Have you ever taken a Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip along HWY 101? If not, the time is always right!
What could be described as a wonderland for travel enthusiasts, a Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip to see the California Redwoods provides excitement and adventure along with beautiful photo opportunities!
In this post, I’ll cover the best stops along our trip.
HWY 101- The Best Choice
Heading north from southern California, you could easily opt to take Hwy 5, which is the shortest most direct route. But doing so would lead you down a path that omits the coastal beauty, rugged beaches, small-town charm, and roadside attractions that HWY 101 is made of.
Making the decision to drive Hwy 101 is an easy one.
If you’re taking a road trip to see new places and explore new things– then it’s really the only choice.
But if you’re still on the fence, just think of all the gorgeous sunsets, beach towns, specialty shops and amazing opportunities to interact with nature in its purest form- wild and free, at pull-offs along the sides of the roadway where motorists can take pictures of giant trees, beautiful beaches, and even the occasional wild seal.
There’s something incredibly inspiring about staring at the jagged shoreline as you zig and zag around the curves and watch the waves come crashing ashore.
You can probably tell by now, that my job is to be the co-captain while enjoying the ride.
Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip
A Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip is one you’ll need to prepare space for in your camera. At the very least make sure you have enough storage space on your phone for all the great shots you’ll capture in what seems like an endless photo opportunity.
My main goal in taking this route was to avoid mountains and take a scenic drive through the redwood forests of northern California!
I’d read all about these majestic, almost magical forests and had seen incredible photography that now, after being there to see it with my own eyes, just doesn’t seem to do them justice. I longed for the day when pictures of the tallest trees in the world would highlight my photo stream and my eyes would be the creator of these memorable photos.
Humboldt County Redwoods
Just about 200 miles north of San Francisco you start to get a sense of what makes the Redwoods so incredible. Is it the towering tracks alongside the highway you start to see in preparation of giants just up ahead? Or maybe the clean crisp smell of actual fresh air?
Maybe it’s just the beautiful way the colors of nature’s brush strokes mix the browns with bright greens and yellow through the undergrowth of ferns, moss, and various plant species. Maybe it’s just the overwhelming sense of peace and tranquility that seems to leave you staring in awe at the grand stature of these incredible groves found nowhere else on earth…
Whatever you find it to be, that makes your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip incredible, rest assured that starring at these giants won’t be the only thing you’ll find interesting along the way. Travelers will have ample opportunities to explore the cute and quirky towns, visitor centers, trails, roadside wonders, and much more!
Redwoods Visitor Centers
The Interpretive Association runs four visitor centers at 4 State Park locations in Humboldt County. If you’re looking for information, directions, or history, or just need to pick up maps, books, and souvenirs- we suggest you stop by one of these.
- Humboldt Redwoods State Park
- Richardson Grove State Park
- Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park
- Sinkyone Wilderness State Park
Our favorite is the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, which also houses the Redwood Visitor Center’s Travel Log.
It’s a huge hollowed-out log that sits inside the Visitor Center on display as possibly the first RV – which we of course thought was pretty special! While you can’t get too close, or even touch it, it’s special enough to get to see it while grabbing a few brochures.
I think my favorite part of the trip was the Avenue of the Giants!
Just the name alone made me want to explore.
The Avenue of Giants
Imagine if you can, trees the size of skyscrapers with bark so thick you feel as if you might break your fingers from trying to pick a piece off and take it home as a souvenir (Yes! This really happened).
Picture driving through a stretch of lush green forest, where the road trip game of the day is trying to be the first to point out the next biggest tree! Imagine trees hundreds of feet tall with trunks so big a family of 6 can’t hold hands around it.
Picture a dark, almost gloomy drive through a narrow two-lane road, where the canopy of the trees stretches over the road blocking mostly all of the sunlight, but the little bit that creeps through streams in light heavenly rays that seem to spotlight specific trees and plants, giving you the feeling of being in an enchanted forest straight out of a fairy tale.
Think about how you would feel to be surrounded on both sides of this two-lane road with thick woods of trees so old they date back centuries and so tall, you can’t see the tops even if you tilt your head all the way back.
This is the Avenue of the Giants!
An Epic Redwoods Drive
A 31-mile scenic route everyone should have a chance to experience. It’s a scenic highway in northern California, that used to be part of U.S. Route 101 until a bypass was created in 1960. Now it’s a scenic drive that kind of curves along the Eel River and draws in tourists from near and far to gaze in awe at the majestic redwood trees that date back hundreds and some more than thousands of years, while stretching upwards to over 300 feet.
With each bend you take, the views of the trees seem to get better and better, and the trees just get bigger and bigger!
The Avenue of the Giants leads motorists through Humboldt Redwoods State Park and offers eight exits into electric little towns along the way.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park is home to the largest contiguous ‘old-growth’ forest of coastal redwoods in the world, called Rockefeller Forest. It offers more than 100 miles of hiking trails for visitor use, as well as fishing, swimming, horseback riding, and other recreational activities.
Coming from the South we found ample opportunities to pull over and explore deeper into the forest, even though our road trip did not have time built in for longer adventures inside this monstrosity.
While camping is permitted in a few different areas, we chose to camp at the family-owned and operated Good Sam’s Park right on the Avenue of the Giants, called Ancient Redwoods RV Park. Thinking we would be somewhat let down by not fully camping inside the state park, we were not disappointed!
There are many different options for Redwoods Camping, but we originally chose this property for the ease of access, distance from our last stop, and the great reviews we read from other travelers!
The Ancient Redwoods RV Park
The Ancient Redwoods RV Park is a hidden gem perfect for your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip! To be honest, after arrival, we quickly realized our stay was actually a little too short for our liking!
The park has been family owned and operated since 2008 when it was added to the existing property which originally just held the store. It literally sits in the middle of the oldest and tallest living trees in the world and it’s easy to let your imagination run wild and picture the days gone by when stagecoaches were the preferred method of transport and what it must have felt like to experience it during that time.
They have 49 paved spaces, which all appeared to be level on 3 main rows. Each site had ample space for big rigs, as well as those needing extra room for slides and each one offers 30/50-amp service with sewer.
Pristine grounds, clean facilities, amazing staff and an incredible gift shop called the Burl n’ Drift Novelty Shop, where burl tables, figurines, engraved signs, big foot trinkets, and much more are all sold to guests both staying onsite and just stopping by for photos of the Immortal Tree that sits adjacent.
This camping stop was perfect for our trip and I guess the only real downside was that you are so deep in the forest that cell service was only available under a pavilion when standing directly under the park cell phone booster. I found it a small tradeoff for a magical experience.
The Immortal Tree:
Sharing the same parking lot, the Immortal Tree as it was named for its hyper-resilience to multiple historic events and natural disasters, guests can easily take a quick walk over for picture opportunities!
The 1000-year-old redwood celebrity has survived lightning strikes that removed the top 50ft, a forest fire, and the flood of 1964. It even still holds one ax in its bark from a logger whose tale is lost, but its legacy lives on through tales of a futile attempt. The Immortal Tree is 14.5 feet in diameter and would be enough wood to build several homes!
One Log House:
Along the Avenue, you’ll also find the famous One Log House that dates back to the 1940’s. It was created from a 40-ton piece of a redwood tree that was said to be over 2100 years old! Featuring one long tunnel of a room that has a bedroom, living room, and dining area, the creator actually thought the house would tour around the country, so he built it on wheels similar to an RV!
Sadly, it doesn’t get to see much of the country and has spent most of its time on display along the Avenue for tourists who stop by! The property also features an Espresso & Gift Shop where you can grab unique redwoods gifts, carved items, a cold drink, or a quick bite to eat! Keep a look out for the signs, this quick stop is located just south of Richardson Grove State Park!
After leaving the avenue we skipped farther north and ran into a drive-thru tree we were told we just had to experience! We unhooked the trailer and drove over. Even though the lady at the front said it would be easy, it turned out to be a bit tight and we actually got stuck and scratched the side of our SUV… yikes.
Thankfully I was outside the vehicle before entering the tree and was able to guide my husband through a quick reverse, realignment, and then through the tree. Priceless.
Trees of Mystery
You can see this attraction right from the road, and it’s hard not to stop- so just do it. Trees of Mystery is a nature attraction in the middle of the Redwoods, that offer a variety of education and entertainment.
Two recommended tours:
Canopy Trail: Aerial suspension bridges 50-100 feet above the ground. 8 bridges, 10 platforms, and 2 spiral staircases.
SkyTrail: Ride through the forest in a treetop gondola! It’s 8-10 minute ride you can’t find anywhere else.
If nothing else, you can stop by the gift shop for a few trinkets, use the restroom and take a picture with Paul Bunyan! FYI: He talks to you…
Okay… total disclaimer: I’m not 100% sure what this place is!
We pulled over and the kids were super excited to see what it was. They used to love this show called Gravity Falls, and it reminded them of it- so we pulled over. We went inside the gift shop to buy some tickets and grab some ice cream.
After talking with the man at the counter, the kids decided they weren’t interested in going on the tour anymore… someone all of a sudden had a stomachache and two others were ready to go home. LOL.
Whatever Confusion Hill is, it definitely gave our crew a bit of crazy! If you happen to stop by, drop me a note and let me know what it is…
There are tons of things to see and do along Hwy 101 from California all the way to Washington!
These were just a few of my favorites we experienced along our Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip in northern California, but as we soon realized- there is just as much to explore along the Oregon and Washington state coastlines!
Beautiful scenery and small towns dot the shore, allowing you to connect the dots at your own pace!
If you feel like taking a bit of a slower drive to enjoy some natural beauty, I highly recommend it!