Monday, October 20, 2008

Northern California



I have embarked on Northern California now that Vermont is nearly done. The site will take a while to go up as I am currently opening a restaurant in New York City and time is super limited... Please check back often, even to previous posts because I update often!

Elk at the Lost Coast off Usal Road

Northern California

Northern California!!! The Bear Republic!!!

Smith River National Recreation Area

The recreation area is administered by the Six River National Forest and is 305,337 acres with 59,000 acres in the Siskiyou Wilderness on the high and snow peaked edge. Many back roads offer numerous opportunities for back road exploration, stealth camping and mountain biking. Average summer temperatures run between the 80’s to a high in the 100’s. The surrounding steep and scenic mountains are geologically unique with seven distinct forest communities. Over 300 wildlife species and 1400 plant species abound within the park. Stop in the Gasquet Ranger Station along highway 199 for maps.

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

Great pay per view campground (106 sites – open year round) named after explorer Jedediah Smith who passed through this area back in 1828 located along the Smith River just east of Crescent City along highway 199. The park has 10,000 acres of which 9,000 are old growth redwoods. The wild and scenic 315 mile long Smith River is the largest undammed river left in California. It’s clear and cool waters with deep emerald green pools offers rafting, kayaking, steelhead fishing and swimming opportunities. Campground hosts were really nice when Lisa, Lucy and I stayed here. They offered to drive us to a steak dinner at a local casino. The best spots were located near the Smith River. The park has a small visitor center, bookstore and evening campfire programs.

Attractions in the park include:

Howland Hill Road which passes through some great old growth redwood forests.

Stout Tree which isn’t named after Lisa’s favorite malty beverage. The Stout Tree is a 340 foot tall and 20 foot in diameter redwood located half a mile from the campground at the confluence of the Mill Creek and Smith River.

Cool Towns, Breweries and Stealth Spots between Crescent City and Oregon along 199:

There are so many dirt roads leading to secluded mountain tops or river to camp by. Most dirt roads here lead to something in the woods. Somewhere around Gasquet is a great vintage milk shake spot. Very scenic and cool drive into Oregon on 199.

Stop in the town of Kerby and see quite possibly the coolest wood working shop called Burle-esque. Right before Kerby is a chill hippie town whose name eludes me at present. Microbrew located in town.

Crescent City

Great beach with surfing. You can rent wet suits and gear on the pier next to the beach. Smallish but good CO OP. Excellent scenic drive going south on 101 with many pull offs great for lunch! Stop by Trees of Mystery for an aerial tour through the Redwoods. Trees of Mystery is one the oldest redwood attractions along highway 101. It features an aerial tour through the tree tops with views of the ocean, redwoods and coastal range. It also has an Indian museum.

Redwood National Park:

Stealth Spots along Highway 101, and Towns and camp spots
Just south of Klamath, just over the bridge, is a scenic turn out (first right turn) that leads past some trailers along the Klamath River out to a beach and great scenic drive. If you tent camp try some great unofficial spots right on the beach. The road continues uphill past an old submarine spotting cabin from WWII. Great views and picnic areas with big drops. The road continues south to other scenic small drives within the State Park. There is a pay per view located in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. The scenic road leads south back to 101.

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

The park contains 13,000 acres of old growth redwoods. The park got it’s start in 1923 when Zipporah Russ of Ferndale donated the original 160 acres. Over the years, many people have donated parcels culminating with the donation of Fern Canyon in 1965 by Pacific Lumber Company. The park is one of the few places in America where you can see huge herds of Roosevelt Elk wandering along the road or on beaches. Drive carefully through this part of California!

Elk Prairie Visitor Center and Campground (75 sites) is open year round. I have never stayed here but it seems nice for a pay per view.

Other attractions include:

Newton B Drury Memorial Parkway – an eight mile drive through virgin redwood strands.

Big Tree Wayside – a short walk to a 304 foot redwood called ‘big tree’

Corkscrew Tree – a huge corkscrew shaped redwood near Big Tree Wayside.

Elk Prairie – home to a large herd of Roosevelt Elk.

Fern Canyon – a fern lined box canyon near Gold Bluff Beach. Watch out leaving your bus here as I have heard reports of break-ins recently.


Little town with not many amenities… except a kick ass diner that makes great stick to your ribs greasy spoon fare.

Gold Bluff Beach Campground (25 sites) is located three miles north of town. Gold Bluff Beach has great ocean side camping with loads of Roosevelt Elk. Campsites have solar shower. It is not recommended to drive a large camper due to the twisty dirt road. Lisa and I were stranded here during the heavy rains in January of 2009.

South of Orick along Highway 101

Lost Man Creek – a short gravel road leads to bathrooms, hiking trails and small waterfalls.

Bald Hills Road – a scenic 27 mile long road that accesses Tall Trees Grove. You need to get a permit and gate code at the Redwood Information Center. Lady Bird Johnson Grove is located 2 miles down Bald Hills Road. There is an one mile loop trail through massive Douglas Firs and Pacific Rhododendrons. Six miles in is the Redwood Creek Overlook with picnic grounds overlooking the vast Redwood Valley.

Tall Trees Access Road and Trail – from here it is a four hour round trip paved and gravel road that passes through prairies and oak woodlands, past several historic ranches to Schoolhouse Peak (3,092 feet).

Patrick’s Point Campground

Going south there is Patrick’s Point Campground (five miles north of Trinidad) and a state run one called Big Lagoon. The smaller state run campground has showers, one electric plug in site and a boat ramp.

Patrick’s Point Campground (124 sites) is 640 acres and is perched on a rocky outcrop nestled in Sitka spruce forests. It features meadows, agate beaches, abalone diving, a Sumêg Indian village and native plant gardens. Between Patrick’s Point and Arcata is a small pull off that leads to a sheltered cove with fishing and stealth camping. Lisa and I camped for three days before a ranger came by and asked us to move on.
The small town of Trinidad has a great state beach and nearby trails. Good diner with local seafood. Good small grocery with plenty of good beer and mainstream food choices. One of the largest waves in recorded history engulfed the local lighthouse (197 feet about sea level) on December 31st, 1914.

Other Attractions between Orick and Arcata

Great long beach with surfing about five miles south of Orick. Watch for loads of Roosevelt Elk frequently walking on or near highway 101.


Arcata is a cool little hippie town with a great square and many nearby attractions. There are two great stores for resupply – The CO OP and Wildberries, or something like that. Humboldt Brewery has okay selection of beer – my favorite being the double IPA. German Motors run by Eli and Lauren is a great spot to stop if you break down in the area. Lots of used bookstores, restaurants and eateries.

There is a KOA just south of town if you need a pay per view.


Home of Lost Coast Brewery. Cool small downtown area with restaurants, used bookstores and bakeries. Great CO OP in town off of 101.

Going South on 101 between Eureka and Leggett:

Ferndale and a great coastal scenic drive

Picturesque small Victorian town built on the dairy industry with an old timey feel. Worth a drive through. You can continue down 211 towards Capetown and take a great scenic drive over some steep hills towards the coast. There is a great pull off by a pebbly beach in between Capetown and Petrolia.

From Petrolia drive to Honeydew and either drive over towards South Fork thru Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Great twisty road thru old growth Redwoods. There is a side road up to a fire tower that is marked just before the redwoods. This will take into the heart of the Avenue of the Giants.

OR from Honeydew you could embark on a dirt road thru the King’s Range to Shelter Cove. I have been down this section of the road a few times. Generally it is in great shape for a dirt road. There is a campground with few amenities near Shelter Cove. Shelter Cove has a great beach. By the way, make sure you gas up before taking these back roads.

From Shelter Cove you can continue down the down road towards Sinkyone Wilderness State Park Campground on the Lost Coast. The road varies from easily passable to oh my god I hope there isn’t a landslide. There are several fantastic stealth spots to camp and a few campgrounds along the dirt road from Honeydew to Sinkyone.
South of Ferndale continuing down 101

Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park

The park is 17 miles inland from 101 and features 30 campsites with showers and other amenities. A great, scenic four mile trail through redwoods!

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

51,000 acre featuring many attractions including the scenic and highly recommended Avenue of the Giants drive. Over 100 miles of hiking trails, river access and fishing! The visitor center located two miles south of Weott has plenty of information. Burlington Campground (56 sites) has good pay per view camping.

Other attractions and Campgrounds

Women’s Federation Grove – located just south of Founder’s Grove offers a swimming beach and several trails.

Avenue of the Giants - A 32 mile scenic drive that runs next to the Eel River. It runs between the towns of Pepperwood (north) and Sylvandale (south). There are numerous little restaurants, cafes and attractions including a spot for shaved Hawaiian ice and even a winery. Two miles north of Weott is Founders Grove with a short trail leading to the Dyerville Giant, once the tallest redwood till it fell over in a winter storm in 1991.
Hidden Springs Campground has 154 sites and is only open in the summer.
Albee Creek Campground has 38 sites

From the Avenue of the Giants to Leggett:

Garberville is a small hippie town with many little cafes and restaurants. Gas stations and grocery stores abound.

Benbow State Recreation Area is located two miles south of Garberville and features 1,200 acres of meadows and a lake. Swimming and boating comprise the main attractions. The Benbow State Recreation Campground has 75 sites is open from April to October. There is a Summer Arts Festival and nearby golfing.

Richardson Grove State Park is located seven miles south of Garberville and features three campgrounds comprising of 168 campsites, though the Oak Flat Campground is only open during summer months.

There are many one log houses, drive through trees and tourist hotspots along the way to Leggett. Confusion Hill features a train ride for children, Gravity Hill and other tourist amenities.

Leggett to Fort Bragg

There are quite a few smaller pull offs for overnight sleeping along this road towards the coast. The higher parts of the coastal range get snow in the winter time.

Usal Road (mile marker 90.91) the southern end of the LOST COAST:
Prime camping area with pit toilets and no water accessed at mile marker 90.91 off highway 1 in between Leggett and the ocean. Usual Road is a hard to see dirt road leading six miles through forest, dramatic cliffs that are slightly scary during the wet season when the area is prone to erosion, deep mud and landslides. The rutted road is easily passable by two wheel drive vehicles during the drier months. Usal Road has a few great stealth spots prior to the campground… most notably in the section where the road runs high above the ocean. You will see two dirt roads leading towards the cliffs. Lisa and I once spent a happy morning eating blueberry pancakes and watching three huge elk rutting ten feet from our Westy while wonder dog Lucy growled softly. The campground at Sinkyone Wilderness State Park has numerous elk, black bear and mountain lions. Seals are frequently seen in the ocean segment. Those blessed with a synchro can easily cross a small creek and onto beach camping. There are many different campsites offering forest or beach camping.

Heading South towards Fort Bragg along Highway One:
About one mile south where highway one hits the coast is a not so stealth spot to camp. It’s a big pull off that doesn’t get much traffic passing past 8 pm. Lisa and I have spent many a night here watching the sun sink into the ocean.

Going south towards Fort Bragg are a few different pay per view and stealth campsites. The town of Westport has a gas station and small convenience store. One of our favorite pull offs is located at mile marker 70.8. We have even camped here a few times, though a Sheriff did ask us not to camp here one night. Many great spots to walk along the beach and swim or surf. A favorite beach is located at mile marker 70.6.

Fort Bragg is a larger city along the coast featuring Northcoast Brewery with Rasputin Stout, probably the best stout ever made. We recently tried their 11th anniversary version that was aged in bourbon barrels. Other favorite beers include Brother Thelonius and Pranqster. The food varies from mediocre to ok. Rather than drink beer here I would go a few blocks south to Piacci which is a neighborhood pizza parlor with amazing beers on tap. They feature a wide variety of salads and great thin crust pizzas served in an extremely friendly atmosphere. Strangely enough you can get bigger pours of Rasputin here than the nearby brewery.

Other eateries worth visiting are Highway 1 Café which is an organic diner (we eat here all the time – great food!), Egghead Diner, Cowlick’s Ice Cream Parlor (Lisa’s favorite in America) and Taka’s Sushi next door. Roundman’s Smokehouse is a great butcher shop with homemade sausages and a wide range of meats. If you need to shop, I strongly suggest going to Harvest Market located at the southern end of town off highway 1. If you like espresso and coffee drinks I would go to the A Frame espresso kiosk for the town’s best coffee. Other attractions include great used bookstores, botanical gardens and interesting shops. The Skunk Train departs from Fort Bragg and travels through the forests towards Willits and is fun for children. If you happen to have a medical marijuana card there is a dispensary just south of the hospital thrift shop with a great selection of medicinal marijuana, hash and keef.

Between Fort Bragg and the town of Mendocino:

There are numerous beaches and State parks in the seven miles between Fort Bragg and Mendocino. Russian Gulch State Park and Caspar Headlands State Beach being among two of the more prominent. The town of Caspar has a small nightclub that features a wide range of acts including String Cheese and major Reggae acts like Don Carlos, Sister Nancy, Mighty Diamonds and more. Check their schedule online! Usually there are a few vendors selling fresh fruits in this section of highway.


Great hippie town with numerous art galleries, expensive Inns, restaurants and colorful bars. Mendozza’s is a small very well stocked grocery store owned by Harvest Market in Fort Bragg. Their butcher shop is excellent. They also carry a wide selection of local beers and wines, sushi and deli sandwiches. The Mendocino Headlands is a gorgeous spot to take a walk along the coast and have picnic lunches. The Gallery bookstore in town has a great selection of books. Corner’s of the Mouth is a worker owned store featuring great local produce and organic food stuffs. If you love tea check out their second floor for a great selection of bulk teas. Restaurants in town are hot or miss… there is a very popular restaurant across from Moody’s Coffee shop that features all local food. The deli across from the post office has good sandwiches. Café Beaujolais offers upscale French influences fare. Mendocino County is the first GMO free county in the world. There is a farmer’s market every Friday in town.

Immediately south of town is Big River (the very first bridge south of town) with a nice gentle hiking trail, great beaches and more. Possible good spots for stealth camping. You can also rent canoes and kayaks nearby. Watch out if you let your dog run free on this beach. Out of town rangers sometimes write $200 tickets for off leash dogs.
If you like foraging for mushrooms there are plenty around. Most common varieties include a wide variety of boletus, chanterelles, hedgehogs and morels. This year has been a bumper crop of morels due to local wildfires last year. Little River road leads east out of town at the only light and leads into state forests where mushrooms are found. There are many spots to dive for abalones.

Mendocino county’s number one cash crop is marijuana. Unfortunately the acceptance of marijuana has brought many people here to start large commercial operations in which they illegally divert scarce water resources and foul water sheds with toxic chemicals. Support local organic marijuana! The larger operations has brought a small amount of violence by growers protecting their crops. If you come across a pot field or irrigation hoses immediately leave the area the same way you came.

Driving South from Mendocino towards Highway 128/Highway 1 Junction:

In between Mendocino and Little River is Van Damme State Park. Van Damme has great mushroom foraging and abalone diving opportunities. The park also has beautiful walks through pygmy redwoods. I have stayed here a few times though I prefer Navarro Beach Campground a little further south.

The town of Little River has a small grocery and gas station and a cute little restaurant called Le Petit Rive. Drive slowly through town as police often set up a speed trap near the post office.

The town of Albion has a small gas station and store with a great selection of stuff including diving and surfing gear. They have a small deli and a good selection of coffees. There is a pay per view campground called Albion River Campground located just north of town with boat launches. If you like generators and giant motor homes than this is your spot!

There are a few great pull offs for ocean walking going south. At the junction of highway 128 and highway 1 is Navarro Beach Campground. The site is seen while descending down highway 1 before the bridge crossing the river. Access the campground after crossing the bridge and taking the very first right towards the ocean. Lisa and I have seen mountain lions in the short section before the beach. Numerous seals are found hunting at the river’s mouth.

Highway 128 towards Philo and Boonville through the Navarro River Redwoods State Park

A beautiful drive through second growth redwoods along 128 east. The speed limit is 55 mph. Most tourist drive way slower pissing off a good number of locals. To keep the peace, pull over on any of the countless pull offs and let the others pass. Many great spots for river swimming and camping. Paul Dimmick Campground is located in this strand of redwoods.

Lisa and I recently saw an enormous mountain lion run ten feet in front of us at mile marker 6. Mountain Lions are big cats sometimes weighing up to 225 pounds and can leap 20 feet. Most prefer to stay out of sight and usually hunt at dawn and dusk. This area is full of them. If you see them avoid direct eye contact and running away. Make yourself appear larger. If attacked, cover your throat with your arms and fight back. These cats are predators. There are black bears that mostly are mellow but recently a friend’s pregnant goat was killed in broad daylight by a bear. I really wouldn’t worry at all. I have never seen a bear here and the few mountain lions I have seen were usually running away as fast as possible. I consider myself extremely lucky to have seen three in three years as most locals never are fortunate enough to see them. I would be more scared of encountering lawyers and other strange people wandering around.

Coming SOON:
Highway 128 between Highway 1 and Highway 101
• The Navarro General Store and Amphitheater
• The Rock Stop and Claudia Springs Winery
• Hendy Woods State Park and Campground
• River Swimming
• Apple Farm
• Gowan’s Oak Tree
• Vineyards of the Anderson Valley
• Philo
• Libby’s Restaurant
• Lemon’s Market
• Boonville
• Anderson Valley Brewing home of the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival
• Mountain View Road (the crazy dirt road from Boonville to Manchester)
• Fish Rock Road
• Ruth Gowan’s Brewpub – keep driving

Highway 101 going towards Santa Rosa

• Bear Republic Brewery – high octane kick ass brews
• Russian River Brewery – kick ass brewery

Highway 101 between Santa Rosa and San Francisco
• Novato – Moylans Brewery home of the triple IPA – a hop heads paradise!

Quick Notes on Highway 1 between the Navarro River and San Francisco

• Elk and Queenie’s Diner
• Stealth spot in between Manchester and Point Arena
• Gualala and the BBQ spot
• mile marker 28.54 picnic pull off
• Hog Island Oyster Company
• Tomales Bay Oyster Company
• Point Reyes and the Pine Cone Diner
• Mile marker 11.7 – the after show damn I am too buzzed pull off with water and hot springs
• Bolinas – the hippie town that wants to stay hidden
• Stinson Beach


neilwaukee said...

NICE TOUR nice advice-
heading to santa cruz in a month, will check back in for advice, but might not be able to take van, he's suffering from mysterious morning sickness, thankx again.

Phoenix Rising said...

Will be going to SF in September. Any advice on places to camp? Looks like many of the campgrounds near the Golden Gate are walk-in. Thanks!