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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 there need 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), or the biggest ones (Giant)? Trees that make you crane your neck to see the canopy or which beg you to stretch your arms around them – if you can!

The Coastal Redwoods road trip is a bit shorter at ~750 miles and 15 hours of driving, where as 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.

This post was originally published in May 2020, and was updated in September 2020.

Itinerary #1: Coastal Redwoods Road Trip

Redwoods Road Trip on Roadtrippers

The Coastal Redwood is a species of trees 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 as Coastal Redwoods.

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

DayDestinations
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 Booking.com and Hotels.com

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
  • Womens 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 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 rooms are gorgeous.

Day 4: Benbow to Mendocino

Distance: 76 miles

Time: 2 hours

Where to Stay: Little River Inn. Book on Booking.comHotels.com, 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 barbequed 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

Redwoods Road Trip - Muir Woods

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.

Itinerary #2: Giant Redwoods Road Trip

Giant Redwoods Road Trip on Roadtrippers

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.

DayDestinations
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. (I have info about this in my Yosemite weekend trip guide.)

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 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 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

Giant Sequoias Looking Up

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 Sequoias 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 Sequoias 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 Sequoias 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 Sequoias 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 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 Sequoias 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!

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