After crossing into northern California, our first stop landed us in the midst of some of the largest giants found anywhere on earth: the coastal redwoods! These massive, magnificent trees grow to be 300-plus feet tall and can live to be thousands of years old. Truly awe-inspiring! We began this leg of the journey in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park on a 11-mile loop trail called the Miner’s Ridge and James Irvine Trail. The hike starts in old growth redwood forests before popping out along the beach and looping back into forest. It includes a part called Fern Canyon that we later learned was famous for being one of the film-set locations for Jurassic Park. We noticed is that despite being surrounded by these massive trees, the forest is almost entirely silent. It feels like this total juxtaposition, and it’s little wonder that you feel like you are in an outdoor cathedral.
Just south of Prairie Creek are Redwood National and State Parks, both of which offer varying winding hikes of their own, including a section that we hiked that is dedicated to Lyndon Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird Johnson. Wherever you are hiking in this area, you really can’t go wrong as its pretty much all old growth redwoods, i.e. giants everywhere.
After visiting these parks, we spent a day in Arcata and Eureka. Arcata is very laid-back and gives you the sense that everyone who lives there came for Redwoods. We spent most of the day at a cool coffee shop called Northtown Coffee. Eureka seemed a little edgier and while we didn’t spend much time there, we did find a cool bakery called Ramone’s and later bought great coffee from Humboldt Bay Coffee Company.
We were also able to see an abino redwood. A word about those: the trees are able to survive by obtaining sugar from roots of other redwoods around them. They’re incredibly rare (read: 11 in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park). Regrettably, the tree we saw is dying, in part because tourists remove the stark white needles to take home. Until 2016, the trees were primarily regarded as “vampire trees,” but a UC Davis doctoral student’s 2016 study revealed the albino needles were full with toxic metals, suggesting the trees were basically poisoning themselves. The theory is that the trees are actually in a symbiotic relationship and act as a retainer for poison in exchange for the sugar they need to survive.
King Range Wilderness
After our necks couldn’t tolerate craning skyward any longer (seriously, find a masseuse after you visit the parks), we moved farther down the coast to the King Range Wilderness. Home of the Lost Coast (trail), this area is the longest undeveloped area of coastal wilderness in the U.S. outside of Alaska! The coast terrain juts skyward so abruptly into rugged, coastal mountains that engineers gave up on the idea of slapping a road through the area and instead constructed the 101 farther inland. The result is a wilderness area with very few amenities…or people. Shelter Cove is the closest one will get to a town, and it consists of a coffee shop, general store (where you can buy WiFi) and a brewery.
We camped out for a couple nights at a cool, quiet campground called Wailaki ($8/night) and did little day hikes to the beaches. For those with enough time, the Lost Coast Trail is a 24-mile hike that skirts the coastline and needs to be timed around the tides. While chilling one day at Black Sands Beach, we managed to see one of the highlights of our trip: two whales swimming up and down the coastline in what seemed like no more than five feet from the beach! It was definitely not the right time of season for the whale migration so a pretty cool, albeit concerning, sight to behold.
Aside from the rugged coastline, a couple of things to note about this area. There is no phone service anywhere and WiFi is almost non-existent as well. There are few supplies in the town and what you can find is super expensive. There is a lot of poison oak in the area. And perhaps most important to note is the fact that the roads are crazy steep and locals drive like lunatics, tearing around corners at speeds that seem death-defying. Make sure you have good brakes.
We continued down the coast, stopping briefly in Mendocino, to San Francisco to visit my friend, Alex, and her boyfriend Bo. Both had recently moved to the area from Nairobi and welcomed us into their really cool, sprawling house located right next to Mission Dolores Park. We arrived in the afternoon and first night chilled at their house, including a really yummy (and vegan!) pasta dinner that they whipped up. The following day, they brought us down to the Presidio Park area of the city where we wandered along the beach with views of the Golden Gate Bridge before spending the better part of the afternoon lazing in Mission Dolores Park.