Number 55 - April 2017
Welcome to "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel's newsletter of fun and interesting things to do in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Northern California. Whether you are visiting San Francisco or hosting visitors, Blue Heron can provide an unforgettable experience. Visit our website,, to learn more about our private, custom tours.

California's Big Trees

When I take guests on tours, they frequently ask about California's big trees. Often they are confused between coast redwoods (sequoia semperviren) and giant sequoias (sequoiadendron giganteum). This newsletter will attempt to end the confusion and give you some tips on how to enjoy these magnificent trees.

Coast Redwoods vs. Giant Sequoias

Coast redwoods and giant sequoias, along with the dawn redwood, are part of the same family of trees. Coast redwoods are the tallest trees in the world with the tallest specimen measuring nearly 380 feet (116 meters) in height. Named Hyperion, the tree is located in Redwood National Park in the far north of California. Sequoias are the largest trees in the world by volume. While not as tall as redwoods, they can be twice as wide. The General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park is the largest giant sequoia at 52,508 cubic feet (1,487 cubic meters).

Coast redwoods live along the Northern California coast in protected areas not far from the Pacific Ocean. The southernmost redwoods can be found in Big Sur. The northernmost redwoods are located just across the Oregon border. Giant sequoias live on the western slope of the central Sierra Nevada mountains between 4,000 and 8,000 feet (1,219 and 2,438 meters) in elevation.

Drive Through a Big Tree

Some visitors ask about driving through a redwood tree at Muir Woods National Monument. Muir Woods was never home to a drive-through tree. The famous drive-through tree was a giant sequoia, the Wawona Tree, in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias in Yosemite National Park. Unfortunately, the Wawona Tree fell in 1969. There is a tree you can walk through in the Mariposa Grove - the California Tunnel Tree.

Sequoia National Park is home to Tunnel Log, a fallen sequoia you can drive through. This unnamed tree fell across Crescent Meadow Road in late 1937. The following year a tunnel was cut through the fallen tree, which was christened "Tunnel Log."

Calaveras Big Trees State Park was home to a giant sequoia that visitors first rode through on horseback. In 1920, cars were allowed to drive through the Pioneer Cabin Tree. In recent years, visitors only were allowed to walk through the tree. This came to an end in early January 2017 when the Pioneer Cabin Tree fell as a result of rain and soggy ground.

Finally, there are three privately owned redwoods that you can drive through. I think the best specimen is the Chandelier Tree located in the small town of Leggett in Mendocino County, nearly four hours north of San Francisco. Further north, along the Avenue of the Giants near Myers Flat, is the Shrine Drive-Thru Tree. The Shrine Tree is probably the least popular of the three trees as it appears to be falling. My Honda Odyssey minivan made it through both the Chandelier and Shrine Trees. The third drive-through redwood, the Tour Thru Tree, is located near Klamath in the far north of California. I've yet to visit this drive-through redwood.

Where to See Coast Redwoods

The closest groves of virgin or first-growth redwoods to San Francisco can be found in Muir Woods National Monument. The park is less than 30 minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge. Due to its proximity to San Francisco, the park is often very crowded. Parking is extremely limited so, if you are driving, arrive early or plan to walk up to two miles to get to the park. The park offers a seasonal shuttle and a variety of tour companies, including Blue Heron Custom Tours, will take you to the Woods. Late this year or early next year, visitors will be required to make a reservation before visiting the park on their own.

If you are planning to go winetasting in northern Sonoma County, a nice place to see redwoods is Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve located just outside of Guerneville in the Russian River Valley. Nearby are many wineries producing excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. A variety of lodging options can be found in Guerneville, Forestville, and Healdsburg. You can see a good list of hotels and inns by visiting the Wine Road's website.

A fun way to see redwoods if you are driving south from San Francisco is to take a train ride through the redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains between San Jose and the city of Santa Cruz. Roaring Camp Railroads offers an hour-long steam train ride through the redwoods. Another train ride takes you through Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Plenty of lodging can be found in San Jose, Santa Cruz, and other communities. Roaring Camp can also be visited on a day trip from San Francisco.

If you want to be immersed in the redwood forest, drive the 31-mile Avenue of the Giants in northern California. This route parallels US-101 between Garberville and Scotia. During the drive, you will be surrounded by over 51,000 acres (206 square kilometers) of redwood forest. A variety of lodging is nearby including the Benbow Historic Inn in Garberville and the beautiful Gingerbread Mansion in the quaint town of Ferndale.

In the far north of California, a great place to enjoy the redwood forests is Redwood National and State Parks. This park administers forest found in Redwood National Park as well as in Jedidiah Smith, Del Norte Coast, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks. The parks span about 50 miles of northern California from just south of the Oregon border to north of the small town of Orick. Crescent City is the largest city near the parks. No lodging is available in the parks, but many motels can be found in the nearby communities.

California operates 48 parks in the zone where redwood trees grow. Therefore, there are many other opportunities to enjoy these magnificent trees beyond the areas highlighted here. If you are driving north from San Francisco along US-101, you'll never be far from a beautiful grove of redwoods.

Where to See Giant Sequoias

Three national parks were created partially to protect giant sequoias: Yosemite, Kings Canyon (formerly General Grant), and Sequoia National Parks. Today, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are jointly administered as one unit by the National Park Service.

Yosemite National Park is home to three groves of giant sequoias: Mariposa, Tuolomne, and Merced. The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is the largest of the three groves and the most easily accessible. It is located near the south entrance to the park on CA-41. The Mariposa Grove is currently closed for renovation and is scheduled to reopen this coming fall. The closest lodging to the Mariposa Grove is not in Yosemite Valley. The Big Trees Lodge (formerly known as the Wawona Hotel) is the closest lodging inside the park. The Redwoods is a complex of vacation rentals inside the park boundary but on private land near Wawona. Finally, just outside the south entrance to the park in Fish Camp is Tenaya Lodge.

Since Mariposa Grove is currently closed, a nearby alternative is to visit the Nelder Grove, which is home to over 100 mature sequoias. Nelder Grove is located about 12 miles south of the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park and about 4 miles north of Oakhurst off of CA-41.

The Merced and Tuolomne Groves are both home to about two dozen sequoias. Both groves only can be accessed on foot. The trail-head to the Merced Grove is on Big Oak Flat Road east of the Big Oak Flat entrance on CA-120. The hike is about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) each way and involves a gain of 500 feet (150 meters) on the hike to the trees. The trail-head to the Tuolomne Grove is on the Tioga Road just east of Crane Flat. The mile-long (1.6 kilometers) walk to the grove involves a drop of 500 feet (150 meters) in elevation. If you are going to visit one of these two groves, the closest lodging can be found in Yosemite Valley or outside of the Big Oak Flat Entrance along CA-120. Lodging inside the park is administered by Aramark. You can see a good listing of lodging near CA-120 from Groveland to the park entrance by clicking here.

The Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park is as fine a grove of sequoias as you will see. A variety of hiking trails will take you through the forest to the General Sherman Tree, Tunnel Log, Moro Rock, and other nearby sites. Wukasachi Lodge is open all year in Sequoia National Park. From here you can drive to the Giant Forest or take the seasonal shuttle bus.

The Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park also offers a number of hiking trails. Here you can visit the General Grant Tree, the second largest giant sequoia. The John Muir Lodge and Grant Grove Cabins are both within walking distance of the Grant Grove. Both are open all year, but some of the cabins close from early fall to late spring.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park is yet another place to hike among the giant sequoias. The park is located 35 minutes east of Angels Camp on CA-4, about 3 hours from San Francisco. Calaveras Big Trees is home to two groves of sequoias with the North Grove being the most visited. Four cabins are available for renting in the park. Additional lodging can be found in the nearby communities of Angels Camp, Murphys, and Arnold. Murphys is also home to quite a few wineries' tasting rooms. Angels Camp is where Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain learned the legend of the jumping frog.

There are other sequoia groves in the surrounding National Forests as well as in Sequoia National Park. However, the groves listed above are the most easily visited and are home to numerous trees.

So there you have it - Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel's guide to coast redwoods and giant sequoias. We'd love to show you some of these beautiful trees, so contact us if you'd like to see some of the biggest and tallest trees on the planet.

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See you on the road,

Rick Spear
Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel
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San Francisco, CA 94112
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