They are the towering giants of the Pacific Coast — those impossibly big trees that are unlike anything you’ll ever see anywhere else. Numerous groves of redwood trees are located along US Highway 101 south of Crescent City, California. Most are on state or national park land, protected and preserved for generations to come.
After I arrived at the coast from California 299 at Arcata, I made the drive up to Crescent City in a downpour of rain. It was a classic Pacific storm, and I eventually accepted that the rest of my day would be a wash. I looked out the window from my room at the Curly Redwood Lodge in Crescent City, and watched an American flag in the parking lot endlessly whipping in the wind. The horizontal rain continued throughout the night.
But, the next morning was much different. The sun was out, despite some sea fog, and I realized I needed to backtrack, just a little, to see what I had missed the previous night.
Heading south from Crescent City on US 101, you’ll pass directly through the middle of Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. From the road itself, there aren’t a lot of ways to access the park. Your best bet is to pick a turnout, pull off, and admire the trees along the side of the road.
And they are impressive. The addition of some sea fog helped accentuate the streams of light that were breaking through the forest canopy.
Even the not-so-big trees look impressive here. Del Norte Coast has about 50% old-growth redwood trees. It receives about 100 inches of rain per year — exactly what the redwoods need to grow so tall, so fast.
If I had gone a bit further, I would have reached Del Norte Coast’s only easy-access point to the coast. Near the south end of the park, US 101 runs directly alongside the coast at False Klamath Cove. You can hike along the beach here.
There are also some longer, more challenging hikes in Del Norte Coast. The Last Chance Trail takes you along the coast south of Crescent City to the Damnation Creek Trail, which cuts inland and connects with US 101. The two trails combined would make for a long day of hiking, and you’d need to arrange for a shuttle to get back to your starting point.
On this day, I only briefly sampled the landscape in Del Norte Coast Park, then turned around and headed north into Oregon. If I had an extra day (or if my previous day hadn’t been so rainy), I would have spent more time exploring the redwoods. Even though I’ve seen them before, they’re still remarkable.
Here’s a quick look at some of the other spots in the area, which I explored on my 2007 trip to the Pacific Coast:
Jedediah Smith State Park: Stout Grove
During my visit to the area in 2007, I discovered Stout Grove in Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park, off of US 199 east of Crescent City. An easy trail leads through a forest of towering giants. It was raining when I visited, but I didn’t care. Read more about Stout Grove on this page from 2007.
Redwood National Park’s Coastal Drive
This detour from US 101 takes you on a narrow dirt road, for a brief encounter with the Pacific coastline.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
This state park offers a trail that leads to the “Big Tree”. Yes, they are all big trees, but this one is especially big.
Lady Bird Johnson Grove
Named after the former First Lady, this 1.3 mile trail loops through another nice grove of redwood trees. You can read about the entire loop trail through Lady Bird Johnson Grove on a separate page.
Trees of Mystery
This tourist attraction is also worth mentioning. Both times that I’ve driven by it, it’s been pouring the rain, and I decided it wasn’t worthwhile to pay for an attraction in such miserable weather. On better days, though, you can enjoy the “Sky Trail” gondola ride through the forest, then check out numerous other “named” trees from the ground. Posing for a picture next to Babe the Blue Ox and Paul Bunyan is free.
Of course, there are more places in this area to see redwood trees and hike through spellbinding forests. This is just a taste of what’s available. Since the national and state parks are so spread-out in this area, I’d recommend you do plenty of research and lay out a plan of attack before you arrive, so you know exactly where you’re going and what you’re likely to find. Otherwise, you can end up doing a lot of aimless, time-wasting driving.
The Bottom Line
The redwood forests of northern California are a natural wonder. You can enjoy them from your car, as you drive through the area on US 101, but you probably won’t be satisfied. Plan a hike through at least one redwood grove.
You’ll find redwood groves along US 101 from Crescent City, to about 50 miles south of the city. Many of these groves are part of Redwood National Park, while others are included in state parks like Del Norte Coast.
You’ll also find redwood groves along US 199, east of Crescent City, at Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Crescent City into Del Norte Redwoods, and back: