Up The Road: North Coast Tour: Redwoods First
It’s a cliché to say it’s magical to meander through coast redwoods. That’s probably because the experience is magical, so people keep saying it. The magic is strongest among stands of surviving old-growth redwoods—the last stand, ecologically, of these prehistoric giants.
President Ronald Reagan’s most famous gaffe, while still governor of California, and fighting the expansion of redwood parks, was widely quoted as: “If you’ve seen one redwood, you’ve seen ’em all.” Which of course is ridiculous. Reagan was misquoted. What he actually said was: “A tree is a tree—how many more do you need to look at?”
The ancestors of these trees were well established here—throughout the entire Northern Hemisphere, in fact—when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Once millions strong, after settlement California’s coast redwoods were steadily whittled down by logging and agriculture. Only isolated groves survive—and only here, along a strip of foggy coast stretching from Big Sur into southern Oregon.
The best place for full-on appreciation is Redwood National Park and its three entwined state parks. Some 45 percent of existing old-growth redwoods are protected here, along the far North Coast. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and also an international Man in the Biosphere Reserve, some of this lush terrain is so otherworldly that filmmaker George Lucas convinced the world it was extraterrestrial in his Return of the Jedi.
Each of Redwood National Park’s associated state parks is more appealing than the last. Good luck deciding where to start. Magnificent Roosevelt elk graze placidly, like cattle, in the meadows at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, where you can set out on ambitious hikes and explore Fern Canyon and Gold Bluffs Beach.
Imagine Howland Hill Road in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park before it was graveled, when motorists instead thumped across redwood planks, to marvel at the big trees and banana-sized slugs. Then fish and kayak on the Smith, California’s last undammed river system.
Explore the old-growth trees at deep, dark Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and the tidepools at Wilson Beach.
There are redwood parks and preserves throughout the region. Without tons of time, at least add Humboldt Redwoods State Park to the trip list too. The Save-the-Redwoods League and the state have added to the park’s holdings—now more than 53,000 acres altogether—grove by grove. Access much of the park, and many of the park’s developed campgrounds, from the state-park section of old-timey, trinkety Avenue of the Giants.
If none of that is enough to inspire a tour of the redwood coast, consider these thoughts from Salinas native John Steinbeck:
No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes. No, they are not like any trees we know. They are ambassadors from another time.
Up the Road Encourages Responsible, Safe Travel
Here are previous Up the Road episodes that explore why we should travel, how to do it responsibly, and how to travel responsibly now, in the shadow of COVID-19. Not everyone should be traveling now, of course, depending on your potential vulnerability to the deadliest effects of this new virus. But everyone who does travel needs to do so responsibly, to prevent viral spread. Take a listen:
- Up the Road: Why Travel?
- Up the Road: Why Travel in Northern California
- Up the Road: How to Travel
- Up the Road: Why Local Travel Matters
- Up the Road: Travel That’s Not About You
- Up the Road: Heading Up the Road Again—Responsibly
- Up the Road: 2020 Travel Strategy
- Up the Road: More on Responsible Travel 2020