Our introduction to Redwood country was the Avenue of the Giants. We drove 101 north from Marin County, past suburbs and wineries as the highway narrowed and the trees closed in on us. By late afternoon, we took the exit off of 101 to drive the 31-mile Avenue of the Giants. The road is surrounded by Humboldt Redwoods State Park. The only place I had to compare the park to was Muir Woods, and for me it was like being able to drive through Muir Woods. Except the trees here were even taller. Along the avenue there are lots of stop-offs along the way where you can stretch your legs, touch the trees, and walk along the giants.
We stayed the weekend in an Airbnb south of Redwood National Park in a small town called McKinleyville. Our place was a brand new tiny home tucked away in a quiet neighborhood that was so cozy and just perfect for the two of us. The next day also happened to be my 30th birthday. We went to Ramone’s Bakery and picked up a pink champagne birthday cake. In the same shopping center, we also happened to stumble upon the world’s largest totem pole. Very random!
The drive up 101 to the national park was very scenic as we passed the Mad River, lagoons, and stunning views of the ocean. As we drove by, I looked out the window to see a whale’s head just above the water.
Our first hike that morning was Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek State Park. This place is so surreal and magical that it’s hard to describe. This area has been the filming location for several dinosaur-themed movies including The Lost World: Jurassic Park. To get to Fern Canyon, you have to drive along a narrow, winding dirt road for 8 miles. There were three places where we held our breath as we drove our rental Nissan sedan across a shallow creek before reaching our destination. But it was so worth it!
Fern Canyon is probably the most enchanting hike I’ve ever done. The lush, velvety ferns grow on canyon walls as high as 50 feet. The trail is mostly comprised of narrow footbridges along a creek bed, with the occasional tree you have to hop or climb over to stay on the trail. My only complaint about the hike is that it ends too soon. We actually turned around and retraced our steps so we could have more time in the canyon. If I had known ahead of time, I would’ve switched out my shoes for some sturdy rain boots since the canyon floor was wet and slippery.
After our hike, we found a picnic table in the dunes at Gold Bluffs Beach. We had the place virtually to ourselves and feasted on local goat cheese and fresh bread. In the afternoon we hiked the Lady Bird Johnson Grove at the southern end of Redwood National Park. This was a beautiful trail, easy, but very rewarding. Since it’s one of the more popular trails in the park, I was afraid it would be crowded on a Saturday afternoon, but it wasn’t. In fact, midway through our hike we had the trail to ourselves. The grove is on a ridge top 1,200 feet above sea level. Looking up, we could see the fog resting on the tops of the trees. Also because it has a higher elevation, you can’t hear any traffic noise. It was so quiet that Jesse said he could hear his heartbeat.
Towards the end of the trail, we came to the spot where the grove had been dedicated by the former First Lady. The plaque stated that the dedication took place on August 27, 1971 – my birthday and the day we were there.
Our last stop for the day was Patrick’s Point State Park in Trinidad. We were astonished by the rugged beauty of the coastline here, and even though we were already exhausted, we pushed ourselves to do a couple of short hikes to see the views from the headlands.
We walked a steep path down to a beach surrounded by late-summer wildflowers. Off shore, we spotted sea lions and harbor seals clinging to rocks. We even saw a couple getting married at Wedding Rock—I was impressed that the bride climbed the timeworn steps to the top.
After a day of hiking, we settled into a cozy booth at Mazzotti’s in Arcata for some Italian comfort food. We both agreed we could spend much more time in this area, exploring Patrick’s Point and the state parks further north. Next time!