Travel

The Best Places to Walk Amongst Giant Redwoods in California

Not only can you walk amongst them, you can get a bird's-eye view.

Christopher Kimmel/Getty Images
Christopher Kimmel/Getty Images
Christopher Kimmel/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: As of September 9th, the Redwood Sky Walk is closed for maintenance. Before heading out to California’s state parks, check official park websites for the latest updates on closures and restrictions.The easiest way to feel like a tiny lil’ ant? Stand next to a redwood tree. The tallest trees on our planet, redwoods can reach an incredible height of 380 feet, with diameters from 10 to 20 feet. A hundred million years ago, these majestic specimens blanketed the Northern hemisphere; now, they are mostly found on a 500-mile strip of the California coast. And with some dating a couple thousand years old, walking among these beautiful giants is truly like stepping back in time.

Now there’s a new way to see them: from above. Open since June at the Sequoia Park Zoo (California’s oldest zoo, in Eureka), the Redwood Sky Walk gives visitors a literal bird’s-eye view of the forest floor from 100 feet high. A quarter mile-long, ADA-accessible wooden bridge leads you through the treetops, with nine viewing platforms to gaze out at all the fungi, ferns, and bird-life. Along the way you’ll learn about history and ecology of the Coastal Redwood region, and for dare-devils, there’s an optional Adventure Segment: a swaying, three-feet wide Indiana Jones-esque suspension bridge.

Tickets are $24.95 ($14.95 for Humboldt County residents) and only available with zoo admission. It’s the longest skywalk of its kind in the western US-and a fitting start to a redwood road trip. Here are a few other places where you can commune with California’s giant redwoods (there are even three spots where you can drive through them).

Photo courtesy of Redwood Sky Walk at Sequoia Park Zoo
Photo courtesy of Redwood Sky Walk at Sequoia Park Zoo
Photo courtesy of Redwood Sky Walk at Sequoia Park Zoo

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

Crescent City, California
There are no paved roads in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park: here, you’re literally in the thick of things. You will find a 5.6-mile stretch of dirt for driving, and the famed Grove of Titans, a collection of old-growth redwoods housing ten of the world’s largest trees. Named for Jedediah Strong Smith-who in the 1820s was the first white man to explore the interior of northern California-the park contains seven percent of all the old-growth redwoods in the world. There’s also the Smith River for fishing or snorkeling; 20 miles of trails’ and soon, a 1,300-foot elevated walkway to the Grove, expected to be completed by September.

The Avenue of the Giants

Humboldt County, California
Running through Humboldt Redwoods State Park, the 31-mile long Avenue of the Giants has been called the finest forest in the world, and takes you through 51,222 acres of redwood groves parallelling the Eel river, without even getting out of your car. But you’ll want to, to see these guys up close and utilize numerous trailheads, campgrounds, and fishing or floating on the river. Along the way look for the “Champion Coast Redwood,” topping out at 370 feet, the Founder’s Grove with the felled 362-foot Dyerville Giant.

Photo courtesy of Redwood Sky Walk at Sequoia Park Zoo
Photo courtesy of Redwood Sky Walk at Sequoia Park Zoo
Photo courtesy of Redwood Sky Walk at Sequoia Park Zoo

Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Arnold, California
Established in 1931 to protect two groves of giant sequoias, the delightfully self-explanatory Calaveras Big Trees State Park covers 6,498 of mixed growth and ancient volcanic formations, with trails of varying difficulty including one that deposits you at Beaver Creek, with a beach for a welcome post-hike dip. Here you can also sleep beneath the giant sequoias, at two campgrounds or five remote sites. Don’t forget to stop by the helipad-sized stump of the Discovery Tree, whose felling in the 1850s help spark the conservation movement.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Big Sur, California
Here, in the southernmost habitat of the Coastal Redwoods, the rising banks of the St. Lucia mountains compete with the massive foliage. Though you can see the crashing waves of the ocean, there’s no seaside access. Rather, the 1,000-acre park is centered around the Big Sur River: seek out the Gorge for a truly unique swimming experience. After being badly damaged in a 2008 fire, the Pfeiffer Falls Trail finally reopened this June, spruced up with a 70-foot-long pedestrian expansion bridge and a 0.75-mile trail segment that leads under the redwoods, down to a 60-foot waterfall.

Muir Woods National Monument

Mill Woods, California
If you’re in San Francisco and short on time, Muir Woods National Monument is only about 12 miles north of San Francisco in the Golden Gate Recreation Area. Named after naturalist John Muir, the “Father of National Parks,” here you’ll find 558 acres of old growth redwoods where you can commune with giants on gentle, easily-walkable trails. It’s the world’s most-visited redwood grove, so come early to avoid crowds.

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Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist’s Senior Travel Writer. She often wonders what it would be like to be a lil’ ant. 

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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