California’s Redwood Ramble

California’s Redwood Highway Winds Through a Land of Giants.

Beneath a towering canopy, visitors to California’s redwood country connect with nature at every neck-craning turn, from the lush tree-studded landscape to the rich local bounty.

Where giants rule the earth, the second most striking thing is the calm. The most remarkable thing is, of course, the incomparable glory of the world’s tallest trees, some more than 300 feet high and more than 2,000 years old.

But the ancient hush of the forest lures you in its own way. It envelops you, beckons you to hike into its wonders or to stroll along its loamy floor: to inhale its essence, gazing upward in awe.

Main street Ferndale

A trip to California’s Redwood Coast is to bathe in nature. “It revitalizes your soul,” says Sandy Ingraham, traveling in a motorhome. “We’ve come out here once a year for the past 20 years.”

Sandy’s travel partner, Nina Rowland, agrees. “A friend once told me that coming to the redwood country would make me feel totally insignificant. I think it’s the opposite. We were standing in the redwood forest and I felt totally significant. Totally alive. Totally inspired.”

In far northwestern California, nature’s bounty extends beyond the world’s tallest trees; it permeates the lifestyle.

Hiking, fishing, birding and surfing are popular pastimes, and local foods draw heavily on the land: produce, from berries to hazelnuts to mushrooms. Seafood, especially oysters and salmon. Artisan breads and cheeses made from the milk of the region’s cows. Wine from local grapes.

Where it Begins

The gateway to the redwoods is the town of Leggett, where Highway 1 and 101 merge. The appropriate starting point is the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree.

Never mind that the portion of this 315-foot tree that you can actually drive through is merely 6 foot by 6 foot by 9: “We see motorhomes by the dozen,” says the man at the gate accepting the admission fee. How many of those dozens he sees making it through is another matter. But it’s the thought that counts. There’s RV parking near the famed tree, with a gift shop and pleasant picnic area.

As you head north from Leggett, the first several miles of Highway 101 are two-lane, somewhat steep and fairly curvy. Don’t worry; the bulk of the journey north to Arcata is easier going.

This section of 101 is home to many of the redwoods’ old-fashioned roadside attractions. Opened in 1949, Confusion Hill hosts the “World Famous Gravity House” (an optical illusion, open year- round) and a half hour train ride through old-growth and second-growth forests (open Memorial Day through Labor Day).

You’ll also see roadside shops selling chain saw art: wooden sculptures, often of a grizzly bear on its haunches, made from a log with a chain saw. If this piques your interest but it looks like a tight fit for your rig, rest assured there are several other stands with easier RV access further north on the Avenue of the Giants.

Another landmark is French’s Camp, nine miles south of Garberville, which has hosted the Reggae On the River music festival every summer for the past 20 years. For more information, see


Tired of roughing it already? Benbow Valley RV Resort and Golf Course, an exit south of downtown Garberville, offers a nine-hole golf course, pool, laundry, wireless Internet access and one of the region’s finest restaurants just a short walk away.

Cathleen Rafferty and her husband, Phil, who live nearby; decided to stop here on their way home from a trip to Monterey, Calif. with their travel trailer.

“We’ve driven by here a number of times, and this time we said, ‘Let’s stop on our way home,’ ” said Rafferty.

There’s also the Taste of Humboldt gift shop, full of local comestibles, and Riverbend Cellars wine-tasting room. There’s ample RV parking.

You can camp in the park right under the redwood canopy, if your rig is shorter than 33 feet. Burlington Campground is open year-round, with 57 sites, hot showers, fire rings, hiking trails; it’s a short walk from swimming and fishing in the South Fork of the Eel River.

Two other campgrounds in the forest are open during the summer season. For reservations, call Reserve America at (800) 444- 7275 or see their website, www.

Next door to the Burlington Campground, the visitors’ center has a wide array of exhibits, including a short film, and a great book-filled gift shop. Guided walks are available by appointment.

Redwood RVThe center maintains a running list of wildlife sightings in the forest. A sampling from the first three months of this year included black bear, gray fox, red-tailed hawk, red-shouldered hawk, golden eagle, and bald eagle.

Outside the visitors’ center lies a cross-section of a tree that was almost 900 years old when it died. Its rings are marked with small flags with dates in history. When this tree was a seedling, we learn, the Magna Carta was signed. The tree’s diameter is 9 feet.

“Up the road, there’s an even bigger one,” visitor Charlie Brown of Michigan points out. “It’s 12 feet across.”

And so there is, four miles north. The namesake tree in Founders’ Grove launched the Save the Redwood League in 1918. The preservation group raises funds to buy redwood lands, and then deeds the land to federal and state government to become parks and nature preserves.

You can also view a felled giant. In 1991, the 362-foot Dyerville Giant fell to the ground; its root base is an amazing 35 feet. Founders’ Grove’s parking lot has a large vehicle turnaround.


Humboldt County natives are a dichotomous bunch — loggers, hippies and Native Americans — each group with its own powerful relationship to the land.

The area is sparsely populated, especially by California standards: 126,000 in the whole county. Humboldt’s largest town, Eureka, has fewer than 30,000 residents.

Depending on your interests, the smaller towns south of Eureka might be worth a stop. Scotia is among the few remaining company-owned logging towns, with historic wood buildings and a small museum. RV parking is easiest at Hoby’s Market and Deli, just a few steps from Scotia’s sights.

Antique shops line the main street of Ferndale, five miles west of 101, many in Victorian houses restored in icing-sweet pastel hues.

The town offers RV parking two blocks from downtown; just follow the signs. For a sit-down meal, Curley’s Grill serves a wide range of dishes in a dining room with Victorian touches; the friendly servers are happy to offer tourist advice.

In Loleta, the Loleta Cheese Factory offers daily demonstrations and tastings of their 24 varieties of Cheddar and Monterey Jack.

Eureka is mostly a place to fuel up and stock the larder, but there are a few attractions. Its restored Victorian homes include the Carter Mansion on Humboldt Bay.

Old Town Eureka, the newly gentrified waterfront along the bay, boasts antique stores, restaurants and little shops. Its narrow streets aren’t suitable for big rigs, though. Three major Indian tribes call Humboldt County home: the Wiyot, Yurok and Hoopa. To learn more about them, visit the Clark Historical Museum on the corner of Third and E Streets. The Northern California Indian Development Council gift shop on F Street sells Native-made gifts, such as pottery, baskets, jewelry and art.

Downtown but right on 101 North/Fifth Street (at G Street), the Philly Cheese Steak Shoppe is worth a stop for homesick Philadelphians. The restaurant ships its key ingredients from Philly, including Amoroso rolls, and it also sells the delectable Tastykake snack cakes. There’s even a replica Liberty Bell.

A few blocks north on 101/ Fifth Street, the North Coast Co-op sells organic groceries, many locally made products and produce. In March, they sell locally harvested oysters by the dozen. Eureka also has a Safeway and Costco off 101.

Woodley Island Marina is a nice detour with docks full of boats. HumBoats rents canoes, kayaks and sailboats, plus guides. Its restaurant, Café Marina, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers the catch of the day (often for sale on the docks as well).

Just north of Eureka lies Arcata, home of Humboldt State University and Wildberries, the area’s best gourmet grocery, with a full range of take-out and a branch of Ramone’s bakery and coffee shop inside.

From April to November, Arcata’s town square hosts a farmers market at 9 a.m. on Saturdays; parking may be a challenge.

For a sense of the activism the area is known for, visit the North Coast Environmental Center. For more than 30 years, this coalition has been at the center of the region’s environmental protection issues, including the redwoods, the rivers and endangered species.

An international draw for birders is the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. A former landfill that locals cleaned up, it’s now home to fish, native vegetation and more than 150 species of birds and is on the Pacific Flyway.

On Water

The swath of land we’ve traveled is part of California’s Redwood Coast, but in truth not much oceanfront is RV-accessible.

The old roads leading to the Lost Coast towns of Shelter Cove and Petrolia are full of such hairpin turns that no one we spoke to would recommend them for your rig. If you’re towing a car, the drive from 101 at Garberville to Shelter Cove is 25 miles, and takes at least an hour. Your reward is charter fishing and good fish and chips at the campground store.

But feel free to concentrate on the inland portion. If you’re driving up the coast, you’ve already enjoyed spectacular ocean views in Mendocino County and can anticipate lovely beaches in Trinidad, just north of Arcata, where puffins are known to romp on the rocks.

The Eureka area does have a few waterfront diversions on the south spit that divides Humboldt Bay from the ocean.

Opened in the 1890s, the Samoa Cookhouse is worth a stop for the history as much as the food. The West’s last surviving cookhouse, all meals are served family-style; there’s a history museum, too. The cookhouse offers ample RV parking.

Traveling down the spit, Samoa Dunes Recreation Area is home to both an endangered plant area (40 acres) and off-highway vehicle terrain (215 acres).

“Fourth of July, Memorial Day. This place is packed,” says Bill Gibert of Redding, who’s staying at the adjacent campground in his travel trailer with his wife, Sally.

He gestures around a near-empty lot. “It gets crazy down here: all the motorcycles and quads. Sometimes they let people park down the middle, and an extra row, with no water hookup.”

Sandy Ingraham, recommends the dunes at Manila just a few miles north. “I’ve never seen so much sand with no one on it,” she marvels. “You should plan for a day there.

“Stop at the community center, and just walk west, and don’t give up,” she advises. “And remember where you put in, so you can find your way back.”


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