Earlier this year, a storm toppled a famous giant sequoia tree. The tree was known for having been hollowed out in the middle so that cars and, later, hikers could pass through the middle. I never saw it in person, but it was an impressive sight in the pictures.
Given current attitudes about cutting giant holes in trees purely for fun, they’re probably not going to be recreating the toppled tree any time soon.
But luckily, there’s also still places where you can pass through the middle of a tree. One of those places is the Shrine Tree, and even better, the core was mostly naturally hollowed out, not carved by people.
The Shrine Tree is a redwood in Myers Flat, California, on the scenic Avenue of the Giants. Redwoods are known for being the tallest trees in the world, not the girthiest like sequoias. So it’s a wonder that it’s actually wide enough for a modern, full-size sedan to pass through.
The tree is a classic roadside attraction; it’s not a must-do and it costs money, but it’s fun and sufficiently eye-catching that people passing by inevitably stop. I was one of those people, and I don’t regret it. The cost is low ($8 per car) and the experience brief. When I went, it was uncrowded and laid back enough that I was able to get out of the car and take pictures while Laura navigated through the narrow passage.
One of the things I appreciated about the Shrine Tree was that it wasn’t carved out like other drive-thru trees. Though the owners appear to have done some widening, the center of the tree was emptied by nature. (I’m not a tree expert and no one was around to answer questions when I was there, so it wasn’t totally clear why the trunk of this tree was hollow. Lightning perhaps? Disease or drought? However, at least in the center of the tree the trunk was hollow all the way up and it had clearly been that way for longer than it was a roadside attraction.)
The Shrine Tree only has two and a half stars on Yelp, with many people pointing out that the site is kind of dumpy (there are also some other tree-related things to see along with the Shrine Tree, but they’re forgettable). But look, that’s part of the whole charm. This is a kitschy place and going there is like getting a glimpse at the glory days of 20th century road trip culture.
Just as importantly, the Avenue of the Giants is a worthwhile drive through a large redwood forest. It’s free, and there are plenty of hikes and picnic areas along the way. So in the end, I wouldn’t make a trip just to see the Shrine Tree, but I would stop by while visiting the generally very cool area.
If you go:
Prices occasionally go up and at least during my visit could only be paid in cash. You can find the tree via Google Maps. The hours are seasonal, and the site is apparently closed in the winter.
— Jim Dalrymple II