Lake Tahoe, Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Pacific Coast

In early spring, my girlfriend Jenna and I flew to Sacramento, California so she could partake in styling training for her brand Lighthorse Studios. While there, I worked remotely and we also made time for traveling which included stops in Lake Tahoe, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and a trip down the iconic State Route Highway 1 that hugs the Pacific Ocean. It was a wonderful trip through one of my favorite states.

Lake Tahoe in the spring

We landed in Sacramento late on Friday, March 25th and made it to our cute Airbnb in the Midtown neighborhood before midnight. The next morning we walked in the warm California sun to the Midtown Farmer’s Market which was bustling with people and vendors selling local food and produce. After stocking up on some goods, we packed a few things in our Nissan Rogue Sport rental and I drove us east on US-50 towards Lake Tahoe. Soon the Sierra Nevada Mountains showed on the horizon and I was very excited to see them for the first time since my 2017 trip to Yosemite National Park. Jenna had not seen the Sierras yet and was excited as well.

In El Dorado National Forest we stopped on the side of the road and walked down rocks to the South Fork American River that rushed below the highway to our right. It was a gorgeous sunny day in the mid-60s and the spindly remnants of a forest fire could be seen in the hills on the other side of the river. Jenna put her hands in the cold mountain water and smiled and we watched kayakers take the flowing rapids before we returned the our car to drive to Lake Tahoe.

We found a trailhead near Kiva Beach in South Lake Tahoe and hiked around puddles and snow piles to get to the lake. Massive ponderosa pines stood above and the air was cool and comfortable for hiking. We walked around Kiva Beach then followed the shore east to Pope Beach and then up into the trees to the Tallac Historic Site which was beautifully landscaped and felt like a magical wonderland. The site was closed for the season but its log cabins and outdoor gathering areas produced a zen-like atmosphere and we walked through with towering pines above us in every direction. It was a great way to start our California trip.

Pope Beach South Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe
hiking through Tallac Historic Site
Lake Tahoe sunset watchers

Hiking adventures in Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Days later we packed up the Rogue and moved north from Sacramento to Humboldt Redwoods State Park. I drove us north on Interstate 5 before moving west on State Highway 20 along the south edge of the Mendocino National Forest. The hills were dry and gold in the bright sun before we worked through an incredibly beautiful mountain pass that was right out of a John Steinbeck novel. The hills rolled softly with gnarled ancient oaks dotting the landscape and cows in fertile fields. The sun created magnificent shadows that cast long in the mid-afternoon and I felt the strong pull of the Pacific Ocean that I knew lay in far distance on the other side of the mountains.

We were in fine spirits and found our way north on Highway 101 that worked through many small blue collared towns. After over 4 hours, we made it to our cabin rental in the mountains outside of the tiny town of Miranda just as the sky was getting dark and stars popped out in the clear sky. The air was cool and I was very excited to see a new section of the redwoods after having an incredible time in 2018 exploring Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park that were further north. This was Jenna’s first time seeing the redwoods and I was thrilled for her as well.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park has the largest expanse of old-growth redwoods on the planet and Jenna and I were determined to see as much as we could. Thankfully the forecast was perfect for our one full day in the park and we were up early and had a nice breakfast before driving down the mountain and then up State Route 254 which is better known as the Avenue of the Giants. Jenna was in the passenger seat and had the window down and gazed in delight at the wondrous redwoods that stood massive at the edge of the road backlit by the rising sun that blasted through clouds in front of us. We had several hiking trails marked for the day and decided to stop at the Founders Grove Trail first.

Founders Grove Trail

Founders Tree

Following the loop trail clockwise, Founders Tree presents itself immediately and we were grateful for the people of the Save the Redwoods League who took action in the early 1900s to preserve the forest from logging. There is something so spiritual and unique about the redwoods that everyone should experience. Watching Jenna feel the trees and look up at their grandeur made me smile.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Founders Tree
Hiking Founder’s Trail
redwood tree root

Bull Creek South Trail

A layer of clouds built in the late morning as we drove around trying to decide where to do a long hike. We wanted a trail with solitude so that we could do a redwoods photo shoot and decided on the Bull Creek South Trail in the middle of the park. Our cell phone signals were intermittent but we eventually found the trailhead and Jenna put on a dress before we hiked across a downed redwood above the creek which starts the trail.

redwoods bull creek south trail
from the Bull Creek South hiking trail
downed redwood at beginning of Bull Creek South hiking trail

The Bull Creek South Trail provided numerous unique photo opportunities as we hiked along. Starting off, we found the dark remnants of an old tree which felt like a wizard burial ground and provided a nice contrast to Jenna’s cream colored goddess dress that she looked stunning in. Later we found our way to lush green areas and I tried to work in the dappled sunlight which was a fun challenge beneath the canopy of the redwoods.

Later, Jenna took the camera and directed me for a few photos and I walked barefoot down the mossy back of an old redwood tree. She then changed back into hiking clothes and we walked the trail further until we hit a grassy area near the creek. In the late afternoon we hiked back with the splendor of the redwoods surrounding us and had a lovely time taking in the views that looked much different than on our hike in. We saw a few people, but had the forest to ourselves for a majority of the time and we both appreciated that.

Jenna Leskela

Jenna offered to drive back so that I could better experience Avenue of the Giants. I had the window down as well and howled out in delight several times feeling alive and well. As we drove back, fog rolled in from the Pacific coast and it was a cozy evening in our little house in the side of the mountain. When we arrived, we tuned into a Eureka radio station that played classic reggae, made a nice dinner, and were grateful for the wonderful experience we shared in the redwoods that day.

view from our cabin

Stunning drive down Highway 1 in Northern California

It was cool in the morning and light rain fell. Jenna and I talked about how blessed we were to have perfect weather the previous day for our photo shoot in the redwoods and then we drove away from our cabin and headed south. Our only obligation was to get back to Sacramento where we had a hotel reserved so that we could fly home the next day. But rather than taking the easy way, we decided a trip down the Pacific Coast Highway would be a better route.

I drove us south on US 101 before stopping and Leggett so that we could drive through the Chandelier Tree. It was a fun tourist experience and I moved very slowly through with only a few inches to spare on each side while Jenna giggled and appreciated the redwood’s serenity from the inside.

Highway 1 is one of the most iconic drives in all of America and I moved us straight west on it to the coast. Leggett is the start (or end depending on which direction you are traveling) of the highway and it switchbacked up and down through the mountains. The light rain and fog produced an unforgettable moody atmosphere and after over an hour I was relieved when the road opened up with expansive views of the Pacific Ocean. We stopped at the first wayside we found and were both so happy to be together on the Pacific coast for the first time.

Highway 1 lookout near Rockport

The fog was relentless and the highway switched back frequently on shear cliffs just above the coast. We stopped in the lovely little town of Mendocino and had lunch and did some shopping before pushing further south. Jenna took over driving and all of the movement and shear views over the edge gave me some motion sickness but it was an incredible drive with cypress trees bent and pruned by the ocean breeze breaking through rocky cliffs at times.

Jenner Beach enshrouded in fog

Jenner Beach

We wanted to stop and get closer to the ocean and after not having a good cellular signal, I found Jenner Beach on a map and thought it’d be a good option. Waves crashed in during high tide and we had a great time dodging them as the sun tried valiantly, but to no avail, to burn through the thick clouds and fog. The atmosphere provided quite a mood for photography and we enjoyed ourselves and the scene before pushing on.

From Jenner I drove us east on Highway 116 and within minutes of being inland, the fog lifted and the sun shined bright. After our experience driving down the fog enshrouded rugged coast, it felt like an entirely new world. We were in northern California wine country now and town after town we saw grape groves rolling over the beautiful sunny hills.

We made it through Santa Rosa then I pushed east towards Napa where we stopped for a late dinner just after sunset. I had traveled this area years ago with my band and was happy to see it again. Jenna was excited to see it as well and we talked about getting a nice dinner and wine but unfortunately most restaurants were already closed when we arrived. After a quick stop for tacos, I sped up I-80 and we arrived to our hotel in Sacramento at 11pm. The next morning we were up early to catch our flight home. It was a blessed trip full of love.

leaving our Sacramento Airbnb