Hundreds of years ago, California was a primitive state. A place where the adventurous would set sail to, where the cowboys found a home, where the gold rush brought forth thousands of eager and ambitious workers. It was rustic and rural, wild and windswept.
The California of today doesn’t always necessarily conjure those images. Instead, we tend to think of celebrities and manmade monuments, of beach ready bodies and surfer tans. But there’s a different side to this gargantuan state, somewhere that still holds the mystique and lure that brought pioneers out west years and years ago. The legendary Redwoods forest of Humboldt County is one of the most magnificent places on earth. At least once in your lifetime, you need to walk, explore and soak up the silence and grandeur of a forest unlike any other in the world.
The gentle hum of silence, the awe inspiring height of the trees, the way the mist envelopes and transports you…it’s breathtaking. We booked a little cabin at Elk Meadow Cabins just north of Eureka and set off for a completely different sort of adventure, to get a true sense of the beauty that makes up the North Coast of California.
WHERE TO STAY: ELK MEADOW CABINS
Staying at the aptly named Elk Meadow Cabins is like something out of a Disney movie. We arrived late at night, with dozens of bright curious eyes staring at us from a shockingly short distance. We awoke to a rather surreal scene, hundreds of elk ambling up to the doorway while we looked on in awe, cup of coffee in one hand and camera in the other.
Six adorable rustic cabins were originally built to house sawmill workers back and have since been renovated to play house for those looking to feel like they are actually staying in the forest—with all the comforts and luxuries of home. The cabins are on seven acres at the southern end of a 40-acre parcel of land north of Orick, California and built on Elk Meadow, home to one of three huge elk herds in Redwood National Park. You’re right in the thick of things here, minutes away from Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek State Park, North Coast beaches, and just a few minutes from world-famous Lady Bird Johnson Grove.
The majestic Roosevelt elk are consistently wandering the grounds, playfully tugging on each others antlers, and peacefully co-existing in their visitors space. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t keep your distance—these are very wild animal, after all. Definitely not the sort of creature to try to approach or pet. But to have the opportunity to see something so breathtaking majestic that up close and personal is a once in a lifetime sort of experience.
WHO TO EXPLORE WITH: REDWOOD ADVENTURES
Part of the appeal of Elk Meadow Cabins is their partnership with Redwood Adventures, a local outfitter and guiding company who will ensure you see all the best that the Redwoods has to offer, no matter the time constraints. Justin Legge is the lead guide here, and goes above and beyond to make your stay the very best possible—from having organic local farm fresh groceries waiting upon your arrival to dropping off maps and information on the area in advance of your scheduled tours. He’s a crazy passionate naturalist native whose love for the forest is palpable. If you only have one day to spend exploring, do it with this guy.
Our first day we ventured out to the iconic Fern Canyon, just mere miles down the road from our cabin in the woods. The drive in is bumpy and slightly adventurous—four wheel drive is necessary. The elk herd are prominent here, and you’ll find yourself stopping and reaching for the camera again and again.
Enter the magical Fern Canyon and the mist floats above you, dew drops gently hopping from one fern to another, sunshine lightly filtering in through the gigantic treetops above. Fern Canyon was formed millions of years ago by a retreating sea that left the steep canyon walls now covered by the various ferns and is iconic today for it’s scenic backdrop in Jurassic Park, Lost World and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
We hiked a stunning loop through the canyon, where we were enveloped by 30-foot-tall cliffs rich with lush leaves, ranging from five-fingered ferns to lady ferns. As we walked back to the parking lot along a dirt trail among redwoods not far from the ocean, it seemed fitting to hear another lone hiker humming the theme song to “Lost World.”
One of the most incredible and unique aspects of this area is the ability to be in the forest one minute and on the coast the next minute. We found seals—and even a few early migratory California gray whales—to watch during our picnic lunch while exploring the primeval beaches, and were wandering the ancient old-growth redwood forest again within minutes. Anywhere you wander, you are walking among the tallest living organisms on planet Earth. Stop and take a deep breathe, give the world’s largest tree a hug—at 379.1’ it’s pretty incredible. The Tall trees Grove is worth the hike, home of three of the four tallest trees in the world. Then there’s Redwood National Park dedication grove, where President Nixon, Governor Reagan, President Johnson and Lady Bird gathered for the National Park dedication ceremony on August 27, 1969.
The list goes on and on. A tour with Justin is more than just a chauffeur to take you to all the nature ‘hot spots’—his knowledge of the area, passion the species surrounding you, and love for the treasure that is the Redwoods is all encompassing and contagious.
WHERE TO EAT: FINE DINING & CASUAL CUISINE
Something about that jurassic exploration really works up an appetite. Humboldt County is famous for—ahem—a versatile sort of plant life, but they also offer some crazy fresh produce. Farm to table has never been a trend here—just a way of life. They take their wine as seriously as their food and have been proud recipients of the Wine Spectator Grand Award for the last eleven years, a prestigious honor only bestowed upon 74 other restaurants in the world.
Restaurant 301 at the historic Carter House in Eureka (the nearest ‘city’) is a lovely little fine dining gem. It’s a wonderful welcome to this wonderful and strange section of California. Go for the Chef’s Grand Menu for an innovative tasting that involves anything from a mushroom & marrow tart, to sumptuous pea & corn agnolotti, and a delicate almond sponge cake opera cake for a perfect finish.
For a more casual—and oh so delectable—evening out, hit up Brick & Fire Bistro before you leave town. The name says it all – the massive artisan-built brick oven is at the heart of the warm ambiance and the inventive menu, as Brick & Fire’s chef-owners skillfully blend Mediterranean tradition with fresh local harvest.
The atmosphere is energetic, the scent of fresh wood fired pizza luring, and the cuisine delicious. The farm fresh menu runs from rustic casual to redefined Italian favorites. Our favorites were the wild mushroom cobbler (think next level chicken pot pie), a crazy fresh roasted beet & local goat cheese salad, and the fire-roasted brick bird that involves a full bird served with a basmati, sunflower and sesame pilaf and topped with a peppercorn cognac sauce. Out of this world. We almost ordered a second plate, and were hoping no one saw us lick that last touch of sauce off the plate. Finish the evening with a wild chanterelle mushroom, honey and apricot ice cream and you’ll taste the flavors of the enchanted forest.