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Driving The Redwood Highway

The forgotten jewel of  Northern California's highway system is US-101, also known in this stretcUS-101 in California - The Redwood Highwayh as the Redwood Highway.  Sandwiched between the incredible coastal vistas of California Highway 1 and the major truck thoroughfare of Interstate 5, Highway 101 runs from downtown Los Angeles all the way up the Oregon and Washington Coasts, wraps around the Olympic Peninsula at the far Northwestern point of the United States, and heads South to Olympia, the capital of Washington State.

The Washington and Oregon portions of Highway 101 are well known for their coastal panoramas, but the portion from downtown San Francisco to the Northern climax of California coastal scenic byway Highway 1 is largely ignored by travelers.  Those who want incredible scenery head for the coast while those who are looking to make good time head for the wide lanes  of Interstate 5.  Forgotten in the mix is some of the most beautiful scenery that the state of California has to offer.

The highway twists and turns through the rolling vistas of Marin County, the vineyard covered hillsides of Sonoma County, and continues up into the coastal mountains of Mendocino County before it's eventual merge with California Highway 1 and the famed Redwood forest and eventually the dramatic Oregon coastline.Johann & Sandra at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

The San Francisco end of Highway 101 is well touristed, as it is the highway that passes over the famed Golden Gate Bridge, the symbol of San Francisco.  On the San Francisco side of the bridge lies Golden Gate Park, a stop on all tour routes.  As you drive over the historic bridge, you enter wealthy Marin county.  The first stop is Vista Point, just the other side of Golden Gate, where you can take photos of the bridge with San Francisco and the bay in the background, as well as photos of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco skyline.

As you leave the city, the difference is striking.  The congested city is instantly replaced with rolling hills, dotted with mansions interspersed with cow pastures.  The area is beautiful - just a joy to drive through.  The road passes the city of San Rafael, the only sizeable community in mostly rural Marin County, then continues to the famed wine country of Sonoma County.  As you enter Sonoma County, the scenerySonoma County, California is largely unchanged except it's notable that the tree covered hillsides of Marin County are steadily giving way to bare grass hills carpeted with green.  You pass through the city of Santa Rosa, the largest community of Sonoma County, then approach the renown wine retreat of Windsor.  The drive through the rest of Sonoma County is enchanting - vineyards cover the rolling green hillsides and wine tasting rooms dot the sides of the freeway.  As with Marin County, this area is primarily rural, with just a few small towns such as Geyserville and Cloverdale breaking up the endless vine-draped hillsides.

As you pass from Sonoma County into Mendocino County, the vineyards continue through the small community of Hopland most of the way to Ukiah, which is the biggest city in the xx square mile county, with a population of just xx.  After Ukiah, the vineyards start to give way to mountains, covered by pine forests.  Shortly down the road, you pass over the Russian River and through the town of Capella at the junction with California Highway 20, then soon arrive in Willits.

Willits is the self-proclaimed "Gateway to the Redwoods" as they proudly boast on a large sign as you enter the town.  Willits is also known for the Skunk Train, one of the country's premier scenic railways, which is located just off the highway on Commercial Street.  Almost immediately after Willits, you areWillits California catapulted into the beautiful, tree draped mountain sides of the Coast Range, and the highway is cut into the sides of the mountains, giving panoramic views of the mountain range.    After passing through Longvale, at the junction of Highway 162, the highway shrinks to two lanes and flattens out, passing through areas of pasture filled with oak trees before re-entering the forests just before passing over Rattlesnake Summit, elevation xx feet.  The two-lane highway snakes now along the banks of the xx River for xx miles before widening out again into a four lane freeway and opening back up to outstanding panoramas of the Coast Range about 10 miles South of Leggett.

The views continue until you reach Exit xx which takThe Chandelier Drive Thru Tree - Redwoodses you to the big town of Leggett, population 315, and the route's most famous attraction, the Drive-Thru Tree.  The mammoth Chandelier Tree stands 315 feet high and is 21 feet wide at it's base, a size achieved by it's age, estimated at an ancient 2400 years.  WOW - that's old.  Drive Through Tree Park costs $5.00 per vehicle to enter.  Inside the park is a gift shop and a snack bar, the Chandelier Tree, and nothing else. If you have an RV, large van or raised pickup, you will probably not fit through the drive-thru tree.  Our Infiniti SUV barely fit.

Just up the road in Garberville, you can see the One Log House, a gigantic 2100 year old redwood that was hollowed out in 1946 and turned into a 7x32 foot, 42 ton home.  The house went on tour in it's early years and still remains attached to the original trailer to this day.

Inside Humboldt Redwoods State Park, at the Philipsville exit, you'll want to take a detour off the Redwood Highway (US-101) and take a scenic 32-mile drive through the best and most impressive portion of the Redwood Forest of California, the amazing Avenue of the Giants.  After touring the Avenue of the Giants, you'll hook back up with the Redwood Highway at the Jordan Creek Exit, near the town of Scotia.

There isn't much to see for the next xx miles or so as the highway makes its way through the redwoods to Humboldt Bay and it's largest community, Eureka.  A short sidetip to the west will take you to the Victorian village of Ferndale, but that's about it.  Eureka has all the conveniences, and it's historic bayfront contains a number of shops and restaurants and a couple cozy bed & breakfast-type inns. 

The next town past Eureka is Arcata, home to Humboldt State College.  The college-town environment keeps the town hopping, and the lively town square makes Arcata a good place to stop for the night before tackling the rest of the North California Coast the next day or two.  You'll find the usual array of business-class hotels in Arcata.

The stretch from Eureka to Orick runs through marshlands, farms, and along the Humboldt Lagoons - no redwoods to see here, which is almost welcome after how many you just saw at the Avenue of the Giants.  In about a half-hour or so, you'll come to the small resort town of Trinidad, which doesn't have much to offer a traveler except a few B&B inns, a casino, and a couple of small restaurants.  However, it's worth a quick stop to go down to an overlook of the beautiful beach here.

As you approach Redwood National Park, you'll see the world's largest herd of endangered Roosevelt Elk - the largest and most impressive of the Elk species.  You'll know where to look because they'll be out in front of the Stone Lagoon School, easily identified by it's cute red paint (and of course all the Elk Crossing signs).  As you enter Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park just up the road, you'll almost immediately see more Elk grazing along the roadway.  Stop and take some photos, but don't get out of your car - they can charge at any time, which would be bad news for you.

Here you'll want to take the exit for the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway - this will take you through the middle of the biggest redwoods in the park.  Not far into the park, you'll see an "opportunity" to drive the Redwood Coast Scenic Byway.  If you have lots of time and don't value your vehicle, you can try to drive it - be prepared for massive potholes and rough, bumpy gravel and dirt roads without much payoff.  There is one good viewpoint not far up the road - do yourself a favor and turn around after getting a good look at the coast.  The Parkway offers very big trees along the roadway, but not as many attractions as it's counterpart, Avenue of the Giants

After merging back up with US Highway 101, the Redwood Highway, you'll cross over the Klamath River bridge (notable by two golden grizzly bears straddling the entry to the bridge) into the small town of Klamath, marking where the Klamath River meets the sea.  There's not a lot to see in Klamath except the Tour-Thru Tree, which costs $2.00 to drive through it. Three miles past Klamath, you'll see (trust us - you'll see it) huge signs for the "Trees of Mystery", also marked by massive statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe, his Blue Ox.  Trees of Mystery, featured on Ripleys Believe it or Not, is well worth a stop - there is a nature trail with narrated exhibits explaining such tree formations as the Cathedral, the Octopus Tree, the Upside Down Tree, and the fun Tall Tales Trail.  The highlight of the Trees of Mystery, though, is the gondola ride called "Sky Trail", which rises up through the Redwoods to a viewpoint.  Not for those afraid of heights, but for the rest of us, it's a unique attraction and worth a look.

The highway launches upward again into Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, which offers smaller versions of the redwoods you'll find in the Prairie Creek and Humboldt Redwoods State Parks to the south, but also offers a few coastal panoramas along the way to Crescent City - make sure to stop and take photos along this stretch when you see a Vista Point.  US-101 drops down now into Crescent City, where the headquarters for Redwood National Park are located.  The only attraction in Crescent City is Ocean World, a small aquarium that offers a tidepool petting zoo, a sea lion show, a small aquarium containing a number of sharks, bat rays, sturgeon, ling cod, dungeness crab, and other local fish, and has an activity where you can actually pet a shark.  There is a guided tour through the attraction and the cost is reasonable at xx.  The attraction is set up for families with kids, and the kids seemed to all have a great time.  Crescent City also has an operational lighthouse, and several decent hotels, the best of which is the oceanside Hampton Inn.  Don't look for gourmet cuisine here, though.

At Crescent City, the Redwood Highway departs the California Coast and highway US-101 and travels along US-199 toward Grants Pass, Oregon.  The California section of Highway 199 is very beautiful, snaking along the top of the Smith River Canyon, with the white water river rushing below.  The roadway is cut into the cliffs and at times gets pretty narrow.  The redwoods and other large conifers line the highway, while deciduous trees line the river, a lovely contrast.  Make sure to fuel up in Crescent City before heading up here though - there's not much of anything until you cross the border. 

As you cross the Oregon Border, the forest suddenly changes to a more arid, mountain climate, and the roadway straightens out.  The first sizeable town you'll come to is Cave Junction, home to the Great Cats World Park, and also the turnoff to the Oregon Caves.  The roadway then turns more mountainous again as you enter the Siskiyous Mountain Range and make your way toward Grants Pass, the biggest town since San Rafael, and the terminus of the Redwood Highway Scenic Drive.  From here, you can head up or down Interstate 5 or head out to the Oregon Coast.

The Redwood Highway - xx Miles (xx km) From San Francisco, CA to Grants Pass, OR.



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This site has been visited  times since August, 2001.
To properly view this site, click
here to download the necessary fonts.
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for this site,  or would like to suggest a link, please
Contact Us.
2001-2018 JS Web Design - All Rights Reserved.