clearing.
To gain access to the Tall Trees Grove it’s necessary to ask for a permission – it’s better the day before, if possible – at one of the Redwood National and State Park Visitor Centers: reckon that 50 cars max a day are allowed. Besides the permission you will be given an admittance code to open the padlock and put up the bar to enter the Tall Trees Grove Trail.
To reach the trail go out from the Hwy101 at the interchange to Lady Bird Johnson Grove, keep going along Bald Hills Road, maybe stopping for an amazing view of the Redwood Creek Overlook neighboring area. Little far on the right take the access to the Tall Trees Grove, use the code to enter and cover the 7km of the dirt patch taking to the Trail.
The 2,5km path is divided into a winding downhill road, into the loop among the redwoods and into the final climb to come back to the car parking.
It’s advisable to wear trekking shoes and take water, k-way and umbrella: the forest in some points can be so thick that it holds and release the dew in the form of a steady drizzle.
Taking again the Hwy101 southwards, after about 90km you run into two original and odd (above all for the first one) small towns: Arcata and Eureka.
Considering the position and the peculiarity, they are really recommended for a stop from the tour of the Redwood National and State Parks, both for a quick meal and a good Espresso, and an eventual stay overnight.
Arcata is made of a lively, colorful and open-minded hippie and liberal community and of wonderful buildings of the nineteenth century. According to me, it’s the best place to stop for lunch – the Wildberries Marketplace is the ideal place where to eat something, drink Espresso and listen to good music together with the locals – and to stay overnight.
The Old Town of the near Eureka is full of museums, historical buildings, vintage stores and studios of odd artists. It’s advisable to book a cruise to the bay to admire the Ocean Coast or give oneself a regenerating walk on the new and very cared promenade before taking back the road southwards.
About 120km to the south of Eureka you run into the last, wonderful stage of our path, the Avenue of the Giants.
The so-called Avenue of the Giants – once integrated into an old stretch of the Hwy 101, today famous on the maps as California Route 254 – in honor to the very high and suggestive giant redwoods which accompany the almost 50km of the road inside the Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
The itinerary follows for a good part the flow of the Eel River, links small towns and has parking, picnic areas and bike ways.
Not to miss the Immortal Tree, a 950 years old redwood – the Drive Thru Tree – one among the redwoods I was writing about above, where it’s possible to pass through even by the car and the path taking to the discover of the Rockefeller Forest Redwood Grove.
The Redwood National and State Parks was used as natural set of movies and some among the most famous movies sagas.
The most famous ones are certainly Star Wars – several scenes of the episodes 6 (Return of Jedi) and 7 (The force awakens) were shot among the giant redwoods of Humboldt County – and Jurassic Park, mainly in the Prairie Creek Redwoodsed area.