Surprisingly, the largest stand of unlogged redwood trees isn’t on the coast, and it isn’t in the Sierras; it’s here in Humboldt, bisected by U.S. 101. Come to this park to hike beneath 300-foot-plus old-growth trees that began their lives centuries before Europeans knew California existed. Start your visit at the Humboldt Redwoods State Park Visitors Center (707/946-2263, www.parks.ca.gov, 9am-5pm daily Apr.-Oct., 10am-4pm daily Nov.-Mar.), located along the Avenue of the Giants (Hwy. 254), between the towns of Weott and Myers Flat and next to the Burlington Campground. It’s a nice visitors center, with plenty of information for anyone new to the region or looking for hiking or camping information. You can also enjoy the theater, interpretive museum, and gift shop. There is no entrance fee for Humboldt Redwoods State Park. The only fee in the park is for the Williams Grove Day Use Area ($8 per vehicle).
Avenue of the Giants
Come to this park to hike beneath 300-foot-plus old-growth trees that began their lives centuries before Europeans knew California existed.The most famous stretch of redwood trees is the Avenue of the Giants, paralleling U.S. 101 and the Eel River for about 31 miles between Garberville and Scotia (look for signs on U.S. 101). Visitors come from all over the world to drive this stretch of road and gaze in wonder at the sky-high old-growth redwoods along the way. Campgrounds and hiking trails sprout among the trees off the road. Park your car at various points along the way and get out to walk among the giants.
Much of the Avenue of the Giants meanders through Humboldt Redwoods State Park, but it also passes through grassland and quirky little towns, appearing more like a country road than a world-renowned scenic drive. If you’re just looking for the big trees, jump on at Myers Flat and continue on through Pepperwood.
Hiking and Biking
Stop at the Humboldt Redwoods State Park Visitors Center (707/946-2263, www.humboldtredwoods.org, daily 9am-5pm Apr.-Oct., daily 10am-4pm Nov.-Mar.) to pick up a trail map showing the number of hikes accessible on or near the Avenue of the Giants. Many are very short, so you can make a nice day of combined driving and walking.
Many visitors start with the Founder’s Grove Nature Loop Trail (0.6 mile, easy), at mile marker 20.5 on the Avenue of the Giants. This sedate, flat nature trail gives walkers a taste of the big old-growth trees in the park. The onetime tallest tree in the world, the Dyerville Giant, fell in 1991 at the age of about 1,600. But it’s still doing its part in this astounding ecosystem, decomposing on the forest floor and feeding new life in the forest.
Right at the visitors center, you can enjoy the Gould Grove Nature Trail (0.6 mile, easy)—a wheelchair-accessible interpretive nature walk with helpful signs describing the denizens of the forest.
If you’re looking for a longer walk in the woods, try the lovely River Trail (Mattole Rd., 1.1 miles west of Ave. of the Giants, 7 miles round-trip, moderate). It follows the South Fork Eel River, allowing access to yet another ecosystem. Check with the visitors center to be sure that the summer bridges have been installed before trying to hike this trail.
Hard-core hikers can get their exercise at Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Start at the Grasshopper Multiuse Trailhead (Mattole Rd., 5.1 miles west of Ave. of the Giants) to access the Johnson Camp Trail (10.5 miles round-trip, difficult) that takes you to the abandoned cabins of railroad tie makers. Or pick another fork from the same trailhead to climb more than 3,000 feet to Grasshopper Peak (13.5 miles, difficult). From the peak, you can see 100 miles in any direction, overlooking the whole of the park and beyond.
You can bring your street bike to the park and ride the Avenue of the Giants or Mattole Road. A number of the trails around Humboldt Redwoods State Park are designated multiuse, which means that mountain bikers can make the rigorous climbs and then rip their way back down.
Swimming and Kayaking
The Eel River’s forks meander through the Humboldt redwoods, creating lots of great opportunities for cooling off on hot summer days. Check with the park’s visitors center for this year’s best swimming holes, but you can reliably find good spots at Eagle Point, near Hidden Valley Campground; Gould Bar; and Garden Club of America Grove. In addition to the usual precautions for river swimming, a poisonous (if ingested) blue-green algae can bloom late in the summer (Aug.-Sept.), making swimming in certain parts of the river hazardous. Before canoeing or kayaking, check in with the visitors center. They will let you know if there has been sufficient rain to assure a good ride.
Few lodging options are close to the park. Fortunately, the camping at Humboldt Redwoods State Park (800/4447275, www.reserveamerica.com) is good, with three developed car-accessible campgrounds ($35) and primitive backcountry campsites ($5). Each developed campground has its own entrance station. Reservations are strongly recommended, as the park is quite popular with weekend campers.
Burlington Campground (707/946-1811, year-round) is adjacent to the visitors center and is a convenient starting point for the marathons and other races that traverse the park in May and October. It’s dark and comfortable, engulfed in trees, and has ample restroom facilities and hot showers. Albee Creek (Mattole Rd., 5 miles west of Ave. of the Giants, 707/946-2472, May-mid-Oct.) offers some redwood-shaded sites and others in open meadows. Hidden Springs Campground (Ave. of the Giants, 5 miles south of the visitors center, 707/943-3177, Memorial Day-Labor Day) is large and popular. Minimalist campers will enjoy the seclusion of hike-in trail camps at Johnson and Grasshopper Peak.
Equestrians can also make use of the multiuse trails, and the Cuneo Creek Horse Camp (old homestead on Mattole Rd., 8 miles west of Ave. of the Giants, mid-April-mid-Oct., 1 vehicle and 2 horses $35) provides a place for riders who want to spend more than just a day exploring the thousands of acres of forest and meadowland.
Excerpted from the Seventh Edition of Moon Northern California.