Northern California Coast – October, 2015 I have always had a fascination with trees. The few years of my childhood when I wanted to grow up to be an artist I usually drew 2 things, houses and trees. I would construct the trees limb by limb and leaf by leaf, if I bothered to include leaves at all. I was mostly captivated by their structure. Jim is equally intrigued by them. As a woodworker, he sees not only the tree’s beauty but imagines the beauty of the items he’d like to carve or build from them.
The redwood forests have always loomed large in our imagination and we had conspired to visit them earlier but could never manage it before. We were excited to cross in to California, a state neither of us had visited extensively. Our first stop was the town of Smith River and the Salmon Harbor RV Resort ($23 avg PN w Passport Am, full hookups). It was located at the mouth of the Smith River and had a great half mile rocky beach to walk. Across the river was a spit of land dividing the river from the ocean. I was taking pics of the scene when Jim commented he thought the rocks on the other side were moving.
Closer inspection of my shots showed they did indeed have faces and were actually harbor seals resting.
We were excited to see our first really big trees, so despite the fact that it was raining cats and dogs we headed out to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The drive alone was spectacular and we stopped the first chance we could at Walker Road. We were floored by the beauty of the forest and the size of the trees. After a short walk we were also very, very wet. So we headed home for the day excited and ready for more.
We went back bright and early the next morning to drive the Howland Hill Road and visit Stout Grove. The road is basically one lane but it does have a lot of pullouts so it wasn’t too bad. The grove was magical.
Parking was fairly limited so despite being there pretty early on a Sunday we got the last parking space. I’m very glad we didn’t try to come later as traffic was really picking up as we left and the trip out was a bit harder. This road can usually be driven round trip and end up in Crescent City. But currently the section near town is closed. Maybe traffic is better when it is open. It would be better if it was one way but I don’t believe that is the case. We went back to Walker Road and drove to the end (there is nothing there, don’t do it!) then went back to one of the many groves along its length and hiked some more. We were continually oohing and aahing and can you believe the size of that thinging!
We moved to Orick the next day and after getting settled we drove the scenic parkway through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. It drizzled most of the day but we didn’t let that stop us. When it rained too hard we could generally find shelter under the forest canopy. We visited The Big Tree which was rather underwhelming. But the groves surrounding it were amazing and we hiked several miles this way and that marveling at nature’s works of art, like this tree that grew around a now rotted away fallen tree.
There was not one particular grove or trail that stood out to us. The best grove was the one we were lucky enough to be in at the moment. Often the most interesting trees were the fallen ones or the ones that made you wonder “how is that thing still standing?” Jim found it necessary to climb inside every tree that had a hole in its trunk big enough to get in. He said it was like caving. Some of these caverns were massive.
We chose to stay at the Elk Country RV Resort ($30 PN electric) south of Orick because I read you were almost guaranteed to see the area’s resident elk herd there. We were not disappointed. When we returned to camp at the end of the day we found 30 of them feeding near our sight. I was glad however that we had chosen to only pay for one night. The next morning we were ready to move on. The only problem with having a resident elk heard in camp is that no one is picking up after them and you REALLY had to watch your step.
We enjoyed a stop in Eureka on the way to our next camp. There is a huge dirt lot across from their visitor center so parking (at least during the week) was not a problem. The town is known for its Victorian architecture so we walked up 2nd street to the Carson Mansion which is remarkable.
We saw plenty of other beautiful homes along the route. We then walked back beside the bay.
We camped next at Richardson Grove RV Park outside Garberville. Across the street are several fun touristy gift shops, each with its own roadside attractions to get people to stop. We paid a dollar to see inside the “Famous One Log House” which had wheels at one time and toured the country.
One reason I wanted to stay in this area was to take a day trip to the Black Sand Beach at Shelter Cove. I’d read an article about the Lost Coast Trail that you can access from there. It runs for 20 miles north. I wanted to walk just a little of it and see the black beach.
The 20 miles of twisting road to Shelter Cove took us about an hour to navigate. The parking lot was a long way up hill from the beach but we carried our chairs and beach bag out there and thoroughly enjoyed the sun, the views, and the walk.
We drove the Avenue of Giants one morning and walked the Founder’s Grove. We were less impressed with this area than the others we’d seen. Perhaps it was just as remarkable as the previous forests but after a week of walking among these monstrous trees we were just harder to amaze.