Northcoast and the Giant Redwoods
Enshrouded with mist and imbued with a pulsating energy, the vast, old-growth forests of Redwood National and State Parks are legendary. But soaring redwoods as tall as 385 feet are only part of the tale; visitors will also discover flowering ground cover, massive ferns, trees growing inside of trees, root systems 300 feet off the ground and tree-dwelling salamanders that have never been down to the forest floor. A string of quaint towns with genteel Victorian inns provide the base for exploring the forests on over 100 miles of California’s wild coastline, where whales can be spotted from December to February.
Where Giants Rule
Located 200 miles north of San Francisco, Redwood National and State Parks are accessed from the south by U.S. Highway 101. Encompassing 139,000 acres, this complex of contiguous national and state properties stretches northward along the Pacific Coast, almost all the way to Oregon. This band of rich forests benefit from the moist air and high precipitation levels. A dense canopy of fog often is drawn inland from over the Pacific and blankets the landscape.
Within this forested wonderland, more than 200 miles of trails traverse a bewitching landscape of forests, prairies, narrow canyons, rushing rivers and coastal bluffs. From multilevel hiking to biking, swimming, beachcombing and wildlife watching, there are myriad ways to interact with this awe-inspiring landscape. If you prefer driving, the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway is a glorious 10-mile stretch of road going through the old-growth redwoods with no other development at all.
The iconic California Coastal Trail runs parallel to Gold Bluffs Beach, where virgin coastline, waterfalls and towering bluffs are mesmerizing at sunset. This stretch provides access to one of the park’s most scenic hiking trails: Fern Canyon, famed as a location for Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World. Fern Canyon can be reached by an intermediate five-mile hike on the James Irvine Trail, beginning at the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park Visitor Center. At High Bluff Overlook, you can scan the sea for whales, sea lions, brown pelicans and, in spring and summer, thousands of seabirds nesting on offshore rocks. For a moderate hike, Trillium Falls Trail is a short two-mile loop where owls and black bears can be seen, as well as elk (from a viewing station) alongside Prairie Creek.
Humbled by Humboldt
Approximately 175 miles south of Redwood National and State Parks, another forest of redwoods towers into the sky. Humboldt Redwoods State Park boasts a bevy of attractions that draw tourists to explore this compelling ecosystem. The Avenue of the Giants is a favorite scenic drive that was once part of U.S. Route 101 before the freeway bypass. This 30-mile trek leads drivers under a canopy of redwood trees arching overhead. Check out the Shrine Drive-Thru Tree for a fun photo op. Avenue of the Giants also boasts the show-stopping Immortal, a 950-year-old tree scarred with ax marks from a 1908 logging attempt.
Big Trees, Small Towns
A string of small towns and cities provide the launchpad for exploring Redwood National Forest. For amenities and a central location, Eureka boasts a dynamic arts scene, a Historic Old Town kernel and a vibrant festival calendar. The town of Leggett is home to one of the most popular (and equally contentious) photographed images of Redwood Parks: Chandelier Tree, with a hole cut that’s big enough for an automobile to drive through.
Often evoked as one of America’s prettiest towns, Ferndale is a California Historic Landmark, known for its confection of Victorian architecture, cute gift stores and ice cream parlors. Mendocino is a destination in its own right, with a hip artists’ colony, a gorgeous coastline, and fine restaurants and hotels.
Great Times Among Trees
In April, the Eureka Music Festival draws musicians and artists for a musical extravaganza, with performances across the musical spectrum at intimate, large and historic venues. The festival’s signature food event, the Taste of Main Street, features over 20 local restaurants and producers serving regional delicacies. In November, the Mendocino Mushroom Festival celebrates county’s 3,000 mushroom varieties with tastings of exotic varieties, mushroom-themed dinners, cooking classes, guided mushroom foraging and live music.
Art in Motion
The Kinetic Grand Championship race, held every Memorial Day weekend, features pilot-powered kinetic sculptures that have been engineered to race over road, water, mud and sand, often with animated faces. Some of the vehicle inventors have shown a cunning knack for launching cannons and designing unique drive mechanisms. The race has morphed from a speedy two-block sprint down Ferndale’s Main Street in 1969 to an epic, extremely competitive three-day marathon across 40 miles of towns, beaches, trails and rivers, drawing spectators from all over.
The Skunk Train
From its former vocation lugging logs to Mendocino Coast’s sawmills in 1885, the iconic Skunk Train (named for its pungent fumes) in Fort Bragg is now one of the region’s top tourist attractions. The train follows the original coastal “Redwood Route” for some 80 miles, traversing breathtaking redwood forests, bucolic meadows and canyons while negotiating numerous bridges and trestles, as well as two deep tunnels. Within a few miles of Fort Bragg, the train passes by the Pudding Creek estuary, where blue heron, egrets, osprey, ducks and turtles provide gratifying wildlife viewing. Sit back and enjoy the scenery.
For More Information
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