Before reporting on our day spent under the soaring canopies of the Redwood NP, it is worth noting the campsites where we had spent the preceding two nights.
After leaving Muir Woods, we made our way along the US 101 towards the Sonoma region, the furthest we could make it up the coast before nightfall. Bodega Bay was our intended destination to spend our first night camping. With dusk very quickly turning into night, we turned into the first campsite we came across, at Doran Beach. We attempted to get our heads around the self registration system (which by the end of the trip we managed to master – see the note at the bottom of this post!) and settled on a few potential sites. However as we continued down the spit something didn’t feel quite right (maybe the tiredness that comes with driving on the WRONG side of the road all day!) I suggested we push on further to somewhere a little less creepy. Everything was illuminated for us the next day though when a friendly bathroom cleaner got talking to us and told us that Bodega was in fact a filming location for Hitchcock’s The Birds. The bleak foggy atmosphere no doubt made it an ideal choice!
We pressed on and finally settled on a site at the Bodega Dunes Campground, part of the Sonoma Coast State Park. True to its name there were plenty of dunes to explore throughout the surrounds of the campground. Showers (coin operated), toilets and washing up stations are available and despite being kept up a little by the bark of a Harbour Seal, we had a pleasant night’s sleep.
Skipping forward through the stunning scenery that forms the Mid and Northern California Coast, our stop pencilled in for the following night was Humboldt Redwoods State Park. This one is definitely not to be missed and was definitely among the best campsites of our trip. The park contains more than 17,000 acres of absolutely breathtaking ancient Coast Redwoods and Douglas Fir. The Burlington Campground is open year round, and has the same facilities as listed above. Firewood is available from the camp host and is a good idea given the cool nights. The campground is surrounded by the soothing Robinson Creek and of course towering redwoods. A short but idyllic nature trail crosses a bridge from the campsite to follow the creek down to Eel River’s South Fork. The river bank provides some great view’s of the teal coloured rapids and meanders.
The park is also home to the Avenue of the Giants, a 31-mile portion of old Highway 101 which is worth the detour to catch some outstanding redwood groves or to have a go at driving through a drive through tree – a remnant of a time where the giants were not so well protected.
Leaving Humboldt behind, we pushed onto the Redwood National Park, temperatures dropping further and further as we continued up the coast. some fairly heavy mist shrouded our drive in through the lowlands, but cleared as we approached the visitor centre that sits on an interesting portion of black sandy coastline. The helpful visitor centre rangers directed us towards some walks that could be completed in the afternoon leaving enough time for our approach to Crater Lake NP.
First up though was some Roosevelt Elk spotting! These guys are the largest subspecies of North American Elk and are abundant in the park despite reaching levels as low as 15 in 1925. There are roadside stops set up at multiple sites in the park and you can tune into a local radio station to hear some information about the park’s population. Unfortunately we didn’t get too many pictures of the herds we saw, but this was probably for the best as we were in the midst of the fall mating season, when bulls are prone to charge aggressively to protect their harems.
Our first walk was the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail. It is a quick 40 minute walk (with interpretive stops) looping for 2.4km through a number of groves. The walk culminated in the site at which Lady Bird dedicated the park in 1968.
Further up route 101, the highway again splits, at which point we opted to take the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. There are numerous trailheads here as you pass through the heart of the old-growth forest. Intending to find ‘big tree’, we started off on a trailhead. The track was marked and sent us off through the lush forest. 30 minutes into the walk we pondered which of the giants around us was in fact the ‘big tree’, and with so many options to chose from we were quite underwhelmed by the giant itself! It turned out we had actually combined two walks, starting at the next trailhead along, so we ended up making a nice 1 hour loop back to the car.
As with the other forests mentioned above and earlier, it is not hard to imagine how films such as Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and The Rise of the Planet of the Apes saw an otherworldly quality in California’s redwood forests. Unfortunately no Ewoks were spotted on our trip, but Redwood NP and it’s surrounding State Parks are still worth a visit.
- Note on campsites:
- Throughout non-peak months many campsites we found were not attended to by hosts. A system of self registration operates to register visitors to state/national park campgrounds. Generally, you will find some form of station upon arrival with envelopes that you will need to fill out, remove the stub to place on your vehicle/site post and drop the envelope with designated fees (bring exact change) into the box provided. Fees ranged from around $10 to $35 for the California State Park Campgrounds (most of the latter provided showers whereas the former did not). The same system is used for free campsites during reservation periods in peak months. Generally we had no problem finding a site at the time of year we were travelling (March).