Humboldt Redwoods State Park; Avenue of the Giants!

Three visitors pose on a recently downed mid-sized redwood in Drury-Chaney Grove, located near the north side of this huge and majestic park.

Avenue of the Giants, with towering trees, are heart of Humboldt Redwoods State Park!

In past trips through Northern California, we had several times driven the old highway, aptly named Avenue of the Giants, through towering redwoods just three hours north of the Golden Gate Bridge. But until last week we had only stopped briefly, and never hiked or camped in Humboldt Redwoods State Park to truly admire these forest marvels. With old friends and their new T@B travel trailer, we joined them with our ‘58 Scotty teardrop camper for four days and three nights of delightful camping and touring.

Our Scotty teardrop trailer along the park's Avenue of the Giants parkway.

Located in Northern California, this lovely state park encompasses 53,000 acres, including 17,000 acres of old-growth redwood forest, much within easy walking or hiking distance along the 32 mile Avenue of the Giants parkway. The park owes its existence to the Save the Redwoods League, formed in the 1920s, and two donations of $1 million each by John D. Rockefeller in the late ‘20s, to purchase and set aside this wonderful treasure.

With over 100 miles of hiking and biking trails, 250 campsites and the Avenue of the Giants auto-tour, it’s a park with easy access to some of the largest trees and stunning vistas in the world. Most of the trails were broad and relatively flat, with good access even to those with disabilities.

Start with the Avenue of the Giants auto tour: at the start, or finish of the tour route, pick up a brochure that defines the eight noteworthy stops along the way. The tour, starting at the south end, begins just beyond Phillipsburg, and stops first at the F. K. Lane Grove, featuring the greatest accumulation of biomass (living and dead organic material) ever recorded in a coast redwood forest, the result of dense redwoods both growing and those toppled like ‘pick-up sticks’ by storms and lightning.

Sword ferns and redwood sorrel blanket the forest while redwoods tower 300' overhead!

Make a stop at the visitor center (just south of Weott), which explains that coast redwoods are taller than any living thing, reaching an age over 2000 years and able to withstand fires, floods and insects. Wander through the native garden area where you’ll see three species of redwoods planted for comparison, the Giant Sequoia, Coast Redwood and Dawn Redwood. Redwoods prosper due to both significant rainfall, 80 inches/year in this part of the state, and moist, foggy weather coming off the Pacific.

That heavy rainfall occasionally causes remarkable flooding. Along the Avenue of the Giants auto-tour, stop #4 highlights the town of Weott on the Eel River with evidence of the 1964 flood – a 35 foot-tall pole shows the high watermark of that frightening event. Dyersville, stop #6, once a stagecoach stop, crossroads town and shipping port, was completely destroyed by the flood of 1955.

Rockefeller Forest is directly west in the Bull Creek basin, along a bumpy Mattole Road. It’s the oldest coast redwood forest, preserved by Rockefeller with his donations almost 100 years ago. This forest is considered one of the finest in the world; a short walk takes you to Giant Tree, recognized in 1991 as the tallest in the world at 363 feet, with a circumference of 53.2 feet (it has since been beaten out by a slightly taller coast redwood in another part of the north state).

Big Tree, towering 363', is just a short hike into the Rockefeller Grove on the park's west side.

The Drury-Chaney Grove, stop #8 near the park’s north border, was our favorite, featuring a 2.5 mile loop trail through majestic, old growth redwoods and a forest floor carpeted in redwood sorrel and sword fern, making it look almost prehistoric. You’ll run the risk of developing a crick in your neck, gazing up at these giants, many over 300 feet tall.

We found Elbee Creek Campground six miles up Mattole Road (conveniently just a mile past the Rockefeller Grove), a lovely campground set amongst the huge redwoods. Additional campgrounds dot the Avenue of the Giants drive; the area also offers a number of private campgrounds and restaurants – a must stop is the Chimney Tree Grill with delicious food and inexpensive craft beers.

Several interesting tours are just beyond the park: Trek north to Scotia (about 15 miles north of the park on Highway 101), a factory town owned by Pacific Lumber, the county’s largest employer with 1600 employees. Admire the grand Hotel Scotia, and tour the museum flanked by a Pacific Lumber Company locomotive and two huge steam donkeys (oversized steam engines used in the forest for logging operations).

Friend Christine Lewis hugs Big Tree; it would take about 11 Christines to wrap the mighty tree's 55' circumference!

Another company mill town, Samoa, is about 35 miles north of the park, just off Hwy. 101 past Eureka.  Stop for a sumptuous lunch at the Samoa Cookhouse, which has been continuously serving meals, first to resident mill workers and loggers, then to the public, for over 124 years!  In addition to huge portions of delicious food served family style, the cookhouse has a full logging museum adjacent to the dining room. The history and meal are not to be missed!

The park is 260 miles from Stockton, roughly a 4.5 hour drive; take Hwy. 12 west from Lodi, then go north on Hwy. 101. Plan several days or longer to take in much of the majesty and diversity of this wonder of nature!

For more info: Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Humboldtredwoods.org, (707) 946-2409; for camping reservations in state parks, reserveamerica.com.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

Samoa Cookhouse serves up hearty family-style meals in its 124 year-old dining room!

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  • Blog Author

    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in late 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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