Redwood National Park

Having just traveled on the Redwood Highway (aka US 101) this past weekend, I realized that a post on Redwood National Park was long overdue. I avoided writing about this park immediately after my July road trip because it was such an odd experience for me. Walking through the trees is itself intensely spiritual, but, for me, driving through the park became almost Proustian as my childhood flashed before me and I realized with a shock that I had been there before.

Lost in the monarchs of the mists of time

“A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.”
—William Blake

I had known that on a long-ago trip to California with my family we had driven through a redwood tree, but I couldn’t remember where, and I was sure we hadn’t gone that far north. But, as I saw kitschy roadside attraction after kitschy roadside attraction (the Trees of Mystery, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, the One Log House), it all came flooding back.

It is truly a wondrous place.

Is this the next concept in the Planet of the Apes franchise?
Stout Grove in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

Redwood National Park is actually made up of three state parks with additional land added on, totaling over 130,000 acres, but in no real pattern. So, one weaves in and out of the park as one drives along. It is probably for this reason that the National Park Service does not charge its usual vehicle fee. At the Kuchel Visitor Center near Orick, the ranger told me to avoid Lady Bird Johnson Grove (generally the most crowded spot since every guidebook mentions it) and said I would see just as many old growth trees by taking my planned route on the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and the Howland Hill Road in the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.

The Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway is a brief detour off of Hwy 101 that takes you through Elk Prairie Meadow and right by the aptly named “Big Tree Wayside” stop. Although one sees them elsewhere, this is probably your best chance of spotting elk.

A Roosevelt elk in Prairie Creek State Park
At first I thought there was only one elk in this field and that these were branches!

Elk were not the only wildlife I saw. In an incredible, but ultimately sad, turn of events, a gray whale and her baby had swum up the Klamath River a few weeks before my arrival and had taken up residency under the Klamath Bridge, where hoards of tourists would flock from one side to the other as the whale swam beneath it. The baby was successfully driven out to sea, but the mother eventually beached herself and died weeks later.

Gray whale in the Klamath River

Howland Hill Road, at the northern-most end of the park just south of the Oregon border, is a bit harder to find but is absolutely worth the trouble. If you follow the entire road, past Stout Grove and out to Route 199, you can loop around and rejoin US 101 without doubling back. The drive is an incredible experience with trees immediately on either side looming over the (often) one-lane road.

Howland Hill Road in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Stout Grove, off Howland Hill Road

If you want to get a taste of the redwoods and can’t make it all the way up north, you can drive the Avenue of the Giants, a 30-mile stretch of road that parallels Highway 101 as it winds its way through Humboldt Redwoods State Park. The southern entrance of this route is at Phillipsville and the northern at Pepperwood, just 200 miles or so north of San Francisco. If you want to walk among the trees for a bit, I recommend the Loop Trail in the Founders Grove. Even though Return of the Jedi was actually filmed on private land just north of the National Park, this trail was where I most felt like I was on that movie set.

Can't you just see an Ewok climbing over this at any moment?


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4 thoughts on “Redwood National Park”

  1. You are right about the advice regarding Lady Bird Johnson Grove. Although, it's elevated position makes it ideal many days for the fog and rays desired by some photographers.Great photo of the Elk. It reminds me of a mushroom / fungi of the west coast called Carbon Antlers.Carbon Antlers FungiGoogle Carbon Antlers for other images, and maybe you will agree.Cheers,M. D. Vaden

  2. I'm glad to have discovered your blog! I love to visit the national parks and have been to quite a few, but I have not seen the Redwoods NP as yet. I did get a chance to see redwoods at Muir Woods, but this area is on my list to see one day. I'm a new follower!

  3. Welcome Pat! I have much catching up to do here (hopefully over Thanksgiving), including my recent visits to Yellowstone and Grand Teton. I definitely would put the Redwoods near the top of any NP lists, even if you've seen others (although as a transplanted San Franciscan I think Muir Woods is lovely).

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