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Trailblazing: The redwood coast 


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Giant hunks of tree bark crashing through the tree canopy force me to stop moving. Peering up through the maze of branches above my head, I step softly over the bridge in front of me, crossing the creek as the trail veers to the right. A large, fuzzy black form hangs between the branches of a snag, hugging the trunk about 50 feet above the forest floor.

Startled, I step quickly across the creek and retrace my steps back around the hill that brought me down here. But I just saw a bear, right? Again, I stop moving, and gingerly reverse course, tiptoeing a few feet to a spot that peeks through the trees, and there it is—a black bear in a tree, probably about 200 yards from the closest camp site in Del Norte Coast Redwood State Park.

My father and I had stayed the night beneath some of the tallest trees in the world and were planning to make our way south along Highway 101, stopping to gawk at old-growth coast redwoods along the way.

Redwood National and State Parks comprise three state parks and 133,000 acres of redwood lands and beaches running a stretch of the North Coast almost to the Oregon border. We skipped the northernmost park, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, opting to stay in Humboldt Redwoods State Park instead. I made camping reservations via and had no trouble finding spots during the week. Weekends, of course, are another story.

Del Norte Coast Redwood State Park

Campground: Mill Creek
Cost: $35 per night

What’s it like? The campground is inland beneath a canopy of redwoods, and campsites are tucked between trees and the creek for which it’s named. Del Norte Coast Redwood State Park was established in 1927, is approximately 50 percent old-growth coast redwood, and includes 8 miles of wild, rugged coastline. Because most of the park is remote, this is one you’ll want to plan to hike around in.

Pit stop: Damnation Creek Trail—2 miles of steep trail traipsing through ferns, redwoods, and spruce that dead-ends near the coast due to a bridge that is currently dismantled.

Prairie Creek Redwood State Park

Campground: Gold Bluffs Beach
Cost: $35

What’s it like? Although the dirt road that takes visitors from Highway 101 to the beach meanders through old-growth redwoods, the tents-only campground is under an open sky beneath soaring cliffs next to the Pacific Ocean. The sound of ocean waves will put you to sleep after you take a sunset walk down a remote beach that seems to run for miles in both directions. And if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the Roosevelt elk whose hoofprints pepper the dunes.

Pit stops: Newton B.Drury Scenic Parkway—a 10-mile alternative route that runs parallel to Highway 101 right through the park’s old-growth redwoods. You can check out trailheads for several redwood groves along the way as well as check out the park’s Big Tree (the base of the trunk has a 21-foot diameter). Cal Barrel Road—if you have a dog, like I do, it’s hard to find places to go in state and national parks, but dogs are allowed on Cal Barrel Road, which treks up through the old-growth forest above the park’s Cathedral Trees Trail.


Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Campground: Burlington
Cost: $35

What’s it like? We stayed at the Hidden Springs Campground, but Burlington is where it’s at if you want to camp under the magical spell of old-growth coast redwoods. All of Humboldt Redwoods State Park campgrounds are off the 32-mile-long Avenue of Giants, which meanders under 200-plus-foot tall trees along the Eel River. The state park is a stand-alone park encompassing 52,000 acres, 17,000 of which are old growth, and the largest remaining old-growth redwood forest in the world. It’s spectacular. Campsites here are a little harder to book, so reserve early.

Pit stops: Mattole Road—This takes drivers to the Big Tree Area of the park, where you can traverse one of the giants across Bull Creek and find the second largest tree in the park: Giant Tree (more than 360-feet tall and more than 50-feet of circumference). Eel River—the park has several places for drivers to head down to the river for a swim and picnic.


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