The Redwood Highway (101), 175 miles of breathtaking coastline and seaside towns, is one of the most famous drives in California and joins all three of the Redwood trees you can still drive through.
The Redwood Coast is ancient forest land- home to indigenous peoples and the birthplace of the legend of Paul Bunyan. It extends along the Northern California shore from Shelter Cove at its most southern tip to the Klamath River north of Eureka. The Pacific Northwest is also said to be home to the ever-elusive Sasquatch.
And thanks to a temperate climate, the region is welcoming any time of year. The summer is the warmest – from June to September. The remaining months are rainy, but there are fewer crowds unless you count the coastline’s gray whales in November and December during their annual migration.
About Redwood Trees
The Redwood or Sequoia sempervirens is the world’s tallest tree. These iconic trees can grow higher than a 36-floor skyscraper – about 370 feet. While their cousins, the Giant Sequoia, are the world’s largest trees by volume. Their trunks grow over 30 feet wide and flourish on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada at much higher elevations.
Both the Redwood and the Giant Sequoia can live for thousands of years.
Some coastal redwoods living today were alive during the time of the Ancient Egyptian King Tutankhamun.
While often referred to interchangeably, Redwoods and Sequoias are considered cousins in the timber world. Redwoods grow in the Pacific Northwest, at sea level to lower elevations, and are known to affect the area’s climate. Amazingly resilient, they can usually survive natural forest fires because of their 12-inch thick, protective bark. These giant trees are also community-based, requiring other Redwoods to establish secure root systems, sometimes up to 100-feet away. The tree root systems are critical because they filter water, while their leaves take up more carbon dioxide than any other tree. They even create their own “rain” by capturing fog on their leaves.
Why Drive through Redwood Trees?
The height and majesty of these great conifers are awe-inspiring. However, time is slowly eroding the public’s access to these beautiful ancient trees.
Redwoods once grew throughout the Northern Hemisphere on an estimated 2 million acres. Unfortunately, they were logged extensively during the early Gold Rush years. Today, only 5 percent of the old-growth forest remains. It hugs a 450-mile strip along the Pacific shores.
Within the past century, a dozen or so trees were cut-through to provide visitors with a more comprehensive arboreal experience – allowing the public to drive and walk through the vast trunks. Several other trees whose passages occurred naturally became public attractions.
The Great Sequoias
In the Sierra Nevada mountains, near eastern California’s Yosemite National Park, several pass-through sequoia trees are accessible both by car and foot. The most famous drive-through tree was the 2,000 years old Wawona giant sequoia. But the tree, weakened by its carving, fell in 1969 during a heavy snowstorm. Wawona, or the Fallen Tunnel Tree, remains where it fell.
Another pass-through tree, the Pioneer Cabin Tree, stood for over 1,000 years until its root system failed and storms felled it in 2017.
Perhaps the oldest pass-through tree, the famous Yosemite sequoia, the California Tunnel Tree, was carved in 1895 as a passage for horse-drawn stages. This sequoia tree is still living and growing and open to pedestrians.
As areas develop and the climate changes, protecting these magnificent trees is more important than ever. Luckily, the vast majority of the Sequoia and Redwood tree population now reside on protected lands in National Parks and Reserves. And private ownership is regulated by strict state and federal laws.
While Sequoias reside in the mountains, are there any drive-through Redwood trees closer to the Northern California coastline?
Yes, there are three famous drive-through redwoods remaining in California.
Can You Still Drive Through a Redwood Tree?
Yes, it is still possible to drive through these magnificent trees. All three Redwoods sit at lower elevations on private land but are accessible for a fee.
Each has a different origin story. And each tree varies in age, shape, height, and width.
All three trees have passage tunnels and fit most standard-sized vehicles. However, larger cars, trucks, motorhomes, and towable trailers will probably not be able to pass through.
Redwood Trees you can drive through.
Each one of the drive-through Redwood Trees in California is unique and worth the time and effort. And if you start around San Francisco and travel north up Highway 101, it is possible to design a trip to visit all three.
First, you will encounter the Chandelier Tree in Legget, California. The following tree on the itinerary is the Shrine Tree in Myers Flat. The Klamath Tree at the tip of Northern California is the final tree on the list.
1 | Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree
Three hours north of the San Francisco Bay Area, at the northern intersection of Shoreline Highway (CA-1) and the US Hwy 101, you will find the small coastal town of Legget, California.
The Chandelier Drive-Thru tree stop sits just south of Leggett on Drive Thru Tree Road and offers historical and educational information and numerous amenities at its 276-acre day park.
The chandelier-like appearance of this iconic 315-foot Redwood is unmistakable. Named by original owners Charlie and Hazel Underwood, its splaying 100-foot branches mimic the arms of a chandelier.
The Chandelier Drive-Thru tunnel was carved into the base of the 2,400-years-old tree in 1937 to create a tourist novelty. The opening is a 6-foot wide by 7-foot-tall tunnel, which is the largest of the drive-through tree passageways. While boring out the tree truck, woodworkers protected the Redwood’s shallow root system, ensuring the tree’s continued growth.
Automobiles, bikes, motorcycles, and pedestrians can pass through the tree for a nominal fee. The rectangular tunnel accommodates most standard vehicles, especially if you retract antennas and mirrors. However, there is a pass-by lot for vehicles too large to fit.
2 | Shrine Drive-Thru Tree
The next stop northward is the Shrine Drive-Through Tree in Humboldt County. It is located just outside Myers Flat, California — a small seacoast town 50 miles south of Eureka situated on the Avenue of the Giants.
Surrounded by Humboldt Redwoods State Park, the Avenue of the Giants is a 31-mile stretch of trees. It contains some of the largest and densest groves of old-redwood growth. Old-growth trees feature multiple branching, thicker bark layers, and splayed branches. The Avenue of the Giants is also home to the world’s largest stand of virgin or new-growth redwoods.
The Shrine Drive-Thru tree sits within these groves. According to its rings, this Redwood was 3,200 years old when it fell, making the Shrine Drive-Thru the oldest passage of the three California redwoods. It is also the narrowest tunnel.
The gap supposedly developed naturally 100 years ago when lightning from a storm started a fire – creating a space in the trunk. The tree’s owner eventually widened the hole to allow visitors to drive through. No longer alive, the tree has begun to disintegrate. The tree tilts, forcing the owners to install metal cables, in the 1940s, for stability. The current owners have cared for the tree since 1958.
The tree’s angled, 7-feet wide x 7-feet tall forms a box-like gap – better suited to compact vehicles. All visitors, including cars, motorcycles, and pedestrians, pay a nominal fee to access the Shrine tree, playhouses, and other amenities.
The Klamath Tour-Thru Tree is the last of these ancient drive-thru trees along the U.S. 101.
3 | Klamath Tour-Thru Tree
Sixty minutes north of Eureka, near Redwoods National Park, Yurok tribal lands, and the mouth of the Klamath River, sits the youngest Redwood drive-through — the 800-year-old Klamath Tour-Thru tree.
Discovered in May of 1976 by a Ret. Major Harold A Del Pointe, the Klamath Tour-Thru tunnel accommodates larger vehicles by design. Carved by chainsaw in 1976, woodworkers shaped the 7.3-foot by 9.5-foot rectangular tunnel with care — avoiding critical areas and preserving the tree’s life. At last measurement, the tree’s height had reached 167.5-feet tall.
The Klamath Tour-Thru is the last stop before exiting a park area that emphasizes the Redwood forest rather than the single tree.
Each year over 60,000 cars visit the mighty wonder. Early mornings are best for those wanting to spend time with the Klamath – enjoying the tree’s splendor without the crowds. A nominal fee paid by the honor system supports the park and maintains the grounds, including basic amenities, a gift shop, and an area picnic table.