A great escape from the summer heat, or just an outstanding vacation anytime of year is a trip on U.S. 101 as it winds through California’s giant redwoods and then up the Oregon coast. You can start nearly anywhere in California or Washington since the highway runs from Mexico to Canada. We started in Northern California just above Clear Lake.
Shortly thereafter you’ll start to enter the world of giant redwoods groves as the highway zips through Humboldt Redwoods State Park. This park is home to 17,000 acres of old-growth coast redwood forests, the largest contiguous redwood forest in the world.
Just outside the town of Phillipsville, Highway 101 is paralleled by a scenic alternative, the 32-mile Avenue of the Giants. Along the way there are several opportunities to access eight designated Auto Tour Stops, where you can picnic and take a hike through these massive pillars of redwood. Just a few steps into the forest bring instant relief from the confines of a vehicle and the stress of driving. The lush, noise-deadening growth of ferns and evergreens and the aroma of the forest have a way of releasing the tensions of the road and providing serenity far removed from the nearby highway.
If you decide to pass up this convenient stop, there are several others along U.S. 101 in California. We stopped in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, another RV friendly place to pull off the highway for a respite from the drive and to take a short hike in the peaceful redwoods, where only the sounds of a tinkling creek interrupted the quiet of the forest.
Across the State Line
About 50 miles up the road the fabulous vistas of the Oregon coast come into view with broad beaches, gigantic dunes, lighthouses and never-ending forests. Soon after entering Oregon, you’ll arrive at Brookings and drive over Thomas Creek Bridge, the state’s tallest bridge at 365 feet.
A few miles up the road is the town of Gold Beach, a good spot to roam the beach, go fishing, or just relax and enjoy the natural surroundings. Gold Beach is where the Rogue River empties into the sea. Fishermen can catch more varieties of fish than you can find in seafood sections of most grocery stores—salmon, steelhead, Dungeness crabs, clams, halibut, cod and many, many more.
We decided to spend a few days here and selected an RV campground from the many available. We picked one a few miles inland along the banks of the Rogue, a spot where deer are plentiful, roaming around the campground and almost eating from your hand. One afternoon I watched as a doe and her fawn patiently stood about 10 feet from a couple of visitors rolling apples to them.
Even more scenic beauty can be viewed from the comfortable seats aboard the jet boats that operate up and down the Rogue. These boats have no problem speeding upstream in strong currents or the shallows as the guides point out wildlife or points of interest. Although we saw very little in the way of wild creatures, the ride was enjoyable as the boat pilot shared the river’s history, lore, geology and a few tall tales. The trip was convenient. We were picked up a short walk from our fifth wheel at the RV park dock. A leisurely lunch and break from the boat ride can be had 32 miles upstream at the little town of Agnes, high up on the bluffs overlooking the water below.
Woods and Whales
As we continued the journey up the central coast, we found rugged cliffs, pocket beaches, expansive sand dunes and lush spruce forests. The coast is full of sleepy seaside villages and a few bigger towns where you can experience the enchanting and powerful presence of the Pacific Ocean.
We stayed at Depoe Bay, Oregon’s whale-watching capital. Here a pod of gray whales make their home from March through December. The downtown area is along the sea wall, offering visitors the unique treat of ocean views while you dine or shop.
From Depoe Bay, you can backtrack to Newport, a real crowd-pleaser with all sorts of little shops and eating places among the fishing boats and docks. Here you can buy whole tuna fresh off the fishing boats, along with all sorts of other fish hauled in daily from the ocean.
North from Depoe Bay is Lincoln City, home to Chinook Winds Casino. From the casino’s restaurant you can have a leisurely meal while watching the waves roll up the beach. In addition to art galleries, antique shops and an outlet mall, there are seven miles of beaches that are popular for flying kites. Several kite festivals are held here each year.
Heading north a short distance you enter Tillamook County, famous for its cheese. Here visitors have the opportunity to visit two completely different cheese makers about a mile from each other.
The Blue Heron French Cheese Company can be found along Highway 101 in a rural, farm setting. It is a small, artesian cheese producer that makes only a few varieties of Brie cheese, but sells many other kinds made by other craft cheese makers. In the gift store, you can taste wines, and sample other boutique foods, such as mustards, dips, and barbecue sauce. This a great place to stop for a lunch break. It is small in comparison to the nearby Tillamook cheese factory, but it is not crowded and there is ample parking for big RVs and places to picnic on their grounds. We bought some Brie, a small loaf of French bread and a couple of chocolate truffles and had a wonderful picnic.
About a mile up the road is the Tillamook cheese plant, a huge complex that makes the famous Tillamook cheese. There are hundreds of visitors that stop here to view a segment of the cheese making operation from an overhead observatory and taste six different cheeses they make. There is also a gift store to buy cheese and ice cream. At this place you may have to contend with big crowds and long lines.
Upon leaving the cheese makers, you’ll discover the largest bay in Oregon, Tillamook Bay and the port of Garibaldi, another of the little seaside towns with more boutique shops and seafood restaurants. Before reaching the Washington state line, you’ll pass through the classic coastal towns of Cannon Beach and Seaside.
The last Oregon town you’ll see is Astoria, located on the Columbia River. It is the oldest settlement west of the Rockies with its history dating back to 1805. As you cross the four-mile long Astoria-Megler Bridge you will have traveled all 363 miles of the Oregon coast.
Before retiring in 2006, Doug Imberi operated the public affairs office at a military distribution center in Tracy, California. He lives in Salida, California, when not traveling in his fifth wheel with his wife and two mini dachshunds.