Spring Break: Exploring the California Redwoods with Kids

by Sara Mooradian on February 17, 2014

Last year I had some pretty specific requirements for the kids’ spring break: I did not want to fly, I did not want to spend money on boarding our dog, and I wanted to give the kids some sort of historical or cultural experience.

We live in Northern California and there is plenty to see and do within a 3-hour radius of the San Francisco Bay Area.  We are pretty spoiled. To the northeast are the beautiful Sierras and Lake Tahoe. To the south is Monterey, the amazing coastline and of course Southern CA and all that has to offer including Disneyland.  To the north is Napa, Sonoma and all that wine country has to offer. Then of course, there’s all the amazing sights and sounds in San Francisco itself.

I wanted to find something new and maybe go a little farther than we’d otherwise gone. So after much research, I informed the family that the five of us (yes we were going to bring along our Labradoodle Cooper, remember no boarding fees!) were going to explore the beautiful California Redwoods to the north.  This post is a summary of that trip and all the things we saw and did. I highly recommend this trip to everyone that wants to explore the majestic beauty of the California redwoods with kids or without.

Family spring break to the California Redwoods

Family spring break to the California Redwoods

 Our 5-day, 4-night trip to the California Redwoods

Our final destination was to be Elk Meadow Cabins in Orick, California.  These adorable cabins are about 5  1/2 hours north of San Francisco and 1 1/2 hours south of the Oregon border.  The reason you want to ge here? The cabins sit right in the middle of the natural path of a herd of Roosevelt Elk.

Some of  the cabins are pet-friendly but not all and because I could only get a reservation for 3-nights in one of the pet-friendly cabins, I had to find another spot to stay for 1-night.  This worked out well and broke up our trip a little bit so we took our time and stopped and slept on the Avenue of the Giants on the way up.

Tips before you go:


Pack all your  food for meals before you leave because there’s really NOTHING up there in terms of grocery stores. I took a giant cooler with breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinners planned out and it was perfect. Once you get there you have full kitchen with a stove, microwave, dishwasher, washer/dryer etc., and oh yeah a coffee machine :)


When we went it was Spring. And yeah even though this is California, this is still north and it can be chilly. There was rain in the forecast for the week we went and temperatures looked like they were going to hover around 50-55 F. Pack everybody up with warm layers and waterproof boots and jackets and you will be fine.  Summertime I hear is another story so call ahead and get the scoop for that time of year.

Books to read with your kids

I wanted the kids to be a little prepared for where we were going. Also, I didn’t really have a clue about this part of California so I was hoping to learn a little bit myself. In preparation for the trip, I bought a couple of books about the Redwoods.  My favorite was definitely Redwoods by Jason Chin.  The kids favorite was the Who Pooped in the Park? Shocking I know… Anything with poop in the title is sure to be a winner for kids.

Note on taking your dog:

While some of the Elk Meadow Cabins are pet-friendly, surprisingly not all the hiking trails and parks were. Some of the trails with some of the oldest and biggest redwoods did not allow dogs at all and when they did, it was always on leash. So while I was really glad we brought Cooper along for this family vacation, I was surprised that he had to stay in the car for some of the adventures.

OK so this was our itinerary… We took our time getting up to Orick and stopped along the way. :)

Day 1

We traveled north up Highway 101 to Willits and then cut across to the coast on 20. This road winds quite a bit so if your crew gets easily carsick – be warned!

When we reached the sea, we got out and stretched and had a mini adventure at the coast at Fort Bragg.  We watched the seals swim in and out of the kelp and a lone fisherman pull in some nets. The stop was absolutely beautiful even with grey skies.

Fort Bragg

Coastline leg-stretch stop


Next we drove Route 1 up to our first real sightseeing stop: the Drive-Thru Chandelier tree in Leggett. This was a serious highlight for us.  It was nerve-wracking to drive the mini-van through the tree but we made it and then had fun watching everyone else try to get through as well.

Drive-Thru Chandelier Tree at Leggett Redwoods

Drive-thru Chandelier Tree at Leggett in the California Redwoods.

After some browsing in the cute drive-thru tree gift shop, we got back on the road and make a stop in Garberville at Cecil’s New Orleans Bistro for dinner. I’d scoped out the place online and was totally skeptical of the raving reviews.  Pulling into the tired and sleepy town I really wasn’t sure what we were in for.  But the food was seriously tasty and the staff was incredibly friendly. It was a real surprise and treat on the road.

Next we drove to our motel/hotel on the Avenue of the Giants at Miranda Gardens Resort in Miranda. This was the place I found to break up our trip since the cabin at Elk Meadow wasn’t available for this first night. We piled into a cozy one-bedroom cottage with a pullout couch and fells asleep after a fun first day.

Day 2

First thing in the morning we all woke up to sound of the pouring rain. Luckily there was a great greasy spoon right across the street and bundled up and headed out.

Avenue of the Giants

L: Rustic stores and breakfast stop in Miranda on the Avenue of the Giants, R: What did you see in the Redwoods, animal sighting board at Ranger Station on the Avenue of the Americas

After full bellies of pancakes, huevos rancheros and enormous hot chocolates, we started the drive on the Avenue of the Giants. I stopped and bought a DVD about the Redwoods at one of the Ranger Stations.  I really wanted to find a podcast that we could listen to but I couldn’t find one that works.  The DVD worked really well – I just turned off the screen and we listened to the audio while we drove the awesome scenery.  There was great info about the history of the redwood logging and the floods that greatly affected the area and the state.

Because we had no real agenda except to get to Orick, when we saw a sign for the Loleta Cheese Factory, we pulled off.  They had a scavenger hunt for the kids in their garden in the back that the kids really enjoyed doing and we had fun watching them make the cheese and then tasting all the varieties.

Loleta Cheese Factory

Loleta Cheese Factory

We made another pit stop/detour for lunch at the Samoa Cookhouse because it’s a totally unique piece of history and I wanted to go there. Where else are there cookhouses still in effect?  There’s a neat museum off the side of the dining room too. That day they were serving roast beef and it was all you can eat (as it always is). I think I would do breakfast there if you can make it in time.

Samoa Cookhouse

Samoa Cookhouse

Also, we pulled over a couple of times to just go exploring and see some turned over trees and their massive root systems. This was one of the best things we did!

Exploring the Redwoods on Spring Break

Exploring the Redwoods on Spring Break

We got to Elk Meadows around 3pm which was perfect. We made dinner and  settled in after a few very competitive rounds of UNO. :)

Day 3

The next morning we woke up to a herd of Roosevelt Elk right in the BACKYARD!!! It was so cool. I don’t need to say too much about this. The photo kind of says it all. I mean the elk were right there! We gawked at them for a good while and then had breakfast.

Roosevelt Elk right in the backyard at Elk Meadows

Roosevelt Elk right in the backyard at Elk Meadow Cabins.

For the rest of the time we were there, the elk would go back and forth from one end of the meadow to the other. You never knew where they would be when you came back to the cabin but they were never too far away.

In the afternoon, I’d arranged for us to take a 1/2 day walking tour with Redwood Adventures which is conveniently based out of the main office at the Elk Meadow Cabins. Our guide Grant took the four of us on a fact-filled tree-touring adventure which was worth every penny. First we drove a bit north and started at the coast with a mini history lesson of the area and a earth science lesson in the ideal conditions for redwood growth.  He pointed out how the forest changes as you move inland and what redwood trees need to grow so big and tall. We got to ask tons of questions and saw some of the really big Giants. There’s no way we would have learned as much about the Redwoods or the history of logging in California without Grant’s tour.  There’s only so much I can personally absorb and repeat from a guidebook so I was really glad we opted for this tour. I highly recommend it.

Exploring the Redwoods

Exploring the Redwoods

Day 4

The next day the weather was much better and we got dressed to go to Fern Canyon. YOU MUST GO HERE! Picture an amazing trail with prehistoric ferns lining the canyon walls.  It’s such a neat place that it was actually used in two famous movies: Jurassic Park 2 and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi were filmed! Remember the Endor scenes with the Ewoks? Yep, this is where those were filmed!  

Wear layers and shoes that are good for canyoning. No Uggs, etc. You will get muddy. Trust me. The goal is to basically try to get to the end of the canyon. When there’s water blocking your path you can usually find some wooden planks or logs that you can cross on.  We had a great time using teamwork trying to problem solve the best way to cross an area together so no one would get wet.  One of the lessons the kids learned was that sometimes you have to go backwards in order to go forwards. Again, this was a totally unexpected perk to just being on a hike and we had a blast doing this.

Fern Canyon exploring

Fern Canyon exploring

fern canyon

Photos from Fern Canyon

Afterwards, we drove to the town of Trinidad to check it out. There’s a nice black sand beach and restaurant on a pier there. 

Finally, because I’d read so much about it, in the late afternoon we walked the Lady Bird Johnson Grove trail.  This was a super easy and a good loop under the tree canopy.  Even though the kids were kind of tired, they loved doing this easy hike and recounted a lot of what they’d learned with our tour guide from the day before. 

Lady Bird Johnson Trail

Lady Bird Johnson Trail

After that full day, we headed home for another “home” cooked meal in our cozy Elk Meadow Cabin and watched the elk settle down for the night from the living room window.

Day 5

On the final day, we left Elk Meadow Cabins after breakfast around 9:30am and was home before 3:30pm.


That’s it! It was a great trip and I seriously think everyone should do it if they can. Let me know in the commons if you have any questions and I’ll try to answer them.

Have a happy spring break everyone!