Only on the Northern California coast
By Richard Stenger
EUREKA, Calif. -- Not one but three giant redwoods offer motorists the opportunity to steer their wheels through a living tree. All are right off US Highway 101, known as the Redwood Highway, within an hour or so drive of the historic seaport of Eureka. They are privately owned and charge a nominal fee.
1. Shrine Tree
The closest to Eureka is the Shrine Drive-Thru Tree, 50 miles to the south in Myers Flat, on the world famous Avenue of the Giants.
Unlike the others, the cleaved opening was created primarily by nature, not man. “It’s nice to see a bit of authentic Mother Nature at work,” remarked one visitor. “Yes, it's kitschy, but how often do you get to drive through a tree?” said another.
After photographing your auto in action, one can do the drive-on tree, a fallen giant with a ramp up, or direct the kids to the walk-through stump and two mini-playhouses imaginatively carved from hollowed redwood trunks. More delights await in the gift shop.
For a fix of trees in their natural state, nearby Humboldt Redwoods State Park and the Avenue of the Giants boast the largest and densest stands of old growth giants. Many of the most massive and tallest redwoods are here. The tree is closed in winter. Call for seasonal hours. 13078 Avenue of the Giants Myers Flat, Calif. 707-943-1975.
2. Chandelier Tree
About 50 miles farther south in Leggett, this redwood is so named because of the enormous branches balanced on either side of the trunk, branching out approximately 100 feet above the ground, like a giant three-armed candelabra.
The carved tunnel opening is quite wide, making it easier for larger vehicles to pass through.
There is a gift shop with historic film, day-use picnic area, duck pond, and 200-acre park with resident deer and forest trails.
Open year-round except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Call for seasonal hours. 67402 Drive Thru Tree Rd. Leggett, Calif. 707-925-6464.
Sixty minutes north of Eureka, the newest of the drive-thru redwoods sits atop a hill near Redwood National Park and Yurok tribal lands along the Klamath River. The craftsmen who carved the opening to the Klamath Tour Thru Tree in 1976 carefully avoided critical areas of living wood, safeguarding the health of the tree.
“I had always dreamed of driving thru a redwood tree,” said one guest. “We went through it twice, once so I could say I had done it, and the second time so I could take pictures!”
The grounds have a restroom made from a redwood, gift shop, and picnic table so you can snack and watch others join the drive-thru club. Exit off US Highway 101 just north of the Klamath River bridge.
If entrance booth closed, honor system is in place for payment. 430 CA Route 169, Klamath, Calif. 707-482-5971.
Two notes. The iconic Wawona Drive-Thru Tree in Yosemite fell over decades ago. Only the Redwood Coast has standing, living drive-thru trees. Also, for those with large vehicles, at best you'll have to tuck in your mirrors and drive super slow. At worst.... you get the picture. We recommend bringing a smaller car if possible. For more classic redwood kitsch stops on Highway 101, such as the Chimney Tree, Grandfather Tree and One-Log House, search www.Redwoods.info.