3,000-year-old trees, miles of trails, and more.
Your neck might hurt after a visit to Humboldt Redwoods State Park. That’s a symptom after hours of looking up, squinting, and straining from the bases of mighty redwoods to try and spy the tops. Some of these trees are believed to be the tallest and oldest living creatures in North America—many exceeding 300 feet and 3,000 years of age. Open year-round, the park is located about four hours north of San Francisco along U.S. Highway 101.
What to See
The most famous stretch of redwood trees in the region is the Avenue of the Giants, which parallels Highway 101 and the Eel River for about 32 miles between Garberville and Scotia. Most of this stretch is inside the park. Trailheads for many of the park’s best hikes begin right off this road (see below), and it’s also where you’ll find the Humboldt Redwoods State Park Visitors Center, between Weott and Myers Flat. Home to an interpretative museum as well as a gift shop, the visitors center is a good starting point for your adventures.
Due west of the Avenue is the 10,000-acre Rockefeller Forest, which is the largest remaining contiguous old-growth coastal redwood forest in the world. This grove was protected from deforestation by the Save the Redwoods League and is home to some of the tallest trees in the world. Experts estimate most of the trees are around 3,000 years old. Many of the older trees are accessible via a flat and handicapped-accessible 0.6-mile loop trail.
Near Myers Flat, toward the south part of the park, don’t miss the Shrine Drive-Thru Tree, a 175-foot-tall redwood with a base so large that cars can drive through a hole in the center. Passage costs $6 per vehicle and the hole is wide enough for most mid-size vehicles and mini SUVs. Other attractions nearby include a village of redwood trunk homes and a felled tree trunk onto which you can drive.
Get your bearings in the park with the easy 0.6-mile Founder’s Grove Nature Loop, which begins at mile marker 20.5 on the Avenue of the Giants. The relatively flat trail meanders around old-growth trees to the Dyerville Giant, which once was as tall as the Statue of Liberty. The tree fell in 1991 at about 1,600 years old and the impact was recorded on local seismographs. Today visitors can walk the entire length of the tree.
For a more challenging tromp, hit the 7-mile River Trail, a moderate hike that follows the South Fork of the Eel River up from Mattole Road, about a mile west of the Avenue. This trail passes through some dense groves of old-growth redwoods. It also comprises some water crossings, so check with the visitors center to make sure rangers have installed the footbridges before you head out.
One of the most difficult hikes in the park is the nearly 14-mile round-trip to Grasshopper Peak, which offers spectacular panoramic views of the entire region. To get there, use the Grasshopper Multiuse Trailhead off Mattole Road, and climb more than 3,000 feet to the top. Another option from this trailhead is the 10.5-mile Johnson Camp Trail, which climbs past the abandoned cabins of railroad tie makers who lived and worked in the woods about a century ago.
Where to Camp
Camping at Humboldt Redwoods State Park is plentiful, with three developed, car-accessible campgrounds ($35) that comprise 250 sites overall. Reservations are strongly recommended, as sites sell out regularly on summer weekends.
Perhaps the most popular of the options is Burlington, which is adjacent to the visitors center. The campground is surrounded by old-growth trees, and its restrooms boast the Holy Grail of camping amenities: hot showers. It’s the only park campground open in winter. Other options include the campground at Hidden Springs, which is the park’s largest campground and is open Memorial Day through Labor Day; and the one at Albee Creek off Mattole Road. This third campground is the smallest of the trio but has sites in a meadow. It is open from May through October.
Best Times of the Year to Visit
Northern California sees its best weather in summer, which makes that season a great time to plan a trip to Humboldt Redwoods State Park. One potential challenge of visiting during this time of year, however, is crowds. As an alternative, consider going in the spring, when rain moves in and the park is mostly deserted. It’s worth noting that the park hosts marathons in early May and early October; unless you’re running it’s probably best to avoid the region during those events.
This article was originally published in June 2019. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to confirm information.