If you want to see some big trees, aim for the Avenue of the Giants in Northern California, a road created so that through-traffic isn’t stuck behind gawking tourists on the 101 (my theory, since it mostly parallels the 101).
The Avenue of the Giants is a great road, but the best road goes perpendicular (to the west) and into Humboldt Redwoods State Park. You don’t have to pay a fee to drive into the park, so watch for Bull Creek Flats Road and definitely check it out. It’s magical and narrow and nearly crowd-free. Look for signs pointing to the “Tall Tree” – a 366′ monster. It’s right off the road, so stop for a hug.
Here’s everything you need to know about visiting the Redwoods:
- It’s overrun with children and families. Prepare for crowds. On one trail, we were mobbed by about a dozen grade-schoolers. A champion ranger reigned then in eventually because their parents weren’t up to the task. The guy saved the day.
- It’s a patchwork of parks, not a big behemoth. Yes, there’s a Redwoods National Park, but it’s surrounded by a handful of California State Parks and those are surrounded by dozens of ‘memorial’ groves. The National Park isn’t all that big. The protection of the environment is much more personal here. Everybody with a few extra dollars back in the day seems to have decided to save a grove of trees, so there’s the I.P. Freeley memorial grove and the Jack Mehoff grove (I don’t remember the exact names, but plaques are everywhere) in between clear-cut lots. It feels more jumbled.
- Instead of tourist traps at the park entrances and exits, they’re spread throughout the entire place. This is due to #2. But there’s no Gatlinburg equivalent, so that’s nice. But there are ziplines. And there are about a dozen trees you can drive through, for a fee, of course.
- The Ocean Elk are exactly where they’re supposed to be. That never happens. We saw them right behind the sign that said we’d see them. I don’t know how they managed to arrange that.
- Don’t even think about camping here. You’ll never get in without a reservation, and the only campgrounds are California State Park campgrounds, so they’re just not worth it. Cruise through. Maybe hit a hotel. It’s a tough spot to linger, unfortunately. We ended up at a KOA outside Eureka with a hot tub, WiFi, and an ice cream social for $4 more than what the State Parks charge.
- Burgers at the Chimney Tree Restaurant are OK, but not exceptional. We have no idea where you should eat. Good luck!