Road Trip Tips,  Destination Guides

How to See California’s Sequoias on Two Redwoods Road Trips

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Imagine standing among some of the oldest living creatures on the planet. The air is quiet, cool, and smells of the essential oils the trees naturally emit. You’re among the Redwoods – two unique species of tree you can find almost exclusively in California. More importantly, they’re away from the city sprawl and damaging development, so you have to plan a Redwoods road trip if you want to see them!

Wait: there are two types of Redwoods, and two different habitats. That means that if you want to see both, there needs to be two Redwoods road trips! It’s really up to you which one you do. Do you want to see the tallest trees (Coastal Redwoods), or the biggest ones (Giant Sequoias)? Trees that make you crane your neck to see the canopy or ones that you stretch your arms around? Can you tell I love Redwoods?!

Redwoods near San Francisco - Founders Grove

As you plan your Redwoods road trip, it helps to know some logistics. The Coastal Redwoods road trip is a bit shorter at ~750 miles and 15 hours of driving, whereas the Giant Redwoods road trip is ~900 miles and almost 22 hours of driving. This is due to the difference between coastal highways – which are slow to begin with –, and mountain roads – which are even slower.

I kept both of these Redwoods road trips to six days in length – so you can add on an extra day in San Francisco before or after your drive, to see the city and make your trip an even week long. Or maybe you have the luxury to plan both as a two-week California road trip with a stop in San Francisco in between – lucky you! Whichever Redwoods road trip you pick, you’ll soon be in awe of these amazing natural wonders.

In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are the traditional lands of the Cahto, Central Pomo, Chit-dee-ni (Chetco), Coast Yuki, Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, Graton Rancheria, Kashaya, Mattole, Me-Wuk (Central Sierra Miwok), Me-Wuk (Coast Miwok), Miwok, Muwekma, Northern Pomo, Numu (Northern Paiute), Ohlone, Ramaytush, Sinkyone, Southern Pomo, Tolowa Dee-ni’, Wašišiw Ɂítdeʔ (Washoe), Western Mono/Monache, Wiyot, Yurok peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

This post was originally published in May 2020, and was updated most recently in October 2022.

Itinerary #1: Coastal Redwoods Road Trip

Coastal Redwoods Road Trip Map

The Coastal Redwood is a species of tree that can grow to be among the largest on earth. They grow in bands (rather than groves) within 50 miles of the coast of the Pacific Ocean – hence their name: Coastal Redwoods.

This Redwoods road trip is based out of San Francisco and primarily focuses on seeing the Coastal Redwoods (rather than the Giant Redwoods, which I cover in itinerary #2).

1San Francisco to Crescent City
2Crescent City to Eureka
3Eureka to Benbow
4Benbow to Mendocino
5Mendocino to Santa Rosa
6Santa Rosa to San Francisco

Now that you have the basics, let’s dive into a daily breakdown of this Redwoods road trip and the Redwoods you can see each day.

Day 1: Drive from San Francisco to Crescent City

Redwoods Road Trips Hero

Distance: 356 miles

Time: 6 hours, 30 minutes

Where to Stay: Oceanfront Lodge. Book on and

Redwoods to See This Day:

  • none

On the first day of your Coastal Redwoods road trip, you’re just getting to the start point – there’s no easy way to reach the northern end of the Redwoods territory without a long drive (or a flight and a one-way car rental, but that’s a lot more expensive!).

The fastest and easiest option is to take US-101 north from San Francisco; it parallels I-5 but there are no easy cross-highways to get between the interstate and the highway in northern California – it adds about 2.5 hours to take I-5 up and over through southern Oregon to Crescent City. Today’s drive takes between six and seven hours; Willits is the best spot to stop for lunch halfway through the drive.

Day 2: Crescent City to Eureka

Distance: 85 miles

Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Where to Stay: The Historic Eagle House

Redwoods to See This Day:

  • Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
  • Trees of Mystery
  • Redwood National and State Parks

Starting today, you’ll begin making your way back south along U.S. 101, stopping to enjoy the Redwoods along the way. You passed some of the famous groves and parks on your way north yesterday; here’s an opportunity to get out and stretch your legs at each.

First up is Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park located east of Crescent City and a good spot for a morning walk before you start driving. This state park has limited infrastructure – you won’t find roads or trails, just space to explore and wander among the towering trunks. 7% of the old-growth Redwoods in the world are in this state park alone!

It’s a short 15-minute drive south from Crescent City to the Trees of Mystery, a funky roadside attraction that will teach you the basics of Redwood trees and their history in California. Be sure to explore along the Kingdom of Giants trail, the main sight, and see the Brotherhood tree at 297 feet tall.

Continuing south, stop in Orick for lunch then make the turn inland to visit Redwoods National and State Parks. This area is easily worth the entire afternoon of the day. You can visit Lady Bird Johnson Grove, named for the former first lady, and search for the famed Hyperion tree. Measuring 379.3 feet tall, Hyperion’s location is not officially published to help protect the fragile ecosystem around this giant… but you’re welcome to explore the official trails in the parks to see if you can discover it!

You’ll end the night by driving to Eureka where there are plenty of restaurants, accommodations, and amenities.

Day 3: Eureka to Benbow

Distance: 72 miles

Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Where to Stay: Benbow Inn

Redwoods to See This Day:

  • Humboldt Redwoods State Park
  • Founders Tree
  • Avenue of the Giants
  • Rockefeller Grove
  • Women’s Grove

Today is one of the shortest days of driving during the whole road trip – less than 90 minutes! Before setting out from Eureka, grab breakfast at a local restaurant and lunch to-go – you can enjoy a picnic while spending the entire day in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park is my favorite spot to see Redwoods near San Francisco, even though it’s significantly further than the popular Muir Woods (which you’ll visit on Day 6). This is where the Save the Redwoods League was founded and a stop at the appropriately named Founders tree is a must.

The rest of the Avenue of the Giants is home to other redwood groves, too. This is a 31-mile stretch of the original US-101 that deviates from the speedy modern version, and you can definitely do the whole thing from Pepperwood in the north to Myers Flat in the south. Along the way, stop for your lunch picnic overlooking the Eel River.

Be sure to make stops at Rockefeller Grove and Women’s Grove; the latter was named for the women who helped found the Save the Redwoods League and push the movement forward. Be sure to keep an eye out for albino redwoods as there are several in the area. The Visitor Center is also worth a stop if you want to learn more about the area and the famous trees.

It’s a short drive south from the southern exit of the Avenue of the Giants to the town of Benbow; I stayed at the Benbow Inn on my trip in January 2018 and their new (at the time) rooms are gorgeous – ask for one of those when booking.

Day 4: Benbow to Mendocino

Distance: 76 miles

Time: 2 hours

Where to Stay: Little River Inn. Book on, or their website.

Redwoods to See This Day:

  • Smithe Redwoods State Natural Reserve
  • Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree Park

Heading south from Benbow, there are a few good Redwoods viewing opportunities before turning out along the Pacific Coast Highway for a stretch. (I’m detouring onto the coast because it’s stunning, the communities are super-cool, and there are great places to eat and stay for a night.)

First make a small detour to Smithe Redwoods State Natural Reserve, just before the junction between US-101 and CA-1. In addition to the Frank and Bess Smithe Grove, there’s a 60-foot waterfall in the park that’s worth a morning hike.

Next, stop at another famous Redwoods-themed roadside attraction: Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree Park. I say “themed,” but this is actually a Redwood tree that has been carved so that tiny vehicles in decades past could drive through – today it’s more suited to a pedestrian walk-thru.

After that, make your way west onto California Highway 1 and feel the cool Pacific breeze as you cruise down the PCH. You can stop for an afternoon stretch in Fort Bragg; the Glass Beach is the most popular attraction. If you’re a bit hungry, stop at Princess Seafood in Noyo Harbor for barbecued oysters and lobster bisque – this restaurant and seafood business is entirely woman-owned and operated!

End with a short drive to Mendocino for the evening. You can take a sunset stroll in Mendocino Headlands State Park before turning in for the night. On my recent Mendocino weekend trip, I stayed at the Little River Inn and highly recommend their Whale Watch Bar for dinner too.

Day 5: Mendocino to Santa Rosa

Distance: 101 miles

Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

Where to Stay: Safari West

Redwoods to See This Day:

  • Navarro River Redwoods State Park
  • Hendy Woods State Park
  • Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve

Day 5 of this Redwoods road trip itinerary is a combination of coastal driving and Redwoods, just like yesterday. You’ll start on the coast, making your way south from Mendocino. Turn inland on California Highway 128 and stop to explore Navarro River Redwoods State Park with a morning hike. If you’re not up for walking yet, the 11-mile drive along CA-128 is gorgeous in its own right.

Next up is Hendy Woods State Park, a small state park with old-growth Redwoods. There are a number of great wineries in the area too since you’re passing through the Anderson Valley, so stop at one for a tasting and lunch.

Lastly, make your way to US-101 South toward Santa Rosa – but before pulling into town detour out to Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve near Guerneville. There are a number of notable trees here, including the Parson Jones tree at 310 feet tall, and the Colonel Armstrong tree which is believed to be over 1,400 years old.

End by returning to Santa Rosa for the night. You can have dinner in town (there are loads of great options but I enjoyed both Bollywood Clay Oven and Perch + Plow) and then stay nearby – or spend a bit more time in the car to drive out to Safari West for the night. (Read about my Santa Rosa weekend trip to see why Safari West is so cool.)

Day 6: Santa Rosa to San Francisco

Distance: 66 miles

Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Where to Stay: n/a

Redwoods to See This Day:

  • Muir Woods National Monument

If you read why Safari West is so cool and decided to stay there, you should start your morning on safari, have lunch in Santa Rosa, and then get back on the road. Its a short, 10-minute drive from Safari West to the Calistoga Petrified Redwood Forest; it’s a cool detour if you are interested.

This redwood forest was preserved in a volcanic eruption over 3 million years ago. These are a different, extinct species than the coastal redwoods you’ve been seeing on this itinerary; you can take a 21-stop self-guided walking tour through the property to see a number of fantastically preserved Sequoia Langsdorfii.

After you’ve explored the petrified redwood forest, set out for San Francisco in the afternoon. After all – it’s only a 75-minute drive from Santa Rosa to San Francisco; even with traffic on US-101 it won’t take you more than two hours of driving today.

As you get nearer to San Francisco, take the exit for Mill Valley and Muir Woods National Monument. You need to arrange reservations in advance and park at one of the shuttle lots to get a ride to the woods. This is because as the closest Redwoods grove to San Francisco, it’s a wildly popular day trip and the shuttle/reservation system helps control crowds and protect the trees. You probably need 2-3 hours to really enjoy Muir Woods in full.

Then it’s a few miles south on US-101 to San Francisco where this road trip ends!

If you want to extend it, you can drive another two hours south to Santa Cruz; along the way there are two more state parks with Coastal Redwoods:

  • Big Basin Redwoods State Park
  • Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

I originally suggested adding on two extra nights to do this, but you’ve probably seen so many trees on this Redwoods road trip that you don’t necessarily need to see more. If you still want more time among the trees – consider adding them to your itinerary.

Note: As of October 8, 2022, Big Basin Redwoods has partially reopened following a catastrophic wildfire in 2020 which burned over 97% of the park and destroyed nearly every structure. Be sure to check the Park website before planning a visit.

Itinerary #2: Giant Redwoods Road Trip

Giant Redwoods Road Trip Map

Giant Sequoias, or Giant Redwoods, are only known to exist in 75 specific groves on the Western slopes of the Sierra Nevadas between the elevations of 5,000 and 8,000 feet. What makes Giant Redwoods unique is that they grow incredibly large around their base – while Coastal Redwoods are typically measured in height, Giants are measured in girth.

Like the Coastal Redwoods itinerary above, this road trip is based from San Francisco, and primarily focuses on seeing the Giant Redwoods in the Sierra Nevadas.

1San Francisco to Arnold
2Arnold to Yosemite
3Yosemite to Shaver Lake
4Shaver Lake to King’s Canyon
5Kings Canyon to Sequoia
6Sequoia to San Francisco

Now that you have the basics, let’s dive into a daily breakdown of this Redwoods road trip and the Redwoods you can see each day.

Day 1: Drive from San Francisco to Arnold

Redwoods Road Trip - Giant Sequoias

Distance: 154 miles

Time: 3 hours

Where to Stay: Arnold Meadowmont Lodge

Redwoods to See This Day:

  • none

Set out east from San Francisco toward the Sierra Nevadas – the small town of Arnold is an almost straight shot across the Bay and into the mountains. Arnold is located in Calaveras County, on the western side of the Sierras and home to some of the northern Giant Redwoods in the area.

You’ll spend most of the drive on smaller highways which make the drive take longer than it seems; if you set out from San Francisco after lunch, you should have time for a short excursion before turning in. I recommend booking a tour of Mercer Caverns outside Murphy, then enjoy dinner at Cascabel in Angels Camp.

This requires a bit of detouring and doubling-back, but they’re a great way to sample Calaveras County during your overnight stay.

Day 2: Arnold to Yosemite National Park

Distance: 104 miles

Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes

Where to Stay: Ahwahnee Hotel 

Redwoods to See This Day:

  • Calaveras Big Trees State Park
  • Discovery Tree

Today may only be a 100-mile day, but it takes a while as the highways along the western side of the Sierras are meandering.

Start Day 2 of your Giant Redwoods road trip with a morning in Calaveras Big Trees State Park outside Arnold. Here you’ll find the Discovery Tree, the first Redwood noted by naturalists in the 1850s which was felled and now serves as a scenic – monstrous – stump you can climb on. There are a number of other massive trees too – both in height and girth.

Making your way south, you can stop for lunch in Groveland. This tiny town is very near the original site where miners struck it rich and sparked the California Gold Rush in 1849. I stayed at the Groveland Hotel on my visit though it has since changed ownership; there are a couple of watering holes and food establishments in town to choose from.

Continue your drive to Yosemite National Park for an overnight stop. If you time it right, you can enjoy the sunset as you enter the Valley, and even do some stargazing. You need to arrange camping or accommodation in advance – options are limited in the park though the best choice if you only have one night.

Day 3: Yosemite to Shaver Lake

Distance: 93 miles

Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes

Where to Stay: Shaver Lake Village Hotel

Redwoods to See This Day:

  • Mariposa Grove
  • Shadow of the Giants National Recreational Trail
  • Nelder Grove

While there is a fair bit of driving today, I recommend spending the morning in Yosemite; use my one-day Yosemite guide to make the most of your short time in the park. You could start by watching the sunrise from Tunnel View, and then drive/ride the shuttle along the park loop to hop on and off for sights like Bridal Veil Falls, Mirror Lake, and El Capitan.

Once you get on the road, you’ll only travel a short way to stop off at Mariposa Grove near Wawona. This is one of the best Redwood groves in the Yosemite area, and the two-mile Mariposa Grove road is a good way to get acquainted with the area. If you want to stop and walk among the trees, it’s best to take the Wawona-Mariposa shuttle since the small parking area fills up quickly.

Further south along the edge of the Sierras you can enjoy an afternoon hike on the Shadow of the Giants trail. This short 1.1-mile loop is a nice way to see a dozen Redwoods along the route. Nearby Nelder Grove levels up with over a thousand Giant Sequoias, but it’s a bigger detour from the main route today.

Your final destination is the small town of Shaver Lake, a small community on the banks of its eponymous lake. This is because of a notable Redwoods grove you’ll visit tomorrow; for tonight, take it easy and enjoy a walk along Shaver Lake at sunset.

Day 4: Shaver Lake to King’s Canyon National Park

Distance: 113 miles

Time: 3 hours

Where to Stay: John Muir Lodge

Redwoods to See This Day:

  • McKinley Grove

Rise and shine to watch the sunrise over Shaver Lake, then hit the road. Today’s drive includes an hour detour deeper into the heart of the Sierras to McKinley Grove. This grove is easily missed because it’s not easy to reach.

However, McKinley Grove is especially scenic, both on the drive in, and on the ground. Home to over 20 mature Giant Sequoias, the undergrowth is scarce and the trails are picturesque and easy to walk.

You’ll have to backtrack out of the mountains to make your way south to King’s Canyon National Park, which makes this among the longest days of driving during this Redwoods road trip.

Day 5: King’s Canyon to Sequoia National Park

Distance: 88 miles

Time: 2 hours, 55 minutes

Where to Stay: Wuksatchi Lodge

Redwoods to See This Day:

  • Converse Basin Grove
  • General Grant Grove
  • Redwood Mountain Grove

For the final day of Redwoods sightseeing on this road trip, you’re hitting the big two spots for Giant Redwoods: King’s Canyon National Park and the aptly named Sequoia National Park.

Spend most of the day in King’s Canyon, as there are a number of great groves to see: Converse Basin Grove is technically outside the national park in Sequoia National Forest; General Grant Grove has some amazing Giant Redwoods and a number of trails in varying difficulty; and Redwood Mountain Grove is the largest grove of Redwoods on the planet.

If you need a change of scenery, Boyden Caverns is another amazing natural wonder that’s worth a visit.

It takes about three hours to get from King’s Canyon to Sequoia National Park, which is a drive you can make in the afternoon. There are accommodations and camping options in Sequoias but like Yosemite and King’s Canyon, be sure to book them in advance.

Day 6: Sequoias NP to San Francisco

Distance: 281 miles

Time: 5 hours, 20 minutes

Where to Stay: n/a

Redwoods to See This Day:

  • The Giant Forest
  • General Sherman Tree

On this, the final day of your Giant Redwoods road trip, you can spend the morning exploring Sequoia National Park before turning northeast to make your way back to bustling San Francisco.

Be sure to visit the General Sherman Tree, which is the world’s largest tree by volume. Scientists estimate it is over 52,500 cubic feet of tree! Be sure to explore the rest of The Giant Forest too, and visit the Giant Forest Museum. This building was designed by the same architect that built The Ahwanee Hotel in Yosemite!

Once you’ve had your fill of time among the Giant trees and attempted to wrap your arms around as many as you can, it’s time to depart. It’s a five-hour drive to San Francisco, which can easily stretch to six with traffic. Be prepared to stop for dinner along the way; there are plenty of options in Tracy before you get back into the Bay Area.

There you have it – two Redwoods road trip itineraries! One for the Coastal Redwoods along the Pacific, and a second for the Giant Redwoods in the Sierra Nevadas. Which one will you choose? Not sold on either – no worries: I’ve got six other San Francisco road trips for your consideration.

If you have any questions about either of these road trips, let me know in the comments!

Help others discover this post too!

I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.


  • Eric and Debra Darling

    We are planning to see these magnificent trees this spring 2021 what part of spring is best time to go? Also we want to do both trips since we are driving from Michigan can you suggest an easy way to combine them.
    Enjoyed your commentary thank you for sharing your adventure. We are retired so we were thinking a little over a month of travel….
    How’s that sound.
    Again Thank you
    Eric and Debra Darling

  • Valerie

    Eric & Debra, sounds like it will be a great trip! I think the best way is to combine them by doing the “coastal” loop from San Francisco, then doing the “giant” loop from San Francisco as well. This will make sense if you’re driving over from Michigan on I-80!

  • Tonya Turner

    I thank you I have been planning and looking into the trip you somewhat mapped out for years.
    It’s our 24th wedding Ann and can’t wait!
    I thank you again so much for the info

  • Bonnie Sousa

    Your trip sounds exactly like what my husband and I want to do. We are planning on September 2021, leaving from Seattle and going down the coast all the way! Do you have a book or booklet I could purchase with your info?
    Bonnie Sousa

  • Dixie

    I want to do a bus tour through the giant redwood forest. Then go on a wine tour in Sonoma. Being a senior I don’t know if I can walk long trails. Are they long trails to the interior trees ?

    • Valerie

      Dixie, I’m not sure if there are any bus tours; I’ve never heard of one! As for the trees, usually there are trails to the groves and most are pretty easy to access.

  • Dixie

    Your plans are wonderful. I am a stranger to this area so I don’t know if I can travel it alone. That is why maybe a bus tour is better for me.

  • Monica A Williams

    My husband and I are looking and travelling this summer to see the Redwoods. Is it possible to do both of these in 9 days? He is a truck driver so driving longer some days is not an issue for him.
    Thank you for sharing!!

    • Valerie

      Doing it all in 9 days would definitely be a haul, since you need time to actually enjoy the redwoods each place you stop. I think you could do all of Itinerary #1 and Days #1-3 in Itinerary #2 with 9 days; you’d be skipping Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks – so missing the major attractions on that itinerary.

  • Michael Rhodes

    I’ve been wanting to see these trees for decades, and am finally to a point in my life where I can do it. However, due to job constraints, we can only do a week at a time. If you had to pick one of these (Coastal or Giant) which would be your recommendation? We would fly in from DFW to SFO, so it appears either direction would work for us. Part 2 question – if time permits us to only drive one of these routes, is there a closer airport to either end that would make more sense for us to fly in to? Finally, both of us have had both knees replaced, so walking long distances could be an issue. Could that make a difference in your recommendation?


    • Valerie

      Great questions, Michael.

      It’s tough to give you a recommendation. SFO is closer to the Coastals; LAX is closer to the Giants, but they’re very different experiences. Giants require more mountain/hill walking/climbing because of their elevation, so from that perspective, the Coastals may be better. I’m also partial to the Coastals, so overall my vote is Coastal!


    I’m hoping to see the giant redwoods/sequoias on my way from Colorado to the LA area the end of December. I’m confused by various sites I’ve looked at as to whether I can get into the parks in the winter. Can you advise? Thanks!

    • Valerie

      Sorry, I don’t have specific info on that, Kathy – I recommend checking the National Park websites as they’ll keep them updated if roads are closed or not.

      • Jessica S.

        I will be coming to Anaheim in August and will have about 4 days to see the trees. Any direction on how to modify your trip #2 would be greatly appreciated. Bonus if you know of anyway to sneak trail riding in there.

        • Valerie

          Roadtrippers can help you figure out how to adjust this route – It’s the mapping service I use for my trips. Have a great time!


    I booked tickets before looking into details. May 8 into SF, May 15, out of Arcata/Eureka. I’m trying to determine if it would be too much of a struggle to try to go to Yosemite or Sequoia NP before heading North. I haven’t seen you mention Canaveral Big Trees SP, maybe that would be a good place to see one of the giants?

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