California Redwoods and the Oregon Coast

Though we loved seeing family and friends in the Bay Area and Sonoma County, we were not sorry to leave the heat and head north into the redwoods to begin the second week of our summer RV trip. Parenthetically, the drive through California on the 101 (mostly freeway and sometimes highway) is so varied and pretty, especially the further north you go, so it was nice to stay off of I-5 and travel this western route heading north.

Enjoying a beautiful lunch spot on the coast

Humboldt Redwoods State Park is a place we have visited several times over the years and we highly recommend it. Even if you don’t stay there, getting off the 101 and onto the 32-mile Avenue of the Giants is well worth doing.

Oxford University was founded when this redwood tree was small.

Coast redwoods are related to, but a distinct species from, the giant sequoias found in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. While the giant sequoias are the largest trees on the planet by mass, the coast redwoods are the tallest trees on the planet, some reaching up to 350-370 feet high. You might think, ”What’s the big deal? They’re just tall trees,” but until you stand next to one and realize you can’t even see the top, you don’t get the true sense of how majestic and massive these trees really are.

A medium-size coast redwood tree

Humboldt Redwoods SP has the largest remaining contiguous stand of old-growth coast redwoods in the country, and this is one reason why we enjoy camping here. There are numerous short and easy walks you can do around redwood groves, where it is almost always cool, since very little sunlight actually reaches the ground. Not a ton of wildlife, but we did see some beautiful birds and bugs!

We explored a newer grove, Franklin K. Lane Grove, and visited the living Chimney Tree, just outside the park boundaries, which is still alive in spite of the fact that the inside is completely hollowed out from a fire many years ago.

Hank is inside this burned out living "Chimney Tree."

Founder’s Grove is a very popular walk, with good reason, since it contains some of the biggest and tallest trees in the park. When the trees fall over (they have a rather shallow root system), you can see just how enormous they really are, where their diameter can be 8-10 feet across. The Dyerville Giant, which fell in 1991, is a good example of this enormity.

Hank stands at the base of the Founders Tree, which shows just how massive it is.
These trees are even massive when lying down.

Rockefeller Grove provided another peaceful walk, and there are countless other groves along the Avenue of the Giants. The other good thing about Humboldt Redwoods SP is it’s not as far to drive as the other redwood parks that border Oregon (just 225 miles from Oakland).

Take a drive with us through the redwoods down the Avenue of the Giants with this one-minute video.

Heading north once again on the 101, we next camped on the Klamath River between two other wonderful parks, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. These two parks, plus Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and Redwood National Park, make up a system of old growth redwood groves that are protected and great to explore. We can’t fit our motorhome into the Prairie Creek campground, though that has been a favorite camping spot in the past, so we found a nice little RV park on the Klamath River.

Highlights of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (and surrounding area):

  • A black bear wandered along the far side of the river to get a drink of water, while we pinched ourselves and watched.
  • The redwood forests up here on the North Coast of California are different from those around Humboldt Redwoods SP. It is more lush here, with lots of moss and ferns that demonstrate what happens with the almost daily coastal fog that rolls in.
  • Big Tree in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park was certainly enormous and again confirmed how regal these coast redwoods are.
Hank looks very small next to the Big Tree!
  • Eleven male elk decided to hang out in Elk Prairie (right along the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway), where we watched them from 5:30-7:30 pm. They were grazing and relaxing, and we were staring and taking pictures. It was incredible to be this close to so many elk, though we were careful to stay close to our car and keep something between us and the elk at all times.
Cindy keeps the tripod between her and the elk.

Check out this one-minute video of the amazing Prairie Creek Redwoods elk at dusk in the meadow.

As we drove through Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park the next day, we could see the landslide at Last Chance Grade that had destroyed part of the road, leading to significant delays as they rebuild the 101 here.

Landslide at Last Chance Grade

Crossing into Oregon, we again were reminded why the Oregon Coast remains one of our favorite scenic drives, even though we’ve traveled all over the U.S. and much of Canada. Around every turn is another beautiful seascape, with haystacks in one spot, lighthouses somewhere else, and luscious forests and freshwater lakes on the other side of the road. The big challenges are finding places to camp (many of our favorite Oregon state park campgrounds were already full three months ahead of time) and trying to take pictures while Hank was driving the RV, since there aren’t a lot of places to pull off and admire the view, especially when driving north.

If you’re thinking about doing this drive (which we highly recommend), Harris Beach State Park in Brookings, Oregon, is the southernmost state park and wonderful to visit, though we couldn’t get in on this trip. We also drove past the gorgeous Port Orford area and camped a little further up the road near the town of Bandon, where Bullard’s Beach State Park had a terrific campground a bit inland from the coast. This area almost always has coastal fog, so being inland gave us some sun.

Beautiful scenes are around every corner on the Oregon Coast.

We used our bikes for the first time on this trip when we rode out to the lighthouse and beach area, much of it in fog.

Biking to Coquille River Lighthouse at Bullard's Beach

Our continuing drive up the coast was hilly and windy, but oh so beautiful. Heceta Head Lighthouse is one of the most photographed lighthouses on the West Coast, and in such a perfect setting. Many unnamed views caught our eye (and occasionally my camera), and the 101 was not too busy, considering this was a Sunday afternoon in July.

Heceta Head Lighthouse

We headed into Newport, Oregon, to the South Beach State Park, from which we were able to walk to the beach (sand dunes here), ride our bikes along a paved path to the South Jetty, enjoy the Oregon Coast Aquarium (a very pleasant two-hour visit—definitely recommend if you’re in the area), and have an amazing seafood dinner at Local Ocean Seafood Restaurant.

Sand dunes at South Beach State Park
A spicy margarita at Local Ocean Seafoods

Newport Harbor is lovely in the evening, with calm water providing reflections of the boats as the sun lights everything up.

Our drive on the Oregon Coast concluded with more stunning seascapes as we passed through Lincoln City, Tillamook, Cannon Beach, and Seaside. At the north end of Oregon, we loved the views of the bridge over the Columbia River as we drove through Astoria. (Astoria is a great little city with a terrific maritime museum, but we weren’t staying nearby on this trip.) The 4-mile bridge at the almost-mouth of the Columbia River brought us into Washington, where we will spend the next several days—that will be in the next post.

The beginning of the bridge over the Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon

If you’ve never driven the Oregon Coast, be sure to put it on your bucket list. It really is a stunning scenic drive along the iconic 101 highway/freeway. If you’ve done this drive, let us know in the Comments section what your favorite parts are.

Sea nettles at the Oregon Coast Aquarium

4 thoughts on “California Redwoods and the Oregon Coast”

  1. Stunning pictures!!! Of course!!!
    It sounds like a really nice trip and a little of ‘something for everyone’. Seeing family – then getting away from family HAHAHA – the time in the Redwoods looks incredible! It is a getaway I want to do!
    Safe travels! I am loving the news!

    • Thanks, Mindy. Coast route is a two thumbs up from us. Much cooler with a slower pace if you have the time. Lots of wineries!

  2. So good reading up on your adventures. Looks like a wonderful trip…lots of variety. Great pictures and information. Thanks for sharing. -Lori


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