I will never forget the first time I saw a tree big enough to drive through. I was only five years old and beyond thrilled that our family road trip not only took us through the redwoods, but actually THROUGH a redwood tree.
If you are planning a family road trip to or through California, I hope you’ll be able to visit some of its oldest–and largest–inhabitants: giant sequoias and giant redwoods.
Here is a quick guide to five of our family’s favorite destinations for seeing these beauties, with a map I’ve included at the end to help with your trip planning.
1) The Chandelier Tree, a.k.a. the “drive-thru redwood tree”
Leggett, California – While cutting a car-size hole through ancient redwoods is, thankfully, no longer permitted, you can still drive your kids through the Chandelier Tree (above) at Leggett, California, where this enormous redwood continues to stand and grow in spite of its drive-thru traffic.
Just be sure to turn your side mirrors in to avoid spending more time in there than you’d like. The Chandelier Tree is just south of the intersection of Highway 101 and Coastal Highway 1, not far from the famed “Avenue of the Giants,” included below.
Follow this link for more information about the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree.
2) Calaveras Big Trees State Park
2021 UPDATE FOR CALAVERAS – FEBRUARY 2: The regional stay-at-home orders are now lifted and Calaveras Big Trees is reopening portions of the state park in phases. Note that parts of the park are affected by snow as well as pandemic safety considerations. Currently, the North Grove Day Use Area and North Grove Trails are open to visitors, as well as the gift shop at limited capacity. For the latest on what’s open in Big Trees, check the website here.
Angel’s Camp, California – We are very fond of “Big Trees” as it’s easy to reach in less than 3 hours from San Francisco or Berkeley, and has giant sequoias that simply do not disappoint.
The North Grove walking loop gets you up close to–and even inside of–jaw-droppingly delightful trees. And it’s easy enough to do with toddlers on foot, or you can push a buggy or stroller through if you like.
If you plan well in advance, you may be able to get a camping reservation here as well (see my tips for Camping at Big Trees here).
Otherwise, you can book a hotel room in nearby Angel’s Camp (my kids would recommend the Best Western Cedar Inn & Suites with swimming pool and complimentary hot breakfast).
3) Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Humbolt County, California – If it’s giant redwoods you want to see on your Northern California road trip, look no farther than Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Here you’ll find plenty of shady groves to explore and the 31-mile scenic detour beside 101 called the “Avenue of Giants.”
If you’re not sure how your little ones will do on the meandering route, know that you can tour small sections of the Avenue of Giants without committing to the whole tour. There are plenty of places to stop and picnic and explore the giants along the way.
For a printable map of the Avenue of the Giants, click here, and to see descriptions and details of hikes at Humbolt Redwoods, click here.
For more information about Humboldt Redwoods State Park, including details about camping in the park, click here.
Pssst! Pin it to your travel board (article continues below):
4) Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park
2021 UPDATE FOR YOSEMITE’S MARIPOSA GROVE – FEBRUARY: The Mariposa Grove is currently closed to visitors due to downed trees from a major wind storm in January 2021. You can check here for the latest status. As of February 8, 2021, Yosemite is open to visitors with day use pass reservations only or overnight reservations (you must show proof). Follow this link for more information and to reserve your 7-day park visitor pass.
Yosemite National Park, California – With so many other spectacles competing for your attention within Yosemite National Park, you might lose sight of its majestic resident trees.
Some of our favorites are the giant sequoias near the south entrance in the Mariposa Grove. The massive “Grizzly Giant” can be seen on a 1.6-mile roundtrip hike from the parking area.
UPDATE: You might also like the feature I wrote for Family Travel 411 – The 411 on Yosemite National Park with Kids.
5) The Parker Group, Sequoia National Park
2021 UPDATE FOR SEUQUOIA NATIONAL PARK – Day use visits, snow play, camping, and hiking are open! February 12th the park (and Kings Canyon) will start reopening services in phases. The following lodgings will reopen with Wuksachi Lodge February 12th, Jon Muir Lodge and Grant Grove Cabins April 2, and Cedar Grove Lodge May 6. For the latest information on Covid-19 updates at Sequoia, click here.
Sequoia National Park – If you want to see giant sequoias on the grandest scale there is, do not pass Go! Head directly to Sequoia National Park.
Not only is Sequoia home to the world’s largest tree (based on volume), but the General Sherman tree shown atop this post, but it has mammoth sequoias and giant redwoods throughout the park.
While many are prominently mapped and made as accessible as possible, our favorites remain this stand called “The Parker Group” that is off the most beaten path, not far from Moro Rock, which you’ll want to be sure and visit while you’re there (see my tips for hiking Moro Rock with little kids here).
For help planning your trip to Sequoia National Park, click here to see the latest Park Newspaper with maps and updates (scroll down for the latest edition). Be sure to also read my important(!) tips for visiting Crystal Cave while you’re there.
Important note on camping: Only a few campgrounds in Sequoia accept reservations, with most being available on a first-come, first-served basis. More camping info here.
UPDATE: You might also like the feature I wrote for Family Travel 411 – The 411 on Sequoia National Park with Kids.
So how about it? Do you want to add any of these stops to your California bucket list? Be sure to check the California Travel Destinations page for more tips and recommendations for your family’s California vacation. And also here’s a Family Road Trip Safety Packing List with printable.
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Well, I’d like to think I’ve done my Arbor Day good deed now by planting these seeds for your future travels – and here’s a map with all five of these destinations to help with your planning (below).