Avenue of the Giants: A Vacation Destination in the California Redwoods
The California Coast Redwoods
Since the late 1920s, the California Coast Redwoods have attracted tourists. The coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are the tallest trees in the world, growing to more than 350 feet tall. They can live for more than 2,000 years.
The ground beneath the trees is carpeted with ferns and small flowering plants. The great trees seem to absorb sounds; the silence of the redwoods is broken only by the breeze in the tree branches, the chirping of birds, or the occasional buzz of a dragonfly zipping past.
The redwood forests have existed for over 50 million years, and once covered large areas of North America. Today the last remnants of the great forests are found in a narrow band about 400 miles long and 40 miles wide on the coast of Northern California.
The redwoods have several unique adaptations that help explain their long lives. Their bark is thick and spongy; it’s resistant to both insects and fire. The branches start far above the forest floor, out of the reach of brush fires. You’ll often see scorched areas on redwood tree trunks . . . an indication of fires that the trees have survived.
Redwoods do not have tap roots. Instead, their shallow roots spread out from the tree, sometimes extending as much as 100 feet. This allows the trees to capture as much water as possible from rainfall.
Logging and Preservation
Commercial logging of the redwoods began in 1850. Although the wood is soft, it is prized for its resistance to insects and rot. The trees produce straight-grained wood, and a single old-growth redwood can yield over 300,000 board-feet of lumber. The wood was used for railroad ties, fence posts, and general construction.
Curiously, it was logging that brought the redwoods to the attention of tourists. Logging roads allowed travelers access to the redwoods forests, where they saw the magnificent trees and brought back stories and pictures.
Today, about 22% of the forest—containing most of the remaining “old growth” trees—is protected from logging. Logging continues among second-growth trees in much of the forest. Organizations such as the Save The Redwoods League continue to buy redwood lands to add to pubic trusts.
These purchases were greatly aided by donations from John D. Rockefeller, who first visited the redwoods in 1926. In 1931, he helped the League to purchase 9,000 acres—the largest contiguous stand of old-growth coast redwoods in the world—to save it from impending logging. To commemorate his generosity, the state of California formally designated this grove the Rockefeller Forest in 1952.
The first “all year” road through the redwoods was completed in 1928. During the '30s and '40s, campgrounds, cabins, cottages, and souvenir stands sprang up to meet the needs of tourists. As road-trips became a popular form of vacation, the redwoods saw an influx of visitors.
The Avenue of the Giants
One of the best destinations for visiting the redwoods is the Avenue of the Giants. The Avenue is a 31-mile stretch of winding two-lane road that was bypassed when a new highway was completed in 1960. It retains much of the flavor of the earlier tourist era, including cottages, cabins, diners and souvenir stands dating back to the '30s.
Visiting the Avenue of the Giants is like stepping back in time to a simpler era.
Hiking Along the Avenue
Of course, the greatest attraction of the Avenue is the redwood forest itself. There are a wide range of hiking trails for all levels of ability.
One of the highlights is the Giant Tree at Bull Creek Flats. At 354 feet tall and 54 feet in circumference, it is considered the most massive known redwood. (It is not, however, the tallest. That honor goes to a tree called Hyperion, which is 380 feet tall.)
The Founders Tree on the Dyerville Loop Trail is nearly as impressive. Standing at 346 feet, the 1,400-year-old tree has been listed as the fifth-tallest tree in the world. Its name honors paleontologist John Campbell Merriam, attorney Madison Grant, and geologist Henry Fairfield Osborn, who founded the Save the Redwoods League in 1918.
There is also swimming and fishing in the Eel River, which passes through the redwoods and parallels the Avenue of the Giants. There is easy access to the river at several points along the road.
There are several state park campgrounds on the Avenue, as well as in nearby Richardson Grove. Reservations are required during the busy summer tourist season. For information, contact the Humboldt Redwoods State Park headquarters.
If you visit the redwoods, be sure to stop at the Redwoods Visitor Center. The park rangers and docents can help you plan hikes, and they have a wealth of information about the history and the ecology of the redwood forests.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Robert Nicholson