For Sarah's 32nd birthday we took a road trip to the far northern reaches of the state of California to visit some amazing state and national parks. We drove up the coast along Highway 1 and spent three nights at an Airbnb north of Eureka so that we could easily access all the parks for hiking and exploration.
Northern California -- January 2017
We left San Francisco tonight after work, driving an hour and a half north to Sebastopol where we are spending the night at a cute little hotel. Our plan is to drive up the coast along Highway 1 tomorrow so we thought it best to get a bit of a head start tonight. It's going to be a gorgeous drive but we're expecting it to take a rather long time.
Here in Sebastopol we checked into our hotel and then acquired wine and take-out pizza to eat in our room. The hotel is at the old train station and is appropriately themed. We're both very excited to have begun this trip. After eating we spent the evening chatting, relaxing and planning before drifting off to sleep.
This morning we got up and checked out early, then walked across the street to grab a to-go breakfast burrito from a fancy organic grocery store. Then we drove a few miles toward the coast to stop at the very well reviewed "Wild Flour Bakery" for coffee and scones. I got the Meyer lemon mango while Sarah had the pumpkin apple marzipan. We also picked up a loaf of delicious seed bread to munch on over the next few days.
After breakfast we headed into Bodega Bay where we joined Highway 1 and turned north. Almost instantly our progress slowed to a crawl as we stopped every few miles to get out and admire the amazing coastal views (and a not-insignificant number of seals and deer). One of the beaches we stopped at had warnings listing it as one of the most dangerous in the state due to "sleeper waves" which can easily pull a person out and drown them. It was pretty rough so we stayed well away from the water.
Our plan was to drive the entire length of Highway 1, but the recent rain storms have cause landslides and washed out roads all over the state. We saw several spots where slides had been cleared on Highway 1 just a day or two ago. Unfortunately the final section of the road between Fort Bragg and Leggett is still impassable, so we had to cut inland on Highway 20 to the 101 through Jackson State Forest. This drive was still gorgeous though, twisting across a mountain range full of very happy trees.
Eventually we made it to the Airbnb in McKinleyville, arriving around 5:30pm. The spot is located a mile down a single-track road in a redwood forest. It's a studio apartment attached to a larger home and it includes a full kitchen and a lovely little woodstove. The hosts met us at the door and seem very nice. We got settled and then drove back to Arcata to get some dinner and groceries. The main square was full of people playing music and dancing, and some of those people were in Star Wars costumes for a reason we never determined. We bought a bottle of wine at the local wine bar and then got a nice simple dinner at a crêperie.
Back at the Airbnb we lit a small fire and then prepared lunch for tomorrow's hike. Now we're just relaxing a bit before going to sleep. It's so dark and so quiet and so amazing here.
We got up early this morning to ensure we had lots of time for our big hike of the trip: the 11+ mile loop along the Miners' Ridge trail, Gold Bluffs Beach, Fern Canyon and the James Irvine trail. First though we had breakfast cooked at the Airbnb: coffee, eggs, cheese and fancy bread.
The park is a 45 minute drive north from our Airbnb along the coast and the scenery is amazing the whole way. Up here it definitely has a Pacific Northwest feel rather than the central California feel we experienced along Highway 1. There were marshes and lagoons and huge trees that go right up to the waters of the Pacific ocean.
At the park we checked in with the rangers to ensure that the hike was safe given all the recent storms and then we headed out into the trees. They are truly enormous up here, significantly bigger than the still-huge trees you see closer to San Francisco. The Redwood State and National parks contain old-growth coastal redwood forests, meaning they're never been logged. They're vibrant and healthy and provide habitat for tons of endangered animals and plants. Because it is off-season right now (i.e. cold and rainy) we were completely alone on our hike and were able to fully enjoy the quiet majesty of this amazing place.
We finished the first half of the hike shortly after noon at the Gold Bluffs Beach campground. It's an awesome spot right on the beach, but it is currently closed because the access road is washed out. We made use of the picnic tables to eat our packed lunch and to enjoy the warm sun while watching for elk. Apparently Roosevelt Elk can be seen near the campground now that they have returned from the brink of extinction. Unfortunately we didn't see any over lunch.
The next section of the hike was 1.5 miles along the beach. It was gorgeous and deserted. It also involved three river crossings which we accomplished by taking off our boots and rolling up our pants. The water was freezing though! Plus, the last crossing was more like wading through a bog. It took a while to find our way across.
We rejoined the trail system at Fern Canyon, a canyon with 50' tall walls covered in multiple species of ferns. The water was flowing fairly strongly on the canyon floor so hiking through it required a lot of careful jumping between rocks while hoping our Gore-tex boots were up to the task of the occasional dunk. It was a truly amazing place though and we felt very privileged to see it at such a quiet time of year.
After the canyon we started hiking back to the park gate via the James Irvine trail. We had spent longer on the hike than planned so we moved a bit faster in this section to avoid getting caught out after dark. Still we had a lovely walk back past enormous trees and endless seas of ferns. At one point we had to clamber over some significant fallen trees on the path, but otherwise the trail was in fantastic shape given the storms. We a saw 4 or 5 people on this section of the trail, the most we had seen all day.
Back at the ranger station we changed out of our heavy boots and hiking gear, watched some deer grazing in the sun for a while, and then started driving back to the Airbnb. On the way we finally found some elk! A large herd had occupied an RV park, surrounding several campers. We were able to pull into the parking lot and watch them for a while.
We stopped for dinner at the Six Rivers Brew pub in McKinleyville (delicious beer) before returning to the Airbnb. This evening we enjoyed a nice hot shower, another lovely fire and lounging in bed. Tomorrow is another big day though so soon we went to sleep.
This morning we got up early again and had another quick breakfast of eggs and coffee. Then we got on the road north, stopping at the visitor centre to get information about the conditions in Jedediah Smith State Park for our hike today. The ranger confirmed all was well and also gave us some tips on scenic places to stop on our way up to the trail.
The elk were still hanging out at the RV park so we stopped briefly to watch them for a while. Then we followed the Drury Scenic Parkway through some gorgeous trees and also drove out to an overlook above the Klamath River. It was all gorgeous. Eventually we reached Howland Hill Road near Crescent City and entered the park.
Our destination today was the Boy Scout Tree Trail, a five mile out-and-back hike through old-growth redwoods. But to access it we first had to drive a bit more than a mile along a narrow dirt road filled with potholes that twists through enormous trees. It was super fun and really pretty.
The trail itself was beautiful and we really enjoyed the hike. It was mostly deserted, but we did find ourselves trading places back and forth with a nice family from Oregon. The hike turns back at a little waterfall and we stopped there to have lunch where we chatted more with the family.
On the drive back we stopped at a pretty beach and also went into Patrick's Point State Park to play in the tide pools a little bit. We managed to get there somewhat close to low tide so we were able see some cool things. I found a starfish! And Sarah found a whole bunch of hermit crabs. We also got to enjoy a fabulous sunset as we explored.
For dinner we had Mexican food in Eureka and then went to the Redwood Curtain Brewery for some drinks (and a crowler to go). Then we returned to the Airbnb for one last night of relaxation around the wood stove.
This morning we slept in a little before packing up and heading to the Beachcomber Cafe for breakfast. We loved the Airbnb and were a bit sad to leave it.
After breakfast we drove to Humboldt Redwoods State Park and followed the "Avenue of the Giants" for a while. Eventually we turned off onto a super bumpy, pothole-filled road in order to access our final hike of the trip. This was just a short two and a half mile loop near a river but it was still amazing. After the hike we snacked a bit before carefully making our way back to the highway.
Finished with the trees we then drove straight home along the 101. It was much faster than Highway 1 on the way up, but was still quite pretty in many sections.
This was a fantastic trip and I'd strongly recommend the northern California parks to anyone who likes outdoor activities.