For vertical views, you can’t beat redwoods. But the best horizontal vista I found in redwood country was the Klamath River emptying into the Pacific, seen from the Klamath River Overlook at the end of narrow, ragged Requa Road, about 40 miles south of the Oregon line.
From that overlook, about 650 feet above sea level, you can often spot gray whales migrating and see the river water mixing with the seawater. (In fact, as the tides rise and fall, the river appears to change direction.) You can also hike down a short, steep trail to an even more dramatic set of views. The light is best at sunset, and there’s a picnic table.
My favorite lodging in redwood country was along the Klamath River too. The Historic Requa Inn, a semi-rustic landmark, is about half a mile from the end of Requa Road. The white, two-story inn is one of the few commercial buildings left in the town of Requa, much of which was swept away by the flood of 1964.
The inn dates to 1914, when the only way to cross the river was by ferry. Besides offering 13 rooms at $119 to $199 a night (breakfast included, no TV, no phones, iffy Wi-Fi), the inn serves four-course dinners ($45 a person, reservations required) six nights a week, beginning promptly at 7 p.m.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get a chance to hear some local history from innkeepers Janet and Marty Wortman, who bought the place in 2010, or their son, Thomas Wortman, who is the chef. Janet, Thomas and Thomas’ sister, Geneva, are members of the Yurok tribe, whose long, narrow reservation follows the Klamath River for 43 miles, extending one mile from each bank.
If I’d had more time, I’d have explored the Klamath estuary on a two- to three-hour electric canoe tour with local naturalist William Ihne (707-954-8277), a former teacher who usually starts his expeditions at the nearby fisherman-friendly Gold River Lodge. One morning recently, Ihne spotted 30 osprey catching eels, a green heron and three golden eagles.
I settled for a foray along the rugged roads just south of the river. If you exit Highway 101 at Klamath Beach Road and head west, you enter Redwood National Park. Follow Coastal Drive and Alder Camp Road to make a nine-mile loop. The route includes several stopping points with broad views of the rocky coastline. Highlights include views from Flint Ridge and High Bluff Overlook and a glimpse of a World War II radar station that was disguised to look like a dairy farmhouse and barn.
DO’S AND DON’TS WHEN VISITING THE REDWOOD COAST
Do drive through the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree (Underwood Park, Leggett, Calif.; (707) 925-6464, www.drivethrutree.com). $5 per car. The 305-acre site includes a gift shop, restrooms, picnic tables, pond and meadow.
21 miles north: For a dose of gentility and Tudor architecture, do sleep or eat at Benbow Inn (445 Lake Benbow Drive, Garberville; (800) 355-3301 or (707) 923-2124, www.benbowinn.com). Opened in 1926. No elevators; only some rooms have TVs. Rooms for two typically $99-$180 a night.
24 miles: For breakfast in Garberville, do try the Eel River Cafe (801 Redwood Drive, Garberville; (707) 923-3783, www.facebook.com/eel.river.cafe), which has checkerboard floors, an old-school counter and a bovine theme. Breakfasts to $11.99.
34 miles: If you do nothing else, get off U.S. 101 to cruise Avenue of the Giants. Between Garberville and Fortuna, this two-lane scenic drive covers 32 miles, leading past redwood forests and roadside attractions, from kitschy chain saw art to the illuminating Humboldt Redwoods State Park Interpretive Center (17119 Avenue of the Giants, a.k.a. Mile Marker 16.5, Weott; (707) 946-2263, www.humboldtredwoods.org).
41 miles: Don’t count on winter gift-browsing at the Shrine Drive Thru Tree (13708 Avenue of the Giants, Myers Flat; (707) 943-1975). Its gift shop is open only in warmer months. But the tree, now stabilized by a few guy-wires, is drivable all year at $6 per car.
43 miles: If you’re looking for family-friendly lodging along the Avenue of the Giants, do consider the Myers Country Inn B&B (12913 Avenue of the Giants, Myers Flat; (707) 943-3259, www.myersinn.com).
74 miles: For a sophisticated dinner in a Mid-Century Modern barn, do eat at Springville Steak (320 Main St., Fortuna; (707) 725-3700, www.facebook.com/springvillesteak). Dinner only, Tuesdays-Sundays. Main dishes $12.95-$38.95.
94 miles: Got hungry kids? Do try the ultra-casual, all-you-can-eat Samoa Cookhouse (908 Vance Ave., Samoa; (707) 442-1659, www.samoacookhouse.net). Building dates to the 1890s and has catered to the timber trade for generations. Adult prices $11.95 for breakfast, $12.95 lunch, $15.95 dinner.
99 miles: Don’t expect anything fancy at Hotel Arcata (708 9th St., Arcata; (707) 826-0217, www.hotelarcata.com) Thirty-two rooms in a 1915 building. Street noise can be loud. Furnishings due for updates. Most rooms for two $94-$119 on weekends; $89-$116 on weekdays.
119 miles: For big coastline views, do check out Patrick’s Point State Park (4150 Patrick’s Point Drive, Trinidad; (707) 677-3570, www.parks.ca.gov/?page_idequals417).
127 miles: For an almost guaranteed elk sighting, do head to the Elk Country RV Resort & Campground (216 Idlewood Lane, Trinidad; (707) 488-2181, www.elkcountryrvresort.com). There’s usually a large herd of Roosevelt elk here, often clustered near a photogenic red schoolhouse.
142 miles: For uninterrupted forest scenery, do drive the two-lane Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, created in 1993, that parallels U.S. 101 for 10 miles north of Orick and south of Klamath. It runs through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park ((707) 465-7335; www.parks.ca.gov/?page_idequals415). Several trails begin there. Open sunrise to sunset.
154 miles: To complete your south-to-north drive-through tree trilogy, don’t miss Klamath’s Tour-Thru Tree (430 California State Route 169, Klamath; (707) 482-5971, no website). $5 per car. Small gift shop usually open April through October.
157 miles: To get off the beaten path, do try the Historic Requa Inn (451 Requa Road, Klamath; (707) 482-1425, www.requainn.com). Dates to 1914, neighbors the Klamath River, has 13 rooms, no phones or TVs, iffy Wi-Fi. Rooms for two usually $139-$199. Breakfast included. Four-course dinner is $45, six nights a week.
159 miles: Got kids? If so, do the Trees of Mystery and Sky Trail (15500 U.S. 101, Klamath; (707) 482-2251, www.treesofmystery.net. Adult admission $15). Wacky trees, kitschy treatments, some great carvings.
174 miles: Do remember that Redwood National and State Parks is sprawling and noncontiguous. Of its five visitor centers, the northernmost is park headquarters (1111 2nd St., Crescent City; (707) 465-7335; www.nps.gov/redw/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm). Southernmost is the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center on U.S. 101 at Orick. Entrance to the national park is free, but each state park charges $5 a person for day use of developed areas. The parks’ four camping areas cost $35 a night per vehicle.