Overall, Shoreline Highway is an always-interesting mix of styles from breathtaking views to cozy forest trails. I could go on for pages on this stretch of road, but I'd rather leave more room for pictures. At the north end the cliffs seem to get bigger and bigger until at last turning into the thick redwood forest in defeat. The switch from wide-open sky and cliffside road to a tunnel through redwoods is even more jarring than the switch from city to open road is at the south end. If you're wearing shades or a tinted shield it would be good to stop and remove them, as the darkness in the trees is blinding, and just because you're off the cliff doesn't mean the twisties stop there. The road winds up and down switchbacks in near darkness, occasionally coming blindingly out onto a bare hillside with a view of nothing but miles of more of the same rolling, redwood-covered nothingness. The road pops out onto US-101 near Leggett, where we took an obligatory trip through the giant drive-thru redwood tree.
We did it all in a day, but if you're vacationing up there, I'd suggest leaving at least two days to give yourself a chance to stop at some beautiful secluded beaches, coves, and side roads and fully explore what's called the Redwood Empire of the North Coast. But being low-budget means I was on a schedule, especially when there's nobody's house to crash at.
Cruising down the still-scenic US-101 four-laner was a good wind down at the end of a long day of riding. It was only about 250 miles so far, but much of that was either at slow in-town speeds or focusing on the many curves of the road, or in my case, looking for the next photo op. So while the 101 has trucks, steep grades, and higher speeds, it was still less taxing than the coast road was. After a decent meal in Garberville at the Sentry Market Deli, we asked the girl behind the counter for a good place to camp out, which brought us to Benbow Lake State Recreation Area. It was a wonderful place to have a relaxing camp-out for the night, but a word of warning: with California's current budget crisis, camping out (at state facilities) should not be thought of as a way to save money. To stave off the closure of a slew of state parks, the parks were forced to become self-supporting, so camping for just one night is roughly the same price as a night in a Motel 6. Between firewood, the camping fee and the extra vehicle fee (despite the fact that bikes take up very little space), it was about $50 for the night. Thankfully my benefactor Bill paid the fee. We only had a short ride the next day (or so I thought), so we stayed up late drinking beer and smoking cigars, looking forward for more Redwood Empire adventures in the morning.
Benbow Lake State Recreation Area
(707) 923-3238, Summer
(707) 247-3318, Winter
Golden Gate National Recreation Area