Growing from Big Sur to the Oregon border, the California coast redwoods reach their greatest heights in Northern Humboldt County, where nearly half the remaining old growth giants remain, including the world’s tallest trees in Redwood National and State Parks, which soar as high as 380 feet, or six stories taller than the Statue of Liberty. Eight of the best places to see the super trees include:
Lady Bird Johnson Grove
About two miles east of Hwy 101 on Bald Hills Road, this easy one-mile loop is a rare redwood grove at a high elevation, more than 1,000 feet high. Marking the dedication site of the park and named for the former First Lady who championed its cause, the trail showcases impressive old growth redwoods, Douglas Firs, tan oak as well as rhododendrons and azaleas blooms in the spring and bold big leaf maple foliage colors in the autumn.
Tall Trees Grove
Set aside at least four total hours for this foray into the forest, which requires a free day-use permit from a park visitor center, a 45-minute drive on Bald Hills Road and an unpaved access road, then a steep hike for 1.3 miles down a winding trail. The reward is worth it, a mystical, rarely visited grove along Redwood Creek with super redwood giants, including the Libby Tree, a former record holder whose discovery lead to the creation of the park.
Drive Thru Tree
The Klamath Tour Thru Tree, the newest of three living redwoods through which one may drive an auto, is on Yurok Indian territory bordering Redwood National Park. Look for the exit on the east side of Hwy 101, just north of the Klamath River Bridge. The hilltop attraction has a small gift shop, restroom and picnic table from which to watch other motorists navigate through the living tunnel. There is a small entrance fee.
Newton Drury Scenic Parkway
Rivaling the Avenue of the Giants for redwood beauty, this forest drive along an 11-mile paved road parallels Hwy 101 and threads through impressive old growth giants, featuring numerous trailheads and stops for the Big Tree Wayside, the Corkscrew Tree, Elk Meadow and the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park Visitor Center (Ask about the tree with antlers in it). Open sunrise to sunset, the parkway sometimes closes to auto traffic on the first Saturdays of the month.
Big Tree and Circle Trail
For the traveler with little time to spare, this easy 0.2-mile walk offers an excellent sample of giant trees and lush redwood ecology. On the Newton Drury Parkway, near the southern end, start at the Big Tree Wayside parking area and within minutes one reaches the aptly named Big Tree, a popular place for amazing photos. The trail can also be reached from the Foothill Trail and Cathedral Trees Trail, which connect back to the Prairie Creek Visitor Center.
The payoff of this moderate 2.5-mile loop is the parks’ most scenic waterfall, a 10-foot cascade over mossy covered rocks, but the trail along the way delights as well. To reach the trailhead, go 3 miles north of Orick on Hwy 101, turn west on Davison Road, go half a mile, then turn left to the Elk Meadow Day Use Area. Besides mature redwoods, the hike features Douglas fir, hemlock, Sitka spruce, and patches of trillium, which bloom in silky whites in the spring, and gnarly big leaf maples, which turn bright yellow in the fall. Keep an eye out for wildlife on the misty forest floor, perfect habitat for red tree voles, Pacific giant salamanders and giant banana slugs.
James Irvine Trail
Starting at the Prairie Creek Visitor Center, this moderately difficult 4-mile trail offers the classic redwood hike. Giant redwoods, among the largest in the park, stand sentinel in the first leg. In the second, as the path winds gently down along Godwood Creek toward the coast, the redwoods give way to more salt tolerant species like Sitka Spruce. In the third, it culminates in a loop around Fern Canyon, a geologic and botanical wonder with steep walls draped in many kinds of ferns, like the elegant five fingered fronds. Afterwards, exit to Gold Bluffs Beach, a long flat strand frequented by sea lions, Roosevelt elk and other wildlife, then retrace your steps or loop back on the Miners Ridge Trial to return to the visitors center.
Starting behind the Prairie Creek Visitor Center, this easy 0.3-mile loop is designed for the physically and visually impaired, but everyone marvels at the unusual trees. Among the most genetically diverse redwoods, they come in a greater variety of colors and textures and limb patterns. Some display curly bark while others straight, just like people’s hair. Interpretive signs, nurse logs, Prairie Creek, redwood sorrel and California bay provide more surprises of sight, sound, taste and smell.