For this blog entry I'm joining two different campground stops from which we visited a few of the most accessible and recommended redwood forests of northwestern California.
Our first destination was Fortuna California for access to Humboldt Redwoods State Park, which is about 90 miles north of Mendocino on Route 101. After that we moved up just 15 miles from Oregon to the town of Crescent City to visit Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. In between we drove through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
5/10/19 to 5/13/19 Riverwalk, Fortuna, CA (Avenue of the Giants)
Highlights: Humboldt Redwoods SP, Avenue of the Giants, Ferndale, Samoa, Samoa Cookhouse
Campground: Site 27, ~60' paved pull thru; drive-up propane station was a nice feature; back-in sites are right up against Hwy 101, less noise near us; Verizon and AT&T worked well; odd cable TV service - each site has a cable box mounted at the utility box and they give you a remote - may need to point remote to window to change channels! Typical resort style parallel pull through sites with a little piece of grass. Better than some in that it still felt like a small park. There was a much needed self-service wand style car/truck wash at a gas station just a ¼ mile from the campground.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park & Avenue of the Giants:
Reading our guide books we wanted to see both of these areas. The Avenue of the Giants is a 31-mile section of scenic road that parallels and criss crosses Route 101 and the Eel River from Phillipsville to Scotia as it travels mostly in and sometimes out of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Humboldt is home to the largest stand of unlogged redwood trees in the world. Jedediah Smith State Park is home to the second largest.
We camped in Fortuna only 10 miles north of Scotia so entered the Avenue its northern end where our guidebooks say the most impressive redwoods exist. The Avenue from Scotia to Redcrest (at the next intersection of Rt 101) was scenic.
On the east side of the road just before reaching the Rt 101 intersection and before crossing the Eel River there is an elevated picnic area with views of the Central Fork Eel River. From there we could see a couple cars below us on the large banks of the river. Going back just a few yards back north we found an unmarked side road that lead to the river. Driving on the gravel shore of the river was easy and made for an ideal picnic spot or place for a few hours of relaxing.
Ruby by the river.
Our first stop was to Founders Grove on Dyerville Loop Road which is south on the Avenue from the Pepperwood exit on Rt 101. The grove has a good parking area with the typical state park restroom facility. A short few steps down the trail is the Founders Tree at 346 feet tall and a diameter of 12.7 feet. It is 190 feet to the first limb. The loop continues to the Dyerville Giant – a 375 foot monster that has fell to the forest floor in 1991 at the age of 1600 years! This sounds like a let down, but the fallen trees can be more spectacular in that you can really appreciate the height (or in this case length). The tallest tree in existence is 379 feet so this one was pretty special.
Founders Grove with a blanket of ferns and redwood sorrel
Taking vertical format photos is the only way to show the whole tree, but they fail to show the scope due to the diminishing size of the perspective.
Redwoods have shallow roots, but are pretty impressive uprooted. We saw many examples like this.
This is NOT the Dyerville Giant though it looks similar.
Can't stop looking up. Neck starting to hurt.
Every tree is a wow.
Can't get enough of the Redwood Sorrel.
This splintered tree and the one in the background are the two trees involved in a chain reaction that knocked down the Dyerville Giant.
THIS is the Dyerville Giant. The end is a long way away.
The other end of the Dyerville Giant.
Back out on the Avenue, a quick right north back over the Eel River and an immediate left brought us to Mattole Road. This was a narrow winding road with poorly marked turn off. Out destination was “Giant Tree” and access to a trail that ran south of the river through the largest stand of old growth redwood trees in the world. After a couple false stops we found the parking area but then found out that to get to it we needed to cross the river on bridges that are installed for “summer only”.
We did however do a very short loop from this very same parking lot to “Tall Tree”. I guess the park creators weren't very creative. This one did not look that impressive even though the sign stated it is 359.3 feet tall with a circumference of 42 feet and a diameter of 13.4 feet. It just looked like another big tree. Footnote: we saw many trees after these “giants” that looked much bigger due to their large widths. When you can't see the tops of the trees it is harder to be impressed by height. And, as stated before, many of the fallen trees were more impressive than the taller standing ones.
While trying to figure out how to get across the river to see the Giant Tree (not the Tall Tree), we tried to help a young couple who had lost their car keys in the river. Sadly, they took off walking to a nearby campground for help before we could do anything for them.
While all of this was nice, the best was yet to come. We drove back east on Mattole Road to just 1.4 miles from rejoining the Avenue to an unmarked one-car-width road down a short steep decline to Rockefeller Forest. Even after Jedediah, this was my single favorite hike. A .65 mile loop trail - it was just breathtaking with massive redwoods and a fern covered forest floor. Rockefeller holds 10 of the world's 16 tallest trees. The loop connects with the trails back to the Giant Tree so we took this spur for a while just in awe at every few steps.
Redwood Sorrel is a clover-like plant that completely blankets sections of the redwood forests, and here there was an incredible display. I love ferns and often look for ways to capture their beauty in photos. The sorrel gives the forest an almost fairyland look similar to the prehistoric look implied by the ferns.
Redwood Sorrel in Rockefeller Sorrel. This was one of the prettiest spots we saw. A wedding photographer stepped into my shot shortly after this.
Side Trips: Ferndale, Samoa Beach, Samoa Cookhouse!
Locally we found these great little brochures for Humboldt County called Humboldt Adventure Guides. There are separate ones for driving tours, the redwoods, beaches, hikes, and several others.
While staying in Fortuna we took a diversion to see the coast and the recommended town of Ferndale. Ferndale is a 10 minute drive off route101northwest of Fortuna. It was establish by Scandinavians in the 1800's and features a quaint main street/shopping/dining district and victorian architecture. It was worth a drive through though it seemed many shops were closed.
[photos of Ferndale TBD]
From there we drove up to Samoa Beach which is a several mile long barrier strip of sand west of the town of Eureka. Eureka was a working class port city with a congested center of chain restaurants and urban shops. We were staring for lunch, but passed everything by in expectations of finding some cute crab shack on the beach.
After going over the bridge from Samoa to Samoa Beach, we were surprised to see the landscape change drastically. Driving south along the almost singular road, there was nothing on our right but beaches (usually a good thing except when your hungry), and nothing at all on our left except two large lumber plants. After stopping at one beach for a walk our hunger got to us and we returned driving south looking for food. Sandy called up Yelp and found the Samoan Cookhouse located on a side road back near where we started.
At the Cookhouse, we entered a huge wooden building of a bygone era. Built in 1893, this is the last surviving cookhouse in the west. Meals are served “lumber camp style”, on large tables. There are no options or menu for meals. On our visit lunch was chicken parmesan with a salad, soup, potatoes, great baked beans, veggies, and peach cake. Our waitress was fantastic! A cute older lady that made us feel like we were eating in her kitchen. It was cheap, filling, good enough, and fun.
At one end of the building there is a museum dedicated to the lumber industry which was huge back in the day. As stated above, there were two large mills still in operation nearby. Sandy and I spent over half an hour looking at the old photos, monstrous chain and hand saws, cooking and other tools. It was pretty neat.
[photos of somoan restaurant TBD]
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park: A fellow camper a recommended that while traveling north on Route 101 we bypass a steep section and “take the low road” (the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway). We were very happy with the recommendation as the Drury Parkway was gorgeous and easy on the trailer. It even provided several trailer friendly pull offs. It is located half way between Orick and Klamath and showcases old growth redwoods lining the road. This is how I imagined the roads through the redwood forests would look.
Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway
Coming from the south, you enter a very large pasture-like area where we pulled over on a wide shoulder to watch the elk. A left turn at the northern end of the prairie brings you to the Elk Prairie Campground and a visitor center. We didn't stop there concerned about fitting a trailer into the lot. Therefore we didn't find out about the great hiking opportunities there until a few days later when we got a hiking guide..
We stopped at a pull-out deep within the park and after taking a couple photos of a pretty but unidentifiable quail-like bird, I walked to a trail sign. It was the trail to the “Corkscrew Tree”, a collection of twisted tree trunks that spiral around each other. Sounded like a good excuse for a hike, but this was one of those cases of thinking we'd have time to come back but it didn't work out. Too many other good options closer to us.
What is it?
The trail book I bought “Bets Short Hikes in Redwood National and State Parks” by Jerry and Gisela Rohde identifies 14 different trails for Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (it also covers Humboldt, Jedediah, and other state parks). I would strongly recommend that if you like to hike to try to set aside time for this area.
There is also a more remote but even more intriguing destination within the park. Fern Canyon and the scenery to itsounds bloody awesome! Unfortunately access is a long drive down a rough road. The good news is that much of it runs along the coast with access to a couple parking areas and Gold Bluffs Beach. There is a day use area at the beginning of the trail. Descriptions I've red on-line say that the canyon is very narrow but is pretty with ferns lining the steep walls. Fern Canyon is definitely on my “next time” bucket list.
Notes for RV'ers traveling this coast: While driving we are always looking for places to pull over for a lunch, leg stretch or just take in the view. Too often I don't notice that we can navigate a pull over until we are past it. On the other hand, more often than not, most viewpoints and day use parks would be a horror show to turn around if we took the turn so we err on the side of caution.
On this section of the cost there is a very long and very-very wide beach view gravel pull off just north of Humboldt Lagoons State Park. On a map it is on a spit at Freshwater Lagoon. It is on the west (beach side) of the highway, but there is good visibility for distance especially if you stop early. There is a curve approaching from the north.
Just north of this may be a better spot. Looking at Google Earth the Kuchel Visitor Center on the west side of Route 101 looks like it has a looping road and a large parking area.
Davison Road is the access to Gold Bluffs Beach and Fern Canyon. It is considered very rough and we did not take it though I am dying to see this area.
Onto Crescent City.
5/16/19 to 5/19/19Crescent City KOA, Crescent City CA
Highlights: Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Campground: Site C-5 pull-thru; Full hook up; CATV; $4 per wash laundry! Cute campground with a wonderful cottage area in a grove of redwoods.
I did not like the young woman who seemed to be running the front desk. Upon entering the park the road splits to go either side of the office. I slowed down to see which way to go, and noticed the sign to go left. As I started to turn my wheel, a car passed me on the right and drove in front of me to pull up quickly at the office – startling me to hit my brakes. Sandy guessed right. It was 1:58 PM and she was rushing in to take over at the front desk. I said “Someone is in a hurry,” as I approached the desk, but I got no response from her while the other person smiled. Later I came back to ask if there were trail maps for the state park near by and she was clueless. She didn't seem very bright in addition to being rude. Other than that we did like the park.
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park: This is just a stone's through from the border of Oregon. It contains 10,000 acres of redwood groves, rhododendrons, azaleas, and ferns. It is a short trip up route 199 from route 101 to the Visitor Center on the left (just past the park's campground).
As usual the park guide was friendly and helpful. This young man advised that we go to Stout Grove and continue on Howland Hill Road, which is gravel and rutted in places, but easily navigable, to the Boys Scout Trail. The later trail is 5.6 miles out and back, but he said it is a great hike to go as far as your comfortable. We also wanted to go Simpson Reed and Peterson Memorial trails (two joined short loops). He agreed that these were nice and we met him on those trails later in the day. We tacked on a hike on the Leiffer Loop which was close by. Together these made a nice road trip loop continuing east on 101 to Howland Hill and back around 199 to the last three. It would have been shorter to go backwards to Simpson Grove, but I wanted to do the most famous hike first. Anyway, men don't drive backwards!
Stout Grove is home to the second largest grove of old growth redwoods in the world (after Humboldt). The trail is a short flat loop that hugs the Smith River on Howland Hill Road with two side spurs that add up to 1.7 miles. Parts of this trail follow the original route to the Oregon gold mines.
Among the redwoods are thousands of sword ferns, bigleaf maple, California hazel, thimbleberries, and five-finger ferns. The park ranger stated that because the Smith River floods about every 5 years, it keeps the underbrush at bay, leaving scores of ferns and more open views of the redwoods than is typical in other groves or forests. That is probably why they filmed scenes of Return of the Jedi from the Star Wars saga here. Coincidentally just days after we visited, said movie was on our local TV and we got a kick out of seeing the familiar scenery in the chase scenes revolving around land of the Ewoks.
Can you imagine Ewoks here?
Stout Grove is truly a beautiful walk and joins the Rockefeller Forest as one of my two favorites. On the east end of the loop, we continued on a spur that follows the river to a small bridge crossing picturesque Cedar Creek. After a nice photo op with the rhododendrons, ferns, and mosses we came back and continued on the loop counterclockwise to a couple humongous down redwoods.
Expecting a dinosaur.
A young family were climbing around one which gives a better scope to the size of these giants.
The Stout Tree is named after a Chicago business man and benefactor who purchased the grove Frank Deming Stout. A possibly familiar photo shows president Herbert Hoover with several others holding hands and trying to encircle the tree.
The Stout Tree. I guess named trees need a viewing platform. Good grief.
The entire rest of Howland Hill Road was pretty. Sometimes rutty, and sometimes narrow, we just creeped along at about 20 MPH enjoying the views with occasional pull overs. The Mill Creek trail parallels the road and intersects in a couple places near the middle. We stopped and walked back along the road to where it crosses the creek for a view and then walked just a few yards down the trail to see what it was like.
Howland Hill Road. It's all beautiful.
Shortly after, and while keeping our eyes open for signs of the Boy Scout Trail, we passed a dozen or so cars (too many) parked on both sides of this narrow road. A large group of little kids seemed to be eating ice cream cones with parents supervising. It was obviously some kind of outing.
We inched past while navigating a couple other cars coming the other way. It didn't take too long before we realized the part must have been at the Boy Scout trailhead we were looking for. And while I was deeply upset that we missed it, I also didn't think it practical to turn around (difficult in our truck), or to find a place park near the trailhead, and then have to deal with all the people. Instead we tried to enjoy the rest of the drive and headed back to Rt 199.
However, we also had difficulty finding Simpson Reed Grove trail because the trailhead had been moved since the publication of our trail guide. It said to park on Rt 199. Actually the trailhead is just a few yards north on Walker Road.
Simpson Reed Grove and Peterson Memorial Trails form a 0.8 mile figure 8 loop. This short hike was enjoyable and relieved my earlier frustrations. I was back in the grove and groove (ouch). Plants here include coast red elderberry, salmonberry and huckleberry.
A close up of sorrel.
Can't see, but the afternoon sun was beaming through these trees. Really beautiful.
To prove my point, this is not a named tree. We saw tens of trees this large.
From the same parking lot, the park map shows access to the Leiffer Loop by walking down the road, but our guide book (already proven wrong) showed a parking area further down. I wanted to hike this “northernmost trail in the Redwoods National and State Park system”. As time was getting short, we drove down Walker Road and found the muddy parking area. It was being used as a construction staging area with piles of stone for trail rebuilding. As it was after 5PM and work was done for the day, I parked to one side and we walked about a half mile out and then back. The “loop” ended up being a straight trail as one part forming the loop was overgrown. This was a nice walk, but really not as pretty as any of the others. I would recommend skipping this, to the others mentioned, and find the Boy Scout Trail!
A banana slug on a creek bridge.
They all seem to have that hole on the right side.
An unidentified forest friend.
Moss adding to the primeval atmosphere.
That's all! Moving to Oregon on next stop.... Happy trails.