Redwood National Park: Local Adventures Can be Grand Adventures

Jul 2nd, 2024

This is a ride report for the Short Route: Eureka, CA: Redwood Coast Loop while the author and her husband were developing the route.

Sweat dripped down my nose and landed on my handlebars. Gnats whirred in my ears, determined to steal my sanity.  By slapping them, I slapped my own face, and when I slapped my ear too hard my hand got tangled in my helmet strap. I cursed the added weight of the bottle of wine and steak in my pannier. Won’t steak be fun, I had thought. Won’t that be romantic

It was the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. I questioned why we weren’t swimming and grilling out on the long weekend, like normal people. Instead, I was huffing and puffing and checking the map every tenth of a mile to see if we were at the top of the long, steep gravel climb. We had left our house near the breezy Pacific Ocean in Arcata, California, and pedaled 35 miles over two watersheds, inland to the mountains and the heat. 

I used to think there was no point cycling roads I drove all the time. For years, I planned cycling trips in other states or countries and neglected the roads around me. Groups of us would mountain bike on our local forest trails, but local overnights seemed either too close or too much hassle. But my partner Tom and I had decided to change it up, mapping this loop and riding it over the long weekend.

En route up this hill I had driven dozens of times, I saw clusters of trees I never noticed before, including a few particularly large Douglas firs and madrones. There were also scattered acres that had been harvested for timber, a large boulder shaped like a dog, and the beginning of royal purple larkspur flowers.

“Was that there last time we were here?” I asked Tom as we pedaled past a small DIY shooting range just over the BLM boundary. He said that it was. 

Despite appreciating the novel observations, I was tired and kept asking myself, Where am I? Did we miss the turn?

Missing the turn to Lacks Creek is impossible. We would never miss the turn. Tom had driven up to Lacks Creek close to a hundred times during the building of the trail system. We had actually met on that drive years before when I volunteered for a trail-building day. 

I should have known that his up-for-anything attitude and my motivation for adventurous weekends would lead to this masochistic Friday afternoon. I wiped my sweaty hands on my saturated shorts and kept pedaling. We finally reached the unmissable turn, pedaled another mile, and set up camp overlooking the fog covering the ocean to the west. 

Horse Mountain sat to the southeast of us, and rays of sunset danced around the clouds. The arduous climb became a distant memory and we felt somewhat smug about our weekend getaway out of the fog and into the warm spring air. Congratulating ourselves with steaks over the fire, we drank wine from the bottle and I went over all the flowers I had seen on the ride, including ones I hadn’t noticed on other trips by car. We were already excited for the next two days of pedaling. 

The next day we woke up foggy in our heads and legs, but after strong black coffee and tortillas filled with Nutella, we carefully descended corrugated gravel towards the Hoopa Valley to the east. We saw a bear, a fox, and osprey, marveling at the geology of the cliffs and bluffs along State Highway 96, as we cycled north along the Trinity River.

The Trinity River merges with the Klamath River, known for its legendary salmon runs. We crossed the bridge at the confluence and refilled our snack supply at the newly renovated Weitchpec store. After crossing the bridge over the wide, murky water, we turned left on the 169, then crossed back over the Klamath and climbed up switchbacks on Bald Hills Road, cycling west. 

Over the next day and a half, we crossed  the ancestral lands of Hupa and Yurok Tribes, up and over Bald Hills Road, and into Redwood National Park. Before crossing into the park, there is a very elaborate Yurok Veterans Cemetery, with somewhat overbuilt concrete buildings, ramps and railings. We paid our appropriate respects over the Memorial Day weekend.


The smell of bigleaf maple blossoms sat heavily in the fog as bird calls echoed in the steeper parts of the valley. The pain from Friday had dissolved and we glided along, happy to be pedaling through the mist that covered the golden meadows and purple lupine lining the road. 

Two years before, I had worked a summer in the Bald Hills on a project to restore habitat for native grasses. Even though I had hiked for more than 100 hours over the oak woodlands and prairies, I hadn’t felt the rolling hills as intimately as that day. This time, on bikes, each meadow and each hill etched into my mind like a nail scratching into an aluminum tree tag, recorded for later.

As the road leaves the ridge, potholed hairpin turns lead back to the coast and Highway 101. We descended quickly, seeing 1,00o-year-old redwood trees and outpacing the cars. From the intersection of Bald Hills and Highway 101, you can turn right to go north for more redwood glory via Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway, or turn south and ride through the town of Orick. There is a well-known burger and shake stand in Orick, and I felt like I had earned a meal there.

We attacked the elk burgers, fries, and milkshakes like we hadn’t eaten in weeks. I wiped ketchup from my chin and stared at the redwood burls across the highway. Sitting on our stools next to the two-lane highway across the street from a run-down motel, we deemed this was the best Memorial Day weekend. We were on a local adventure, absorbing the hills we call home.

The section along the 101 was the most familiar to me, since I drove it often for work. But again, I got to see what I had been missing.  A short walk along the beach near Freshwater Lagoon left sand in our cycling shoes, and the waves were deafening, rising close to shore before crashing onto the hard-packed sand. Continuing south along the coast, we passed Big Lagoon and Stone Lagoon, pedaling slow enough to note the level of vegetation in their brackish waters. Otters poked their heads out and gulls crowded the shores. Cormorants glided low over the choppy water. 

The sky was overcast when we arrived home on Monday afternoon. Instead of punching the weekend to the last minute like usual, we had time to unpack, clean gear, and get ready for work the next day. Despite this moment of responsible behavior, we felt like we had gotten away with something. We’d had an epic weekend and felt like we’d gone far away and seen things no one else had.

Since that memorable trip years ago, I’ve cycled various parts of this route on different rides. Each time, I feel a deeper sense of connection and familiarity with the place I call home. Instead of regarding these places as mundane or boring, I see them as more special. Each small hill, each large mountain, each watershed, or smooth-barked trees… are all special. This particular weekend reminded me that adventure is a mindset, and the ‘grand’ part of grand adventures is up to us.

Find the route here

Nuts and Bolts

  • This is a loop route with a start / finish in Eureka, California.
  • It is 185 miles with 16,167 feet of climbing and can be cycled in either direction.
  • There is not much resupply, so take most of what you’ll need and top up on snacks accordingly.
  • Depending on the time of year, you’ll want to be strategic about water. After a rainy winter, there will likely be more springs, but these dry up in the fall or during low-precipitation summers. There are several waterless sections as well.
  • You can shorten or lengthen this route according to your timeframe. There are several out-and-backs included in the route, in order to factor in spaced-out campgrounds.  The road is mostly paved roads with a few short gravel sections.


  • Ecosystem variety! You’ll see Humboldt Bay, inland conifer forests, steep river valleys, oak forests, and prairies before returning to the Pacific Coast.
  • Seeing several watersheds
  • Redwood trees
  • Mountain views
  • If you do this route in the summer you’ll have campgrounds with riverfront spots

While dominant winds on the coast are typically from the west and/or north, it’s worth checking the wind direction on an app like Windy before choosing which direction to ride. The route is designed to leave from Eureka, the population center for Humboldt County, but you could easily start from Arcata, McKinleyville, or another nearby community. 

Eureka and Arcata have plenty of shops and accomodations, but once you get pedaling, resupply is limited to convenience stores in Weitchpec and Orick. 

Campsites near the route are marked on the Ride with GPS route, and you can divide the days however you like. People who want to speed through it could do it in two or three days, while sightseers could turn it into a five-day tour. This route has a lot of climbing, as well as some short sections with high traffic, so it is not recommended for families or kids. 

This route takes place on the ancestral lands of the Hupa, Karuk, Yurok, and Wiyot peoples. 

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