10 wild and crazy North Coast redwoods
Shrine Drive-Through Tree in Myers Flats is still alive, decades after it was hollowed by a fire. (Photo by Hillary Hartley)
Many of us are familiar with the spectacularly scenic drive along the Avenue of the Giants, but not all of us have taken the time to stop methodically at each of the quirky redwood tree sites. Fall and winter provide the perfect off-season opportunity to get up close to giants with an average life span of 400 to 800 years. Some have endured more than 2,000 years, impressive because many of them are obviously damaged yet still alive.
Giant redwoods exist only in a narrow strip along California’s northern coast between Big Sur and the Oregon border, with only 100,000 acres of ancient old-growth redwoods remaining. Most are preserved in the state and national park systems up north; approximately half are found within Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
The Avenue of the Giants is actually the original Highway 101, which was bypassed in 1960 and is now known as State Route 254. It officially begins at Phillipsville, though the scenery begins farther south around Leggett. The drive parallels the “new” Highway 101 freeway and Eel River for 31 miles. It is stunningly beautiful, winding through groves that hold 60 percent of the tallest trees in the world. At Pepperwood, the road rejoins the busy new Highway 101.
Most of the odd trees along this unique stretch of road have been repurposed as lures to tourist businesses. All but a few are free. Fortunately, man-made eyesores are few, with plenty of long stretches of uninterrupted tall trees in between.
So let’s begin at the beginning in Leggett and Piercy, both at the south end just before the official Avenue of the Giants begins in Phillipsville. Then we will continue north along the Avenue to the last sight in Redcrest. A visit t can easily be accomplished in just a few hours if you don’t stop at them all, or you can take your time and make the adventure a full day.
Chandelier Tree: Given this name because of the gigantic branches around its trunk, which curve out like a candelabra, this 2,400-year-old redwood measures 315 feet high and has a 21-foot-diameter. A hole was carved in 1936 or 1937 that still accommodates most modern sedans. You’ll want to take it slow and easy so as not to scrape the paint on your car, and someone needs to stand outside to take the picture. Bonuses in the 200-acre Drive-Thru Tree Park surrounding the tree include a duck pond, picnic tables, resident deer and nature trails. You might want to bring along a picnic lunch.
Off Highway 101, 67402 Drive-Thru Tree Road, 925-6363;drivethrutree.com. Daily 8:30 a.m.-dusk. $5/car.
World Famous Treehouse: Though this tree burned out 800 years ago, it is far older than that and still growing. It measures 250 feet high, 33 feet in diameter and is 101 feet around at its base. The burn out left four openings in the base that were formed into a 50-foot-high cavity with a door and some windows. It once held a gift shop but is no longer open for viewing. Believe it or not, this tree was made world-famous in 1933 when columnist Robert Ripley featured it as the tallest one-room house in the world.
On Highway 101, 5 miles south of town, 925-6406. Free.
World’s tallest free-standing redwood chainsaw carving: This colorfully painted, totem-pole-like tree trunk stands 44 feet tall a depicts three sets of bears standing atop each other’s shoulders. One man spent three months creating it from an already dead tree. He worked from a scaffolding in the parking lot, where it now stands with the tree’s base still buried in the ground.
It’s part of a 1949 amusement complex called Confusion Hill that includes a Gravity House, where water appears to defy gravity by running uphill, and a 30-minute miniature train ride through the redwoods. It can be confusing to find the entrance, which is next to an outdoor snack bar and within a well-stocked gift shop where you can purchase local redwood carvings and other souvenirs.
75001 N. Highway 101, 925-6456; confusionhill.com. Daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m., in summer 9 a.m.-6 p.m. House: $4-$5. Train (summer only): $6.50-$8.50. Pet area.
One Log House: In 1946, two men spent eight months carving this tiny house out of a single 40-ton log made from a 2,100-year-old redwood tree. Measuring 7 feet high by 32 feet long, the trailer house once toured the U.S. If you pay the fee to go inside, you can see the fully-furnished living, dining and sleeping areas. A gift shop, snack bar and picnic area adjoin.
705 N. Highway 101, 247-3717; oneloghouse.com. Daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; mid-May to Sept 8 a.m.-7 p.m. $1, under 6 free.
Grandfather Tree: Located within easy walking distance from the One Log House, this massive redwood is 1,800 years old, 265 feet tall, 24 feet in diameter and has particularly posh foliage. An adjacent gift shop stocks carved redwood items and other souvenirs that are a step above most in the area.
779 N. Highway 101, 247-3413. Free.
Living Chimney Tree: Though a fire gutted this 1,500-year-old redwood in 1914, it is 78 feet tall and still growing. A paved path leads to a door through which you can enter its hollowed-out interior, now protectively paved with a cement floor. A burn hole acts as a window. Once upon a time, this “room” was a gift shop. A well-maintained snack bar operates inside a small enclosed gazebo and offers sheltered picnic tables. In a wet year you can hear the flow of a nearby river.
1111 Avenue of the Giants, 923-2265. Free.
Shrine Drive-Thru Tree: This 275-foot-tall redwood is still living and has a circumference of approximately 64 feet. A cavity formed naturally by fire was widened to accommodate cars. The original owner donated all proceeds to the Shriners’ fraternal organization for charity, and that is how it got its name. This site also has a drive-on log (you drive up a ramp to a fenced-in platform atop a fallen log, then back off in reverse); a children’s walk-through stump; and two two-story playhouses for children carved from separate logs.
13078 Avenue of the Giants, 943-1658. $6.
One Log RV: Because it is so big, this mobile truck display is hard to miss in the little museum at the Humboldt Redwoods State Park visitor center. Billed as the world’s first RV, it was handmade by Charles Kellogg in 1927 from the log of an ancient redwood.
He mounted it on his 1917 Nash Quad truck and lived it in while touring the country as a Vaudeville-style performer well-known for his birdsong imitations.
Take time to learn more about this remarkable man, who hiked the high Sierra with John Muir. Although you are unable to enter the RV, you can walk completely around it and see inside through the open back door. Before leaving the visitor center, get information on the state park and its many spectacular redwood groves. All three species of redwood are planted outside the visitor center for visual comparison — Giant Sequoia, Coast Redwood, Dawn Redwood.
State Park: 946-2409; parks.ca.gov/?page_id=425; open daily dawn to dusk; $6 pervehicle; no dogs on trails; campsites available. Visitor center is 2 miles south of town, next to Burlington Campground; 946-2263; daily, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov.-Mar., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Apr.-Oct.
Eternal Treehouse: This living redwood has a 20-foot room with windows carved into its base. You step DOWN into it, not UP as you might imagine from the name. All that remains is a protective cement floor, although it makes a cooling stop because it is situated in a small redwood grove, it makes a cooling stop. A cafe and picnic area are adjacent.
26510 Avenue of the Giants, 722-4262. Free.
Immortal Tree: A true survivor, this 950-year-old redwood has weathered logging, a fire, a flood and a lightning strike that removed its top 45 feet.
The tree was scheduled to be chopped down in 1908 but was spared, and now measures 258 feet tall with a base diameter of 14 1/2 feet. Markers show the loggers’ axe marks and the flood line.
Across the way, a naturally hollowed-out redwood log with a 33-foot circumference dates from the late 1800s. Folks of all ages love to climb inside and get their pictures taken. A picnic area and gift shop adjoin.
28101 Avenue of the Giants, 722-4396. Free.
Content courtesy of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Carole Terwilliger Meyers curates the website Berkeley and Beyondberkeleyandbeyond.com and blogs at Weekend AdventuresUpdateweekendadventuresupdate.blogspot.com.