There is a fairy-tale feeling to being in the quiet of a redwood forest surrounded by massive trees towering hundreds of feet above you. There is also a sense of timelessness.
Coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), one of three species of California redwoods, are the tallest trees in the world. They can grow more than 360 feet tall with diameters of up to 28 feet. They have an average lifespan of 500 to 700 years, and some live to be more than 2,000 years.
Coast redwoods occupy a narrow strip of land on the West Coast of the United States from the south of San Francisco to southern Oregon, with the largest concentration located in California’s Humboldt County. It is here that you’ll find the Avenue of the Giants, a world-famous scenic drive curving through an outstanding display of redwood trees.
How To Get To The Avenue Of The Giants
The Avenue of the Giants (California State Route 254) is a 31-mile highway that parallels U.S. Route 101. The road, originally built as a stagecoach and wagon route in the 1880s, is considered a scenic alternative to U.S. Route 101. It is surrounded by Humboldt Redwoods State Park, which has the largest remaining stand of virgin redwoods in the world. There is no fee to enter Humboldt Redwoods State Park. It is free, therefore, to drive the Avenue.
The southern end of the Avenue is located north of Garberville, California, at Exit 645. The northern end is located south of Scotia, California, at Exit 674. The exits from the freeway are well marked. Whether you drive the Avenue from south to north or from north to south, you’ll be rewarded with awe-inspiring forest views.
What To Know Before You Go
Your drive along Avenue of the Giants can take anywhere from an hour to a full day. There is a speed limit of 45 miles per hour on the two-lane paved highway, but there are plenty of spots where you’ll want to take your time to fully appreciate your surroundings. When you do that, pull in to the turnouts along the way to allow traffic to pass. There are also several places along the way where you may wish to stop to hike, take in an attraction, or just savor the view. I recommend allowing at least 2 hours for the drive and stops.
While the drive through the trees is impressive, be aware that there are several spots where the trees meet the edge of the road. I spotted a couple of trees that looked like they had been damaged by passing vehicles. Slow down. Enjoy the beauty of the forest, but don’t let it keep you from watching the road.
The weather in this part of California, although generally moderate, varies with the seasons. There can be a great deal of rain in the winter months. Dress appropriately for the time of year. The weather can change quickly. Layers are recommended.
What To Do On The Avenue Of The Giants
Take The Auto Tour
Eight Auto Tour signs along the Avenue of the Giants designate interpretive panels and interesting places to stop. The stops include short trails where you can experience the magic of the redwood forest and spots of historic significance. Auto Tour brochures are available at both ends of the Avenue. Each stop is generally about 200 feet beyond its Auto Tour sign.
Stop By The Visitor Center
You need not stop at all of the Auto Tour stops, but I highly recommend that you visit Stop 3, the Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association Visitor Center. The exhibits will deepen your appreciation for the magnificent landscape you are driving through.
Displays inside and outside the center contain information about redwood trees, plant and animal life in the area, local history, and the Save the Redwoods League. You’ll see the famous Kellogg Travel Log, the world’s first RV. It was carved out of a fallen log and driven cross-country four times by the naturalist Charles Kellogg, a promoter of redwood conservation. A garden area outside the center contains many native plants and all three species of California redwoods.
Brochures and staff members at the center can provide information on hiking, camping, and other facilities within the park.
Check Out A Chimney Tree
The Living Chimney Tree, located near the southern end of the Avenue, is a 78-foot-tall redwood tree that was hollowed out by a 1914 fire. You can enter a doorway at the base of the tree and look straight up to the sky. Admission is free.
Another chimney tree, the Shrine Drive Thru Tree, is located midway along the Avenue just south of the visitor center. It has been widened to allow vehicles to drive through it, though you must pay a fee in order to do so.
Explore The Woods
You can experience the wonder of the redwoods without leaving your vehicle, but walking into the woods gives you a different perspective. The tall trees and insulating ground cover create a quiet, cool, calming space that feels mystical and otherworldly. It is easy to understand why redwood forests have been considered sacred spaces when you stand amidst the trees under the forest canopy, breathe in the scent of the woods, and feel a soothing serenity envelop you.
Take one of the trails to get to the trees. You don’t need to walk the entire trail or go very far into the woods to feel the effect. Those who wish to hike through the forest can certainly do so, however; the trails vary in length and difficulty.
The branches of the trees along the easy half-mile Founders Grove Loop Trail don’t begin until about 200 feet up the trunks. Pick up a brochure at the trailhead to take a self-guided nature hike. On this trail, you’ll find the Dyerville Giant, the largest fallen redwood log in the world. It fell in 1991.
The 2.4-mile Drury-Chaney Loop Trail, also rated as easy, is noted for its dense growth and carpet of redwood sorrel.
The easy, flat .62-mile Gould Grove Nature Loop Trail across the highway from the visitor center has a number of interpretive signs explaining how redwoods resist fire, insects, and floods. The trees here are not as large as others in the park, however.
All three of these trails are ADA compliant and open year-round.
Ask at the visitor center about other hikes or check the Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association’s website, which lists hikes ranging from easy to strenuous along the Avenue of the Giants or within a few miles of it. Note that pets are not allowed on the trails.
Where To Eat
Several day use areas offer space for picnicking.
There is a lawn area with picnic tables and restrooms next to the visitor center.
Picnic tables at the Dyerville Overlook, located 4.25 miles north of the visitor center, offer views of the Eel River.
The California Federation of Women’s Clubs Grove, located 3 miles north of the visitor center, has picnic tables, barbecue grills, restrooms, river access, and a hiking trail. The Hearthstone is a major attraction in this grove. The four-sided fireplace, designed by architect Julia Morgan (who also designed Hearst Castle), is made of native stone and redwood.
All three of these day use areas are free and open year-round.
A grill beside the Living Chimney Tree serves burgers, pies, and ice cream treats. It also offers gluten-free and vegan options. The Eternal Tree House is both an attraction and a cafe. The 20-foot room was carved from the stump of a redwood and sits below ground level.
Where To Stay
If you wish to spend more than one day exploring the redwoods, there are several options for lodging.
The towns of Scotia and Garberville, north and south of the Avenue of the Giants, have a variety of accommodation options.
Originally built in 1929, Miranda Gardens Resort in Miranda is a classic American cabin camp resort with 16 renovated cottages.
Myers Inn in Myers Flats is a 10-room bed and breakfast inn. Lodging usually books up quickly, however, so early reservations are recommended.
Whether you drive the Avenue of the Giants in a couple of hours, spend a day among the redwoods, or stay for several days to explore the area, the majesty of these towering trees will certainly provide a memorable experience.