A Redwoods Road Trip Itinerary in California
Redwoods National Park is a gorgeous part of California and completely worthy of a road trip. Towering pine trees line narrow roads that zig zag through the park, nearly shielding out the sunlight in some parts.
It’s hard not to be in awe of the Redwoods when you consider the fact that some of them are over a century old and a staggering 350 feet tall, and that they survived the immense logging that went on here before the National Park was created.
A Redwood National Park road trip can be a long weekend from San Francisco or part of a drive along the Highway 101 drive that stretches from San Diego all the way to Seattle.
My jaunt around Redwood National Park came at the southern end of an Oregon Coast Road Trip from Seattle, which was a great way to do so. But whether you’re coming from the south, the north or the east, a Redwood National Park road trip is best thought of as a loop. Read on for why and the top sites you won’t want to miss while exploring this iconic National Park.
Redwoods National Park Road Trip Logistics
When doing a Redwoods National Park road trip, keep in mind you’re likely not going to want to stick to just the National Park part of the Redwood forests. That’s because a lot of the top attractions are located in Humboldt Redwood State Park, to the south of Redwood National Park. There are actually a few California state parks located within the Redwoods region and your road trip will likely zig and zag among these state parks and the national park.
I recommend focusing a lot of your time on Humboldt Redwood State Park, though, because it is home to a number of iconic redwood sites and two-thirds of its area is old growth Redwoods.
Another thing to keep in mind is just how much there is to do in Redwood National and State Parks beyond the giant trees. Yes, the trees are the main draw and they are wildly impressive, but Humboldt Redwood State Park actually encompasses forty miles of gorgeous coastline, most of which is uninhabited and uncommercialized — the only part of the California coastline to be protected like that, which has resulted in it being given the nickname the Lost Coast.
Top Sites to See on a Redwood National Park Road Trip
From hikes to drive-thru trees to sandy shoreline, there’s a lot to see on a Redwoods Road Trip. Here are some sites you won’t want to miss seeing.
Paul Bunyan by Trees of Mystery
One of the first places of interest you’ll run into when driving south from Oregon in Redwood National and State Parks is the Trees of Mystery store. You can’t miss it thanks to the giant statues of Paul Bunyan and his Blue Ox in front of the store.
If you have the time Trees of Mystery store is more than just a photo op with Paul Bunyan or chance to use the restroom and buy a souvenir. Trees of Mystery is also home to a museum featuring Native American artwork and historic artifacts. In addition, you can leave from the store on one of the Trees of Mystery tours that take on a gondola ride through the treetops for the Redwoods.
The “Big Tree” in Prarie Creek Redwood State Park
The Big Tree is an ancient Redwood tree in the northern part of the parks that is one of the biggest live trees you’ll see (many of the famous drive-thru ones are dead). Located near Orick off of Highway 101, this is a convenient little hike through green foliage to get to the tree.
Once you arrive at the tree, you can take your pic by it for a reminder of its scale, which is 286 feet high and a circumference of 74.5 feet. The tree is estimated to be 1,500 years old!
Myer’s Flat Drive-Thru Tree
I did this in a mid-size SUV and just barely made it through without a scratch. So, be warned your car might get a ding! But I’ve also never laughed so hard while driving (an inch forward a minute). It’s an experience you don’t want to miss.
There are a number of drive-thru trees in northern California, but the Myers Flat one called Shrine Drive Thru Tree is a hit (don’t take that literally!) due to its large size and the fact that for the price you can also get out of your car after you drive through the tree and see some pretty fun tree houses.
My girls loved them!
There is a small fee per vehicle for driving through the tree.
Lost Coast & Shelter Cove
The Lost Coast is the name given to a stretch of coastline on the western edge of Redwood National Parks that is the only undeveloped part of California’s coastline. There is one town, though, in its midst, and that is Shelter Cove, which I highly recommend you visit during a Redwoods road trip.
Shelter Cove is a 30-minute detour off the part of Highway 101 that runs through Redwood Forest.
You go down a long, winding road with incredible views and end up at a little town that feels totally secluded from the rest of the world.
Stop and get gas at the tiniest gas station I’ve ever seen, visit the adjacent general store and gift shop to stock up on some snacks and souvenirs, and then head to the coast for fantastic, rugged views – and even a black sand beach located on the north end of town!
While in Shelter Cove, you also don’t want to miss seeing it’s quaint little lighthouse.
Next to the lighthouse are stairs that take you down to the sea. During low tide, you can go down there to walk along the mixture of rocks and sand and look for tidepools.
The Avenue of the Giants
The Avenue of the Giants is the part of the Redwood National Forest that you have to do on a Redwoods Road Trip.
The route that makes up the Avenue of the Giants is located in Humboldt State Park and consists of 31 miles of road that is flanked by towering trees that are some of the tallest and oldest in Redwood National Forest.
The Avenue of the Giants runs parallel to Highway 101 and you’ll enter it just south of Scotia, if coming from the north or just north of Garberville if coming from the south. The route winds through Myer’s Flat so plan on doing the drive-thru tree during the journey, too.
Also, for those heading to Shelter Cove, you’ll exit Highway 101 in Garberville to get there, so plan on going right before or right after you drive on the Avenue of the Giants depending on which direction you’re coming from.
As you drive along the Avenue of the Giants, you’ll feel like you’ve left the sunlight behind due to the massive canopy of pine branches covering up the sky with brilliant sun beams breaking through on parts of the highway.
Where to Stay Overnight During a Redwoods Road Trip
Eureka is a good base for those on a budget. It has a bit of a weathered feel to it, but the oceanside city’s old Victorian buildings and homes adds a historic charm and there are a range of accommodation options. I liked staying at Eureka Inn. The rooms are on the smaller side, but the old-fashioned grandeur of the lobby had me loving my stay. If you’re there in summer, there is also a nice outdoor pool.
Where to Eat During a Redwoods Road Trip
Chimney Tree Grill
This is a laidback restaurant along the Avenue of the Giants drive, in Phillipsville. Chimney Tree Restaurant has mostly outdoor seating. There are picnic tables outside and even a little playground for kids to play on.
It’s also right by the Living Chimney Tree, a massive old tree that was hollowed out by a fire in 1914 and you can go inside the tree and look up to see the sunlight through the top.
A historic restaurant right by the sea near Eureka, Samoa Cookhouse is a fun dining experience that is a must-eat if you’re interested in the history of the Redwoods Forest. The restaurant has community-style tables, just like a century ago, when lumbermen would come here to eat, when the cookhouse served as both a dining room and a type of community center for the logging mill camp where the workers lived.
Samoa Cookhouse’s menu is a set multi-course all-you-can-eat meal and changes nightly. While you wait for your food (or your table) you can walk around the adjacent museum that has artifacts and pictures with informational boards from the logging days of decades past.
Enjoy Your Time Among the Redwoods!
And lastly for your Redwoods vacation, remember to keep looking up! The sheer breadth and size of these trees is astounding to behold and you’ll be so glad you planned some California vacation time or weekend getaway to see the glorious Redwoods.