Think of Northern California and think of redwood trees, the largest trees in the world. Even in the San Francisco Bay Area there are a plethora of wheelchair accessible hiking trails. The most famous is Muir Woods National Monument, located just outside of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge. Further past San Francisco on Highway 1 are the oceans towns of Bodega Bay, Mendocino and Fort Bragg where redwoods and coastline harmoniously combine.
As you continue to drive north on Highway 1 you will see a sign for a Drive-Thru Tree Park, the first of three, where you can do just what the sign advertises-drive-thru a tree. Then just after Highway 1 merges with Highway 101 you will see a sign for Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area. This is a small forest with wheelchair friendly camping, restrooms and a 1 mile trail called the Traber Nature Trail. Next on 101, the Richardson Grove State Park has a few short accessible loop trails and one restroom. Continuing on north on 101 you can head towards the coast to find a few accessible campsites at the King Range National Conservation Area.
Further inland from Highway 101 is where the Shasta-Trinity National Forest begins where you can find some accessible camping and hiking options and below this forest is the Mendocino National Forest which has an accessible nature trail at the Genetic Resource and Conservation Center. This is the beginning of a segment of 101 that is also known as the Redwood Highway and it is no wonder why. It continues far north to Crescent City where it splits from the 101 to the 199 which expands in Oregon.
Perhaps one of the most popular parks to marvel at the redwood trees in California is the Humboldt Redwood State Park. Running through this forest is the road called Avenue of the Giants that you can reach right off Highway 101. The Avenue of the Giants winds thirty miles with a few connecting points to 101 along the way. Some of the biggest and oldest trees are marked along the way with road signs, like the Living Chimney Tree and Grandfather Tree. You can even drive-thru the Shrine Tree–just watch for signs in Myers Flat. The drive alone through the Avenue of the Giants is gorgeous but you may want to get out for a closer experience.
On the Avenue of the Giants at the visitor center you can get maps and directions to the wheelchair accessible trails. A wheelchair accessible restroom is also located in this area. To start, right across from the visitor center are two short interconnecting trails: the Fleishmann Grove Trail (0.63mi) and the Gould Grove Nature Loop Trail (0.62mi). All the trails that are designed to be ADA are made up packed dirt–usually with redwood tree leaves blanketing them. The trail makeup did slow down my manual wheelchair a bit but it was no bother. The other accessible trails you will have to drive to and include the Founder’s Grove Nature Trail (0.53mi), the Rockefeller Grove Loop Trail (0.6mi), and located 2 miles north of the Avenue of the Giants is the Dury-Chaney Loop Trail (0.9 mi). The Founder’s Grove Nature Trail is the only trail with an accessible restroom besides the ones by the visitor center.
In Eureka, you can visit Fort Humboldt State Historic Park by Eureka with accessible parking, picnic tables, visitor center and restrooms. Or there is also the Headwaters Forest Reserve with a 1-2 miles trail that runs along the South Elk River and accessible parking and restrooms. About an hour east from Eureka and Arcata off Highway 101 is Willow Creek. It is a very small town but maybe worth visiting to learn about legend of Bigfoot at the China Flat Museum because it is in these forests where these creators dwell and roam at night. The museum has handicapped parking and accessible public restrooms are located at the edge of the parking lot.
Arcata is a short ten miles from Eureka on Highway 101 where you can explore the Arcata Marsh & Wildlife Sanctuary. Trails intersect and the grounds are large, so it is a good idea to get a map at the Visitor Center (seen from parking lot), which also has a small museum and accessible restroom. For the most scenic route, especially at sunset, head towards the Klopp Lake where there is also views of the bay. This route however has two possible challenges but can be avoided if taking the long route. From the Visitor Center to Klopp Lake the trailhead is directly in front of the handicapped spot. At the very start, there is a rather short (3-4 feet) but steep dirt incline followed by a small, packed mound of dirt to cross a railroad track but after that the trails are moderately level. All the trails are made up of packed mud with rocks—some areas have thicker concentrations of rocks than others but overall it wasn’t troubling for my manual wheelchair. There are many ponds to this protected wetland and even a salt marsh, so you could easily spend a few hours here exploring everything.
The Hammond Trail is a paved four mile trail that links Arcata to McKinleyville further north. It’s wide enough for any wheelchair but does have an occasional, gradual hill to go over. It’s a great trail to ride a hand-cycle but compared to many of the other trails in the area, it’s not as scenic. Further up north past Trinidad is Patrick’s Point State Park is right on the coastline and has a few short wheelchair friendly hiking trails, visitor center, camping and restrooms. You can also take pictures of the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse here.
Above Trinidad are the Redwood National and State Parks with accessible trails and camping at the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Otherwise, the Ladybird Johnson Grove Trail and the Redwood Creek Trail maybe hiking options for some. Both are between 1-2 miles but the Ladybird Johnson Trail has a steep trailhead for manual wheelchairs and the trail narrows to be about two feet wide. Finally, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park has several accessible camping sites. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park are the most northern parks within the Redwood National and State Park system.
In about the middle of the Redwood National and State Parks in Klamath you will see a sign for the last of three drive-thru trees, just north of the Klamath Bridge. A little further north in Klamath you could have a whole different view of the redwood trees at Trees of Mystery, which offers a canopy view of the redwoods on their skytrain or gondola. The gondola is small, only holding four people so only one wheelchair is allowed per tram. On the ground, you can explore the fully accessible trails through the trees and use a handicapped bathroom is needed. And even further north is Crescent City. Crescent City is last big town in Northern California. Here you can explore Beach Front Park, which is wheelchair friendly.
Visiting the California redwood tree—put it on your bucket-list again and again.