More Autumn Ocean Breezes and Many Trees – Avenue of the Giants

Genie Davis October 21, 2010 2 Comments

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I’ve already described about the pleasures of beach going without the summer sun, crowds and hassles in and around Mendocino and Fort Bragg

Now, let’s head farther north, clinging to Highway 1 through the picturesque town of Westport, and now a tiny spot with a lovely soft white sand beach for running, wave chasing, and shell gathering. Further up the coast there’s even smaller Rockport, and it’s just about here that you’ll swing away from the coast to Leggett and highway 101. Along with the sea view, you’ll find green pastures dotted with cattle and horses, little traffic, and an easy drive. This is the part where we rolled down the windows, and to quote Bruce Springsteen ‘let the wind blow back’ our hair. 

But the coastal route ends unless you have a four wheel drive vehicle; and so we moved inland. Leggett marks the beginning of the beautiful redwood forests in this part of the state, and you can spend a day or a week exploring the beautiful trees and the incredibly enjoyable, old-fashioned tourist attractions along the way. 

There are plenty of places to stay in this area, from motels to classically lovely Victorian bed and breakfasts. We stayed at our farthest north point for this part of the trip, in Fortuna, at a modern and spacious Best Western, the Riverwalk. Nice touches: a full, hot breakfast buffet and a very relaxing indoor pool. 

But this trip is all about the drive and not the destination. 

Redwood Tree Avenue of the Giants

Exploring the great trees near Avenue of the Giants

 

Twenty miles north of the Leggett junction with Highway 1 you’ll find the Avenue of the Giants. You can get off Highway 101 and enter the actual redwood tree groves at any time – there are plenty of off ramps every few miles. Some stops are touristy but fun, others simply beautiful as you roam back and forth across the banks of the Eel River. A caveat on the touristy end of things: we loved all the stops, but the treatment of trees as commercial properties rather than a pristine natural research may make you draw in your breath. They are used as houses, drive through attractions, and gift shops. Fortunately, preservation is key in the park lands surrounding Highway 101 as some of these beautiful trees are over two thousand years old. 

Between the tiny communities of Phillipsville and Miranda you’ll find the kitschy Chimney Tree Coffee Shop with a door way carved right into the side of an enormous redwood tree. Enter the shop through the tree itself. The kids felt this was like something out of a fairy tale. 

The Shrine Drive Thru Tree is – just that. Plus gift shop. If you have a large SUV, you won’t want to attempt the drive through. It makes a great picture though. 

You’ll leave the kitsch behind at Humboldt Redwoods State Park near Weott. Here you’ll find luxurious groves of redwood trees. The visitors center nearby offers information about the various groves and the trees themselves. Also near Weott, you’ll find that the Northwestern Pacific Railroad runs picturesquely along the river. Train watching and river bed rock tossing is a nice occupation while sharing a roadside lunch. 

Avenue of the Giants Trees

We were always looking up at the giant trees near Avenue of the Giants

 

Want to see a champion? The Dyerville Giant & the Founders Tree are the Giants for you. The Dyerville Giant was named “Champion” Coast Redwood – until it fell in 1991. This giant redwood is impressive even lying down – it was once over 370 feet tall and has a weight of a million pounds. Our kids loved how it dwarfed them. 

Time for more tourist stops. The Eternal Tree House is another massive redwood tree that’s hollow inside. It has regular doors and even windows carved into the tree. Enter though a small museum with miniature models; pass through to a gift shop with some fun souvenirs inside. 

Next up: Confusion Hill – one of those spots where ‘gravity does not apply.’ Crooked houses and balls that roll backwards, rope swings that swing down instead of up. We love this sort of attraction, and have been to many of them across the west. This may not be the most prime example, with some of the structures seeming a bit run down, but it’s still a lot of fun. 

Avenue of the Giants Redwood Trees

Avenue of the Giants Redwood Trees

 

We also enjoyed the Log House which adjoins another gift store. Surprisingly, the gift stores are filled with unusual craft-oriented wood items, and it doesn’t get tedious wandering through them. It can get costly though – our kids wanted hand made wooden toys and wooden magnets and wooden carvings… this stop also has a small cafe with truly wonderful fruit, chocolate, and coffee smoothies and good enough sandwiches. The log house next door is horizontal, and is kind of like a trailer home carved out of a giant tree. It was like a wooden doll house inside, and the kids really loved exploring this one. 

It’s a great pleasure though to get off the main road and into the forest again for a few quiet meanders in the living woods. We took our time and many photographs under the giant trees, enjoying the quiet, the enormous yet welcoming branches, and the feeling that we were in untouched nature although we were just a few miles from the main tourist thoroughfare. 

Back on 101 again, despite our ecological lectures about the sanctity of big trees, one of the hits of this trip was the Pacific Lumber Company at Scotia. Scotia itself is an old company town with an interesting, old fashioned hotel replete with front porch and rocking chairs and a lace curtained dining room. At the lumber company there’s a logging museum with fascinating historical photos,  artifacts, and logging machinery. But the main event here is the free self-guided tours. Ear plugs and hard hats provided as you walk through the operation – perfectly safe on easy to follow marked pathways. The kids were absorbed by the workings of the mill; outside the mill is a demonstration forest – the Pacific Lumber Company is dedicated to replanting, which made us all feel greener.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

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2 Comments to “More Autumn Ocean Breezes and Many Trees – Avenue of the Giants”
  1. avatar Shelter Cove Bodega Bay California - Hotels, Parks & Pristine Beaches says:

    [...] get away to the coastal towns of Central and Northern California, and traveling inland to the Avenue of the Giants, the mecca of redwood [...]

  2. avatar Ferndale and Mattole Road - Verdant Northern California Road Trip says:

    [...] Mattole Road gives you many picture taking opportunities on an easy, beautiful, deserted half day drive that will circle you south east toward the redwood groves at the Avenue of the Giants. [...]