Exploring the Redwood Forest

The redwood forest is without a doubt the biggest and most awe-inspiring attraction in Northern California.

Big is the operative word here, because we’re talking about the coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), a species which includes the tallest trees in the world. Redwood forests grow thick and lush in this area, abounding in ferns, wildflowers, and mushrooms. 

Photo courtesy of David H. Webster | Flickr.com
Lady Bird Johnson Grove
Lady Bird Johnson Grove in Redwood National Park

No Northern California vacation is complete without a visit to the redwoods. And you’ll have plenty of opportunity to explore in Redwood National Park and the various Redwood State Parks, a complex of 4 parks managed cooperatively between the federal government and the state of California. Encompassing 133,000 acres and 37 miles of coastline, the parks include redwood forests, oak woodlands, prairies and wild coastline.

There are also redwood groves well worth exploring south of this park system, in Humboldt Redwoods State Park and in Mendocino County. The range of the coast redwoods actually extends down through Santa Cruz and into Big Sur, but the lushest groves are here in the moist environment of the Northern California Coast.

There's a lot to see and do in these parks, but here are a few highlights to get you started:

Tour Thru Tree

Photo courtesy of John Riviello | Flickr.com
Tour Thru Tree, a drive-through redwood tree in Klamath, California

Drive through trees are popular Northern California vacation attractions. This is one of several drive-through redwoods still alive. You’ll find this 725 year old specimen on Highway 169 in Klamath. The tree is privately owned, and there’s an entrance fee.

Fern Canyon

Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Rea | Flickr.com
Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California

You’ve never seen anything quite this lush -- canyon walls coated with ferns and mosses. There’s an easy 2 mile loop trail. Located in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway

Photo courtesy of Jason Bechtel | Flicker.com
Roosevelt elk, Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, Prairie Creek Redwood State Park

This 10 mile drive winds through old growth redwood forest in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. If you have time, park the car and wander along one of the many roadside trails.

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Photo courtesy of Scott Catron | Flickr.com
Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Redwood National Park

This ridgetop grove of old growth redwoods is a popular destination in Redwood National Park. The 1.4 mile loop trail provides an easy ramble through the grove.

Avenue of the Giants

Photo courtesy of Justin Kern | Flickr.com
Avenue of the Giants
Avenue of the Giants Redwood Forest

For a quick look at the majestic redwood forest, take a drive through this 31 mile portion of old Highway 101 that parallels the current 101 between Fortuna and Garberville. The Avenue parallels the Eel River as it passes through Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and various sleepy little towns. If you’ve got the time, get out and explore. There are picnic areas, trails, cafes, gift shops, and various tourist attractions, including the Shrine Drive Through Tree.

Chandelier Tree

Photo © Caitlin Mirra | istockphoto.com
Chandelier Tree, a drive-through redwood tree in Legget, California

This 315 foot coast redwood tree is named for its unusual shape, resembling a chandelier. You can drive through it for a fee. Located in the Drive Thru Tree Park in Legget.