Road Trip: Redwoods National Park

Perhaps my last post made it seem like we don’t do anything fun anymore. That’s not true. We do lots of fun things. And by fun things I mean pretty freaking awesome things.

For instance: When a friend says they’re getting married in Napa over the 4th of July, you say, SEE YOU THERE. Automatically. Without a second’s hesitation.

It was the perfect opportunity to take our first vacation since our move, especially now that we are on the west coast. Like the Barefoot Contessa would say, how easy is that? Speaking of food, we were hungry for more (like Napa was not enough?). We decided that, rather than fly straight to wine country, we’d road trip through the Redwood National Park for some scenic breaks along the way.

So that’s what this post is about. Those redwoods. I’ll get to Napa later. Did you know that the California redwoods are the tallest organisms on earth? With towering heights over 300 feet, no other living thing reaches so close to the sun.

The straight shot from Portland to Napa takes about 10 hours and could feasibly be done in a day. Adding the redwoods to our trip meant an extra 4-5 hours to our journey, so we chose to split it up over two days. Throwing our camping equipment into the truck (and caution to the wind), we figured we’d find a campground to crash for the night. I had read about some coastal dune camping that got us excited.

Fast forward through a gorgeous 7 hour drive through the Pacific Northwest (did you know Northern California is part of it?) and the trees suddenly look as if on steroids. We were in the national park. It’s late afternoon by this point and we needed to find a spot to set up our tent. After a quick visit to the state park visitor center, we see that the dune camping is full. Sad face. But it is first come, first serve and who did we think we were showing up at 4 in the afternoon? Myself, getting a little panicky and Jaro, staying ever so calm, head to a county campground, hoping for some available sites.

We pulled up to a tiny pitch tent campground that, thank god, had ample space and a friendly host. It was located on the banks of a pretty river and filled with giant redwoods. We set up quickly. Sitting on the riverbank, we enjoyed wine and the cool breeze as the sun went down. When the shadows chased us back to our campsite, we huddled around a fire, devouring grilled cheese sandwiches and taking small sips of whiskey.

Riverbank at sunset

riverbank at sunset

Grilled brie, blue and camembert sandwiches with apricot jam

grilled brie, blue, munster and camembert sandwiches with apricot jam

Our roof for the night. Redwoods National Park, CA

our roof for the night

It was very secluded; very quiet, which was only partially comforting as there was a state prison nearby.


Upon our survival without a murderer stalking us through the night, we packed up and headed to Big Tree, at the urging of my guidebook. That’s the name. It was… big. As we stood at the base, I stared up in wonder. There’s something about being dwarfed by nature that is so humbling and beautiful. That’s really all I can say about that.

Tolawa Dunes State Park, CA

morning fog. Tolawa Dunes State Park, CA

Redwood National Park, CA

there’s the sun. Redwood National Park, CA

Big Tree

Big Tree

Neck cramp at Big Tree

neck cramp at Big Tree

Feeling small. Big Tree, Redwood National Park, CA

feeling small. Big Tree, Redwood National Park, CA

Once we felt satisfyingly shrunken and tiny, we drove down to Lady Bird Johnson Grove, an easy one mile loop according to my book (and saw bears en route!). While flat, well-maintained, “easy”, etc., it took us a few hours to walk around this gem of a path. Your eyes don’t know what to do with themselves. There was so much to see. So many colors, textures and, not to mention, heights. We noticed all sorts of special moments, both big and small. High and low. Well worth the time to mosey around this one.

momma bear and cub sighting!

momma bear and cub sighting!

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

a reminder.

a sweet reminder

Our final farewell to the woods was a tour down the Avenue of the Giants and through the ever so cliché Drive Thru Tree. The former is a stretch of road that parallels the highway, but offers a more intimate experience than the wide open 101. Driving through a maze of Mother Nature’s skyscrapers gave us this sense of awe that we couldn’t (and still can’t) shake. The latter, well, is pretty self-explanatory.

grazing elk

grazing elk

avenue of giants

avenue of giants

drive thru tree

drive thru tree with all the tourists

So that was our brief trip through the redwoods. More on Napa soon…


P.S. Most photographs were taken by my talented husband.

P.P.S. I visited other redwoods earlier this year. And the last time we camped. Seems like ages ago.


California Trip: Redwoods & Wineries

Happy Wednesday all! I’m feeling better and this week is looking up. Way up. Woo hoo!

So, yesterday I shared the coastal part of my trip to Cali, today is the next installment when we drove north from the bay. Our first stop was Guerneville, a somewhat remote town on the edge of some majestic redwood forests. It’s a tiny one-street “downtown”, perfect for stopping and stretching your legs.

Then we headed into the woods. We explored nearby Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve. The thing about redwoods, if you didn’t know, is that they’re really tall. Like 300 feet tall. And they’re really old. Like 1,300 years old. This is what we saw as we walked among the giants…

Armstrong Redwoods

Armstrong RedwoodsArmstrong Redwoods

Pictures really don’t do them justice. They be huge. And reserve itself is really nice and close enough to the bay that you can get your redwood fill without having to drive four hours up to the national park. (Though I still want to visit there sometime.)

After a morning “hike” through the reserve, we obviously needed refreshments and headed into wine country. Not far away in the Russian River Valley, was a stretch of small, adorable wineries along a country road called Westside. We stopped at Matrix (which does not distribute) and tried maybe 8-10 wines for only 5 bucks! Try finding that kind of deal over in Napa. Traveler Tip: Want to experience the vineyards without all the hype (or the traffic)? Check out the options in the Russian River Valley. They are much more low key. I definitely suggest it to fellow wine lovers out there!

After that grueling morning, we realized we were becoming hangry. So we drove over to Calistoga, a sweet town at the north end of the Napa county, for lunch. Stopped into Checkers for some hearty salads and then continued merrily on our way down the Silverado Trail through all those lovely vineyards. Traveler Tip: The Silverado Trail runs parallel to the main drag through Napa, Route 29, but is much less congested. Highly recommend if you just want to drive through Napa and take in the scenery, but not necessarily visit the heavy hitters like Sterling or Robert Modavi (you’d have to get on 29 for them). These were our views…

Napa Valley, California

Napa Valley, CaliforniaWe finished out the day in Sonoma. Traveler Tip: Sonoma is the underdog of Napa Valley. Don’t get me wrong, I love the glamour of Napa and Yountville from my last visit, but with that comes higher prices and more people. This was a different experience and maybe that’s because of the time of year too. February isn’t as hot a ticket as September. I guess I’ll have to go back again to be sure. Anyway, it took a bit of effort to climb over the ridge to get to Sonoma, but it was so worth it. I’m definitely making it a priority the next time I’m in the valley. Such a pretty town, with a cute main square and lots of little boutiques and wine bars. I only managed to get this shot of the sunset over the trees…

Sonoma, California

The sky looked like, I don’t know, cotton candy? Not that I’d ever eat it, but it’s pretty.

Another great day in California comes to an end. Still more to share about our adventuring in Oakland and San Francisco. Coming soon…