V6E3 - From Ancient Forests to Sandy Beaches

Written By Chris Shontz / @Venture4WD

I knew well in advance that I would kick off the new week among the Redwood trees in Northern California. As one who has been born and raised on the east coast of the United States, I could hardly fathom the concept of the monstrous trees. They seemed almost otherworldly in nature, as they appeared in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, home to the Ewoks on the forest moon of Endor.

While watching that movie in my childhood, I remember thinking, “Wow! Is that a real place?!” Thus, the trees became a thing of mystique - an entry on my bucket list - and now I was about to experience them first-hand.

Off of highway 101 in Northern California, there is a parallel route that is old 101, better known as Avenue of the Giants. For roughly 25 miles, this paved route snakes its way through pockets of ancient Redwoods. The route is lined with occasional parks, groves, and pull-offs, where one can stop to enjoy the forest.

Burlington Campground

As I traveled south along the avenue, I happened upon a campground in the midst of the trees. There were some RVs, and a couple of dome tents in sight. Despite being mid-January, when many destinations are closed for the season, this place seemed to be up-and-running, and it was wonderfully inviting.

I usually avoid fee campgrounds, but this time, I made an exception without giving it a second thought. What better way to experience the Redwoods than to spend the night among them?

Burlington Campground is located in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. It is well-maintained and offers a few dozen spaces for both tent-campers and motorized campers. It cost $35 a night during my visit in early 2019, and features restrooms with running water, showers, fire rings, picnic tables, hiking trails, and an extraordinary natural setting. The camp host was extremely friendly, and offered a wealth of knowledge about the area and its surrounding attractions.

Unfortunately, my stay was extremely rainy. After popping my camper, I took shelter under my ARB awning, which kept me dry and allowed me to enjoy being outside.

Despite the rain, I loved every moment of this experience. It was a beautiful campground, and it is impossible to be among the Redwoods without smiling!

Haven on the Coast

The next day, I continued traveling southwest, toward the California coast.

For miles, I was following a green pickup truck along the northernmost portion of California’s highway 1. Then, as our vehicles approached the coast, the truck turned off-pavement onto what appeared to be a very remote, primitive road.

“My type of road,” I thought.

So I pulled over to study the basemap on my GPS to see where the road might lead. According to my data, it traveled up along the shore for several miles toward Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, and a “tent” icon indicated that there was a campground along the coast. With this new information, I decided that this was a road I should explore!

What’s funny is, I likely wouldn’t have noticed the road, had the pickup truck not turned onto it. I would’ve driven by, completely oblivious…

The road itself was fairly rough, but not too rough for an all-wheel drive car. It changed elevation a number of times as it wound its way in and out of an old-growth forest, occasionally overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

As I approached the campground, I passed the pickup truck whose occupants were enjoying a day-use area, and I continued along to find a place to spend the night.

There were dozens of primitive places to camp here, with numerous outhouses scattered about. Some of the campsites were located close to the beach, while others were nestled in the forest. Given the rain, which had been unrelenting for the past couple of days, I opted for one of the forested campsites and settled in.

The next day, I set off for the beach where I spent time taking it all in. It was such a beautiful, secluded destination - I made coffee in the morning sun, I went for a hike in the forest, and I walked up and down the beach. Then, on a whim, I decided to spend one more night. This time, since the weather had dramatically improved, I parked the Jeep on a grassy flat right near the beach, and set up camp.

While preparing dinner, I was visited by a herd of elk, who decided to graze nearby. They didn’t seem the least bit concerned by my presence. Throughout the night, I could hear the distant sound of clacking racks, as the bulls would frolic and spar!

The Journey Inland

As I continued to travel south, I had a decision to make. Do I continue south along California’s coast, or travel inland?

While I would’ve enjoyed experiencing more of the coast, I opted to turn inland, where there is more public land to better accommodate exploring and camping in the Jeep.

In this regard, central and coastal California are challenging destinations for mobile living, especially compared to the neighboring states. Much of the land is private, densely-populated, or heavily regulated. Regulations aren’t a bad thing - they protect and preserve the land - but this does make it hard to find places for safe and legal vehicle-dwelling.

Furthermore, during the cold season, there are travel restrictions throughout many of California’s National Forests, so many forest roads are closed for the season, reducing options even further.

For these reasons, I spent much of the week driving on highways and paved routes in search of my next destination.

Destination Groveland

My research directed me east, toward the Sierra Mountains. A website that I often use to seek out places to stay, freecampsites.net, suggested that there might be some viable camping options in Stanislaus National Forest, which is situated due west of Yosemite National Park.

As I neared my destination, I passed through the town of Groveland, California. This is a rustic mountain town that serves as the gateway to Yosemite, featuring an old, family-friendly saloon that oozes character, flavorful coffee shops, art galleries, and some absolutely wonderful hotels.

I immediately fell in love with the town, and I knew right away that it was where I would end the week.

It goes to show -  if at first you don’t succeed, keep driving!