I love trees. There is nothing quite like walking under a lush canopy of trees and feeling the special magic of a living, breathing forest. And when it comes to trees, there is no better place to commune with these magnificent beings than the Avenue of the Giants in Northern California.
Located in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, this scenic byway is home to the world’s tallest trees: Sequoia sempervirens. More commonly known as California redwoods or coastal redwoods, the Sequoia sempervirens typically grow to over 300 feet (91 meters) in height. The trees are so tall that they have entirely separate ecosystems thriving in the upper branches than are visible on the forest floor.
Redwood trees also hold the distinction of being some of the oldest living things on the planet. Trees in a mature redwood forest typically range between 500 to 1000 years in age, with some that are over 2000 years old.
During our Great America socially distant road trip, my husband Daniel and I decided to spend some quality time among these majestic trees. So after two months hiking in Joshua Tree National Park, we headed north on the Pacific Coast Highway to check out the trees at Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
Avenue of the Giants Auto Tour Overview
Stretching for 32 miles along State Route 254, the Avenue of the Giants auto tour is a great introduction to California’s coastal redwoods. When driven from south to north, the trip begins north of Garberville on Highway 101 Exit #645. From there, the scenic byway parallels Highway 101 as it winds through a towering forest of redwood trees until it rejoins the highway at Exit #674 near Pepperwood.
There are eight official stops on scenic drive at points of interest along the route. Look for information signs near both the southern and northern entrances with additional details. Be sure to grab a brochure which includes information about each stop along with a map.
While there are signs along the road at each stop, they can be a little hard to find. We almost drove right past a couple of the stops. I recommend driving slowly and downloading a map (such as this one from AllTrails) with GPS points for each stop before beginning the drive.
There is no fee to drive the tour unless you pull into a paid tourist attraction such as the Shrine Drive-Thru Tree. For more information including current conditions and closures, be sure to check out the official Humboldt State Park web page.
Driving the Avenue of the Giants
Thinking a few hours would be enough time for this 32-mile scenic drive, Daniel and I set aside an afternoon for the Avenue of the Giants auto tour. Well, we thought wrong. We spent so much time gawking at the trees at each destination that we quickly ran out of time.
Thankfully, there happened to be room at Burlington Campground near the Humboldt State Park Visitor’s Center during our visit in March 2021. We pulled in for the night and spent a magical evening under the redwoods before continuing the drive the next day.
Moral of the story: plan a full day for the entire drive, especially if you plan to check out every stop. Or better yet, break the drive over two days like we did.
Stop #1: Franklin K. Lane Grove
The first stop along the Avenue of the Giants auto tour, Franklin K. Lane Grove features a 15-minute loop trail through a dense grove of redwoods. While the trail doesn’t veer too far from the main road, it is still a great introduction to these incredible trees.
This grove is named for former Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane and a plaque honoring his memory is located along the trail. I have mixed feelings about Franklin K. Lane as he is the official who approved the construction of the Hetch Hetchy Dam in Yosemite National Park. Lane was also the first volunteer president of the Save-the-Redwoods League, however, which is why this particular grove is named in his honor.
Stop #2: Bolling Grove
Located next to Elk Creek, Bolling Grove encompasses a small stand of old-growth redwoods. The big draw here appears to be the proximity of the grove to the road – you don’t have to walk far to see these awe-inspiring trees. There doesn’t seem to be any major trails here, but a short path leads to the creek which is fun to explore.
The grove is named for Col. Raynal C. Bolling who was killed in action during World War I.
Note: the Shine Drive-Thru Tree is located between stops #2 and #3. While not an official stop on the tour, it is still definitely worth a visit. More about this attraction is available near the end of this article.
Stop #3: Humboldt Redwoods State Park Visitor’s Center
The Humboldt Redwoods State Park Visitor’s Center marks the third official stop along the auto tour. The inside of the Visitor’s Center was closed during our visit due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there were plenty of interesting things to see as well as outdoor exhibits nearby. Picnic tables and flush toilets are available near the Visitor’s Center and access to several nature trails are available across the street.
The Burlington Campground is also located right next to the Visitor’s Center and makes a great stopping point if you plan to break the drive over two days.
Stop #4: Weott High Water
In December 1964, torrential rains caused the South Fork of the Eel River to overflow to record heights. The flood was so bad that the town of Weott was essentially washed away. Stop #4 on the Avenue of the Giants auto tour depicts the high water mark at this location – which is a staggering 33 feet above the ground. In the nearby town of Miranda, the flood waters crested even higher at 46 feet.
According to the California Parks and Recreation web page on the Eel River Floods of 1955 and 1964, “At the time of the 1964 flood, the clearcutting of the slopes above Bull Creek was blamed for causing the massive damage along the Eel south of the two streams’ confluence. This triggered a successful push to add Upper Bull Creek to Humboldt National Park.”
Stop #5: Mahan Grove
Mahan Grove is a quiet stand of majestic redwood trees dedicated to Laura and James Mahan. Key members of the Save-the-Redwoods League, the Mahans took a personal stand to save this grove from being logged by timber companies in 1924.
This grove was also my favorite stop along the auto tour. I’m not exactly sure why. There is something especially magical about the trees in Mahan Grove that is hard to put into words.
A network of hiking trails in the grove lead to several destinations of note. The Mahan Plaque Trail is a 1-mile loop to a marker honoring the Mahans deep in the forest. The popular Founders Grove is also only a short .2-mile hike from Mahan Grove. The trails are a little hard to follow so I recommend downloading a map to your phone in advance.
Note: Founders Grove is located between stops #5 and #6 along the Avenue of the Giants auto tour. While not an official stop, it is one of the most popular attractions in the park and worth a visit. You can either hike to it as described above or drive a short distance to the parking area. More about this attraction is available near the end of this article.
Stop #6: Dyerville Lookout
Dyerville Lookout is a pleasant rest stop along Highway 101 Exit #663 with picnic tables and a day use area. It is also the location where the community of Dyerville used to be located. Unfortunately, the entire town was washed away in the flood of 1955. By the time the historic flood of 1964 swept through the river valley, Dyerville was already gone.
Perched on a hillside next to the Highway, Dyerville Lookout affords great views of the Eel River down below. It is one of the few stops along the Avenue of the Giants auto tour that is not completely shaded by redwood trees so it’s a nice spot to catch some sunshine. Several interpretive signs tell the story of the flood as well as other historical information.
Stop #7: Chandler Grove
Chandler Grove provides access to several short trails on a hillside behind the parking area. The trails loop through the woods and lead to the Big Triple Tree at the top of the ridge.
While the grove is technically old-growth, the trees aren’t as tall or as impressive as in other areas of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. This was probably my least favorite destination along the route. If you are short on time and need to skip a stop, this would be the one.
Stop #8: Drury-Chaney Grove
The eighth and final stop on the Avenue of the Giants auto tour, Drury-Chaney Grove leads to a 2.5 loop trail through a magnificent stand of redwoods. Unfortunately we ran out of time to hike the trail, but it is supposed to be spectacular. If we come back to the area, hiking this trail will be at the top of my list.
The grove is dedicated to Ralph Works Chaney and Newton B. Drury. Chaney was a conservationist and scholar of paleobotany who was a former president of the Save-the-Redwoods League. Drury was the fourth director of the National Park Service and the executive director of the Save the Redwoods League.
Shrine Drive-Thru Tree
While not officially on the Avenue of the Giants auto tour, the Shine Drive-Thru Tree Auto Park is located along the route and one of my favorite stops in the area. As advertised, here you can drive your car through a hole in the bottom of a redwood tree – provided it is smaller than 7 feet by 7 feet. Our RV is too large to fit through the tree so we had to content ourselves with walking through the tunnel.
There are other things of interest to see at the Auto Park, including a walk-thru stump and a drive-on log. My favorite attractions, however, were a couple of cute tree houses carved out of redwood trunks. These adorable fairy houses are just the right size for kids to crawl into and explore (I squeezed into them too but it was a tight fit!)
The cost to visit the Shine Drive-Thru Tree is $10 for vehicles, $5 for motorcycles, and $3 for walk-ins.
One of the most popular destinations in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Founders Grove provides access to a magnificent stand of old-growth redwoods and a half-mile interpretive trail. The biggest attraction at this grove is Founders Tree which is 346.1 feet high with a diameter of 12.7 feet and a circumference of 40 feet.
Located 8 miles south of the official entrance for the Avenue of the Giants, Garberville is a great jumping off place from which to explore the Redwoods. The town is home to several hotels and restaurants, including a fabulous small joint called Cecil’s New Orleans Bistro. Daniel and I stopped at Cecil’s for dinner during our visit and it was one of the best meals we’ve had in a while.
The area is also home to kitschy attractions that are fun for visitors of all ages. The Blue Moon Fun Stuff Shop in Garberville has loads of toys and oddball gifts, including a corner filled with unicorn-themed items (yay!). But my favorite tourist attraction by far is the Legend of BigFoot gift shop. Located just south of town, the Legend of BigFoot is filled with sasquatch-themed souvenirs and wood-carved knickknacks in all shapes and sizes. A statue of sasquatch holding some tiny gnomes? Yes please!
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out some of my other posts about traveling in California!
- Northern California Coast Road Trip: Driving the Pacific Coast Highway
- Best Hikes in Joshua Tree: The Ultimate Hiking Guide
- Joshua Tree Day Trip: The Ultimate One-Day Joshua Tree Itinerary
- 10 Fun and Quirky Things to Do Near Joshua Tree
Have you driven the Avenue of Giants Auto Tour? I’d love to hear from you! Share your comments below.
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