The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Sheltering the biggest and best collection of giant coastal redwoods anywhere in the world, Humboldt Redwoods State Park is an exceptionally breathtaking corner of an exceptionally beautiful region. Covering more than 53,000 acres along the Eel River, this is the true heart of redwood country, containing the largest and most pristine expanses of virgin forest as well as some of the largest, tallest, and most remarkable trees.
The protection of the mighty redwood forests of Northern California was made possible not by the state or federal governments but primarily by the efforts of the Save the Redwoods League (114 Sansome St., Suite 1200, San Francisco, CA 94104, 415/362-2352), a private organization that has raised, since its founding in 1918, millions of dollars to buy or preserve over 185,000 acres of redwood forest. To support these efforts, write or call the league.
Even if you’re just passing through, be sure to turn onto the amazing Avenue of the Giants, 31 miles of old highway frontage between Pepperwood and Phillipsville. This sinuous old road snakes alongside, and sometimes under, the faster and busier US-101 freeway, which is carried on concrete stilts through the park. In and amongst the natural wonders along the Avenue of the Giants are a handful of man-made ones: the Eternal Tree House (26510 Ave. of the Giants, free admission) in Redcrest, with a friendly and inexpensive café, and the Shrine Drive Thru Tree (13078 Ave. of the Giants, $6), in Myers Flat, are just two of the many good-natured “tourist traps” in this neck of the woods. At the north end of the park you’ll find an impressive collection of trees in the well-marked Founder’s Grove, where a half-mile nature trail leads past the 362-foot-tall, possibly 2,000-year-old Dyerville Giant, lauded as one of the world’s tallest trees before it fell during the winter of 1991.
Once you’ve done the Avenue of the Giants, if you want to escape the crowds and the freeway rumble, head west from Founder’s Grove across US-101 to the 10,000-plus-acre Rockefeller Forest. This expansive grove is one of the largest old-growth forests in the world and includes two of the world’s champion trees, each over 360 feet tall and some 17 feet in diameter.
The best source of information on the park is the Visitor Center (17119 Ave. of the Giants, 707/946-2263), midway along the Avenue of the Giants in Weott; there’s a pleasant state-run campground (800/444-7275) with showers right next door. You may have to drive a ways north (to Ferndale, Eureka, or Arcata) or south (to Garberville) from the park to find an exceptional meal, though there are a few nice places to stay, like the historic Myers Country Inn (12913 Ave. of the Giants, 707/943-3259, $200 and up), midway along the Avenue of the Giants in Myers Flat. Farther south, the hamlet of Miranda holds the pleasant Miranda Gardens Resort (766 Ave. of the Giants, 707/943-3011, $105 and up), with a handy general store and rustic cabins backing onto redwood groves.