Lonely Planet Pathfinder & Bay Area Local, Valerie Stimac, recently spent a long weekend in Northern California exploring California’s Redwood Coast. Named the #1 destination on the 2018 Best in the U.S. list, she set off in search of the magic that draws millions of visitors to see these giant trees each year…
Spending time in forests is immensely good for us urban dwellers, with mental and physical benefits, from breathing in the clear, fresh air among the trees to turning our phones to airplane mode for once! In search of why California’s Redwood Coast is particularly popular for visitors to the Bay Area, I set out to spend a few days in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
While not as famous as neighboring Redwoods National Park, this park has one of the largest areas of protected old-growth redwood forest, and 75% of the world’s 100 tallest trees. I wandered among the mammoth trees, learning about their history, and wondering about their future.
The Founder’s Tree
To begin one’s education in the redwoods, it helps to start with the Founder’s Tree. Named in honor of the founding members of the Save the Redwoods League, the tree signifies early 20th Century efforts to preserve these trees and their ecosystem. You’ll find it in Founders Grove, just off old California Highway 101, also known as the ‘Avenue of the Giants.’
Driving among the giants
The Avenue of the Giants is a 31-mile stretch of two-lane highway that snakes through the massive Sequoia trunks between the small town of Myers Flat in the south, and the even smaller town of Pepperwood in the north. Some of the most famous groves in Humboldt Redwood State Park can be easily accessed from this stretch of road. There’s an audio tour available in an app too, to guide you between the road’s most famous sites.
Surviving through the years
Astonishingly, redwood trees can survive even if they become hollowed out, as evidenced by several trees in Founders Grove and nearby Women’s Grove. While they seem precarious, these trees continue to live and stand for decades – and even centuries – after they become hollow.
Following the guide
Armed with a copy of the newest California guidebook, I set out to see the most popular and noteworthy groves along the Avenue of the Giants. Some are famous for the trees that live there, others for the fields of green redwood sorrel (pictured), that spread out under foot, and others gain notoriety on account of famous visitors and benefactors, like Rockefeller Forest.
A moment in the sun
The sun that fights its way to the forest floor is patchy and dappled, but that makes it all the more magical when you can find a spot to sit in. This shot, taken near the famous Dyerville Giant which fell in 1991, was cool and quiet despite being one of the most popular areas in the grove.
Most redwood visitors are impressed by the scale and longevity of California’s coastal redwood forests. For us city dwellers, simply spending time among the trees offers a welcome break from concrete and glass structures that we live among. I also discovered the presence of albino redwoods in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. These all-white redwoods are still a mystery to scientists, and have been called “Ghost Trees” for centuries.
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