Many of us are familiar with the spectacularly scenic drive along the Avenue of the Giants, but not all of us have taken the time to stop methodically at each of the quirky redwood tree sites. Fall and winter provide the perfect off-season opportunity to get up close to giants with an average life span of 400 to 800 years. Some have endured more than 2,000 years, impressive because many of them are obviously damaged yet still alive.
Giant redwoods exist only in a narrow strip along California’s northern coast between Big Sur and the Oregon border, with only 100,000 acres of ancient old-growth redwoods remaining. Most are preserved in the state and national park systems up north; approximately half are found within Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
The Avenue of the Giants is actually the original Highway 101, which was bypassed in 1960 and is now known as State Route 254. It officially begins at Phillipsville, though the scenery begins farther south around Leggett. The drive parallels the “new” Highway 101 freeway and Eel River for 31 miles. It is stunningly beautiful, winding through groves that hold 60 percent of the tallest trees in the world. At Pepperwood, the road rejoins the busy new Highway 101.
Most of the odd trees along this unique stretch of road have been repurposed as lures to tourist businesses. All but a few are free. Fortunately, man-made eyesores are few, with plenty of long stretches of uninterrupted tall trees in between.
So let’s begin at the beginning in Leggett and Piercy, both at the south end just before the official Avenue of the Giants begins in Phillipsville. Then we will continue north along the Avenue to the last sight in Redcrest. A visit t can easily be accomplished in just a few hours if you don’t stop at them all, or you can take your time and make the adventure a full day.
Chandelier Tree: Given this name because of the gigantic branches around its trunk, which curve out like a candelabra, this 2,400-year-old redwood measures 315 feet high and has a 21-foot-diameter. A hole was carved in 1936 or 1937 that still accommodates most modern sedans. You’ll want to take it slow and easy so as not to scrape the paint on your car, and someone needs to stand outside to take the picture. Bonuses in the 200-acre Drive-Thru Tree Park surrounding the tree include a duck pond, picnic tables, resident deer and nature trails. You might want to bring along a picnic lunch.
Off Highway 101, 67402 Drive-Thru Tree Road, 925-6363; drivethrutree.com. Daily 8:30 a.m.-dusk. $5/car.
World Famous Treehouse: Though this tree burned out 800 years ago, it is far older than that and still growing. It measures 250 feet high, 33 feet in diameter and is 101 feet around at its base. The burn out left four openings in the base that were formed into a 50-foot-high cavity with a door and some windows. It once held a gift shop but is no longer open for viewing. Believe it or not, this tree was made world-famous in 1933 when columnist Robert Ripley featured it as the tallest one-room house in the world.
On Highway 101, 5 miles south of town, 925-6406. Free.
World’s tallest free-standing redwood chainsaw carving: This colorfully painted, totem-pole-like tree trunk stands 44 feet tall a depicts three sets of bears standing atop each other’s shoulders. One man spent three months creating it from an already dead tree. He worked from a scaffolding in the parking lot, where it now stands with the tree’s base still buried in the ground.