Northern California Tourist Traps: Drive-thru Tree, Confusion Hill

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Redwood trees alone cannot provide enough excitement to entertain an entire car full of screaming, bored children. As a result of this truth, there are a bunch of quirky roadside attractions along US 101 in northern California. I chose to stop at a couple of essential ones: the famous drive-thru tree, and the slightly less famous Confusion Hill.

Location

The Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree Park is located near the end of California Route 1 at US Highway 101. If you’re coming up Highway 1, like I was, you’ll see the turnoff for the tree just before you reach 101. Confusion Hill is just a short drive north on US 101. Don’t worry, there are plenty of signs that will guide you to both.

My Visit

Undoubtedly, in some family album, you have a picture of your grandfather or aunt or uncle or somebody driving a vintage station wagon through a redwood tree on a family trip, decades ago. More than likely, this is the place where they did it. And the good news is, the tree was alive then, and it’s still alive now.

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Drive-Thru Tree Park offers just one attraction, but it’s hard to resist. I decided to pay the $5 admission fee (which includes a coupon for the gift shop) and take my rental car through the tree. It ended up looking really good on the Drivelapse cameras (see the video below), so that was a bonus.

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Immediately after driving through the tree, you’re at the gift shop, where you can park and walk around the tree. Watch a few more cars squeeze through, then take a few minutes to use that valuable coupon you received at the entrance gate.

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When you’re ready to go, it’s easy to take another spin through the tree, just in case the first time wasn’t enough.

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The Drive-thru Tree Park is clearly in cahoots with Confusion Hill, because you’ll start seeing signs advertising it, almost immediately after leaving the big tree behind. Cave to the pressure and make a second stop.

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As the sign explains, there are two separate attractions at Confusion Hill. If you’re not interested in the gravity-defying displays of mystery, you could choose to ride the Skunk Train. You could, but I couldn’t. The miniature train ride was out of order during my visit, and the staff said it would be a few days before someone could make the trip up to Confusion Hill to fix it.

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So I decided to take the tour of Confusion Hill. As a solo traveler, I quickly realized that this is an attraction better meant for two people. One member of the staff helped me with the first display…

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… where two people stand on nearly-level platforms, and observe a surprising difference in our heights.

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You can see what happened when we switched places.

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From there, I was on my own, but some other visitors did help with taking pictures of my gravity bending stunts – one of which involves hanging not-so-vertically from a bar.

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This slanted-floor shack also displays balls that roll uphill…

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… and water that runs uphill…

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… along with some classic roadside attraction signage to reinforce the mystery of it all.

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Once you’ve passed through the shack, you can see why it’s hard to figure out which end is up. Everything is built on a slant, in one direction or another.

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Water continues to trickle uphill and downhill at the same time, all the way down to the end of the loop.

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And that’s pretty much it, when it comes to the confusing side of Confusion Hill. There’s also a picnic area…

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… and a Twin Towers memorial, where a pair of giant redwoods represent the former New York City skyline.

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Finish the visit where you started, at the gift shop, where chipalope-themed souvenirs pack the shelves.

Now, get back on the road.  You’ve wasted way too much time.

The Bottom Line

Both the Drive-thru Tree and Confusion Hill require just a small amount of money and only a few minutes of time. Stop at one or both, to make your drive through giant redwood groves more interesting.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a time-lapse video of the drive from the coast to the Drive-Thru Tree on California Route 1:

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