Redwoods, the Stone Lagoon, and the Smith River along California’s Highway 101

Stone Lagoon on the north coast of California is part of the largest lagoon system in North America.

The Stone Lagoon along Highway 101 on the North Coast of California provides a unique environment that supports a wide diversity of life. The distant barrier beach separates the lagoon from the Pacific Ocean. Winter storms breach the barrier and allow sea water into the lagoon.

Back before Peggy and I flew east to be with our kids and grandkids to celebrate the holidays, we made a brief trip up the North Coast of California. I’ve already posted three blogs on the trip: one on Mendocino, one on the coast, and one on Roosevelt Elk. Today I will wrap up our journey starting at Stone Lagoon State Park on Highway 101 north of Eureka and working our way up to Highway 199 out of Crescent City.

The North Coast of California is one of my very special places. I’ve returned there again and again. From rugged coastlines, to majestic redwoods, to picturesque towns, and interesting history, the region is both beautiful and magical.

Highway 101 traces its history back to 1769 when the Spanish explorer Juan Gaspar de Portola followed what would eventually become El Camino Real (The King’s Highway) and connected some 21 Catholic missions from San Diego to the Bay Area. North of San Francisco, the road becomes known as the Redwood Highway as it travels through grove after grove of redwoods.

Giant redwood tree at Redwoods National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Towering Redwoods give the Redwood Highway its name.

Massive root systems that can extend out 100-feet from the tree provide hundreds of gallons of water per day to a giant redwood.

Massive root systems that can extend out 100-feet from the tree provide hundreds of gallons of water per day to a giant redwood. Root width rather than depth provides the tree with stability.

Redwood roots on display along California's Highway 101.

I find the twisted roots quite beautiful.

Salmon carved from redwood along Highway 101 on California's North Coast.

A number of places along Highway 101 sell carved redwood featuring everything from bears to this salmon.

Highway 101 follows a path inland through various river valleys until it reaches Eureka and then it follows the ocean to the border. Occasional views of the Pacific are provided along the way and several county, state and national parks provide opportunities for camping and exploration.

Waves come ashore along California's Highway 101.

Highway 101, seen on the right side of the photo, parallels the Pacific Ocean north of Eureka, California providing occasional views of the Pacific Ocean.

Looking out toward the Pacific from the same location on Highway 101.

Looking out toward the Pacific from the same location on Highway 101. The point has character.

Sea foam created by a storm along the Pacific Coast.

While the skies were blue for our drive up the coast, a storm had chopped up the water the night before, creating sea foam.

Sea foam beat into whip cream type consistency along Highway 101 on the North Coast of California.

The result was this whip cream like sea-foam I included in an earlier blog.

Stone Lagoon, which is part of the largest lagoon system in North America, is one of the views along Highway 101. Separated from the Pacific Ocean by a barrier beach, the waters of the lagoon are neither fresh nor salt. Fed by fresh water for most of the year, winter storms fill the lagoon with water until it breaches the beach barrier, allowing ocean water to flow in and establish a unique environment that supports a great diversity of life. When Peggy and I arrived, Stone Lagoon was the picture of tranquility with calm waters reflecting the surrounding hills and trees.

Stone Lagoon State Park on Highway 101.

The calm water reflected trees and hills surrounding Stone Lagoon.

Reflection shot on Stone Lagoon ion Highway 101 ion the Northern California coast.

A close up.

In Crescent City, Peggy and I picked up Highway 199 and followed the Smith River up and away from the ocean on our way into Southern Oregon.

The Smith River as seen from Highway 199, the Redwood Highway , in Northern California.

The Smith River crosses Highway 101 north of Crescent City and is the largest free-flowing river in California that hasn’t been damned.

Another view of the Smith River flowing along Highway 199 in Northern California.

Another view of the Smith River flowing along Highway 199 in Northern California.

Rapids along the Smith River next to Highway 199, (the Redwood Highway) in Northern California.

A final photo of the Smith River.

NEXT BLOG: A somewhat crazy 100 mile backpacking adventure across the Sierra Nevada Mountains with 60 people aged 11 to 70. Part 1

30 comments on “Redwoods, the Stone Lagoon, and the Smith River along California’s Highway 101

  1. Now, this is an area I’ve explored. As a matter of fact, I explored it a little too thoroughly, and ended up on some remarkable Lost Coast roads. I just was looking at the map, and I’m pretty sure I was on the southern portion of Cape Ridge Road, which hooks up with Mattole Road, which I took into Ferndale. It was a little nerve-wracking, but I actually still have some old film snapshots from coming up over a ridge and seeing the Pacific laid out in front of me. What an experience!

  2. What a memory lane trip for me, Curt! Years ago, with little money, two babies and a husband who was starting a new career, we drove from SF to the Oregon border and stayed right where the Smith River meets the Pacific Ocean. My husband had to finish a programming project and his boss suggested being away from the office for a few days. This short and intense working trip remains one of our fondest memories, mostly due to the raw natural beauty of the area. A few years later we returned with another child and loved the area as much. For full disclosure we even briefly considered moving there. We didn’t. And I’m glad. For places stopped being so extraordinary when they become homes. They are still gorgeous but come with bills and worries. Different.
    Most people travel the southern part of Highway 101 but the north remains wilder in my opinion. Or at least in my memory of an early 1990’s trip.
    Thank YOU!

    • Glad you enjoyed it Evelyn. It is a favorite area of mine and has been since the 60s. 🙂 It is much wilder that the southern portion of the highway. Still! I’ve spent many weeks working on the north coast, myself over the years. There is something about the waves rolling in that allows the mind to relax and focus. Of course it is even better to play there… –Curt

  3. I’m back trying to keep up with you. Read a post dated Jan. 1, 2016 although I suspect it was Jan. 1, 2017. Talked about how you were quite the planner and you’re thinking you may do a 500-mile hike. (Wow!) And you would know this month (Feb 2017) if you were going to Burning Man again. (The link for comments didn’t work, so I’m posting a response here.) I hope all comes true for you — focus on Big Sur, the hike, and Burning Man — for selfish reasons: I love what you write. And, yes, I want that Burning Man book! (Grinning back at you!) Thanks for sharing your west coast world with us Tennesseans. And here’s to making all those 2017 dreams come true.

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