Today I asked 6-year-old JJ what his favorite part of our visit to Redwood National Park was. He looked at me like I was a complete idiot and said, “seeing the redwoods.” Yes, seeing the tallest trees on Earth up close is the main draw, but my question was genuine. There are many things to do in Redwood National Park beyond the spectacular groves.
You can find Redwood National Park south of the Oregon border along the northern coast of California. Managed with three other California State parks, it is a slightly confusing setup. The other parks are Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, and Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. From here on, I’ll refer to the group as Redwood National and State Parks.
Each park offers spectacular natural wonders. Read on for the best things to do in each, places to stay, what to know before you go, and more. I’m also including a map of everything on this post and a sample 4-day itinerary.
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IN THIS POST
- Things to Do in Redwood National and State Parks
- Things to Do Near Redwood National and State Parks
- Where to Stay When Visiting
- Getting To Redwood National and State Parks
- Know Before You Go
- Best Time To Visit Redwood National and State Parks
- Tips for Visitors
- Sample 4-Day Itinerary
In the map shown here, attractions and sites are color-coded as follows: Redwood National Park (green), Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (red), Del Norte Redwoods State Park (yellow), and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park (blue).
TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS
Redwood National and State Parks protect almost half of all remaining old-growth coast redwoods on Earth. The famous trees once covered huge areas along the California coast. Then the logging industry arrived following the Gold Rush.
The park complex is now one of only three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in California. The world’s tallest tree, Hyperion, lives here in a secret location to protect it from hoards of tourists like us!
Like Lassen, Redwood National and State Parks’ remote location keeps it quiet. Despite its natural wonders, it is one of the lesser-visited national parks in California. With annual visitation of around 500,000 people, you can explore many of these groves in relative quiet most of the year. You’ll also see vast prairies, oak woodlands, majestic rivers, and 40 miles of rugged coastline.
Ready to learn more? Read on for the best things to do in Redwood National and State Parks!
1. Wander through Redwood Groves
Deciding which groves to focus on is one of the greatest challenges of a visit to Redwood National and State Parks. It’s not a bad problem to have! The following are three popular groves that are well worth your time and make a good starting point.
Of course, there are many many more throughout the parks. If you have time, take a wander or a scenic drive and see if you can find an under-the-radar spot of your very own.
STOUT MEMORIAL GROVE (JEDEDIAH SMITH REDWOODS STATE PARK)
Some call this 44-acre grove the world’s most scenic redwood grove. It’s not huge and it doesn’t have the biggest trees, but it is an extraordinary place to take in these natural wonders. Especially on a sunny summer afternoon.
The trail through the grove is a short and easy 0.5 miles that also takes you to the banks of the lovely Smith River. Take a spur trail to the river and enjoy a picnic on the cobbled beach.
We visited Stout Grove as part of a river kayaking trip down the Smith River. We pulled our kayaks onto the little beach and ambled from there for a guided tour.
Accessing the trail from the road takes time, so the park recommends allowing 2 hours to visit despite the short trail length. If you’re driving a regular-sized car, you can get to the trailhead via an adventurous ride on Howland Hills Road.
If you’re driving a large vehicle, RV, or towing a trailer, park at the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park Campground. From there, walk along a trail that follows the Smith River upstream. Follow the trail for a half-mile and then cross a hikers’ bridge into the grove. Check with park rangers before you go to make sure the bridge is in place and that it’s safe to cross.
Many consider spending a late summer afternoon in Stout Grove one of the best things to do in Redwood National and State Parks. Around 4 pm, the sun slants into the grove at a perfect angle. When this happens, the trees are backlit creating rich golds and greens. Visible sunbeams break through the darkness to illuminate the trunks and ferns
LADYBIRD JOHNSON GROVE (REDWOOD NATIONAL PARK)
Located at the southern end of the park, the Ladybird Johnson Grove is a popular first or last walk in the redwoods. At 1.5 miles, it’s a short and easy walk and it is close to the Kuchel Visitor Center. Interpretive materials are available at the trailhead. Rangers often lead educational programs here in the summer.
This trail was built for Redwood National Park’s dedication in 1968. Visitors enjoy visiting the plaque honoring Lady Bird Johnson. Johnson promoted the creation of the park to protect these natural wonders when she was First Lady.
To get to the grove, drive 2.5 miles up Bald Hills Road to the parking area. The road is windy, bumpy, and narrow. RVs and trailers are not advised. As with all popular places in the park, plan to get here early or toward the late afternoon to get a coveted parking spot.
A perk of the grove’s location off Bald Hills Road is that the grove is free of traffic noise. It’s at a higher elevation than many popular groves, which means it’s often in the clouds and gets more fog. A foggy morning in the redwoods has a certain appealing mysterious quality.
TALL TREES GROVE (REDWOOD NATIONAL PARK)
After a National Geographic article featured this grove, the public pushed for the creation of Redwood National Park. With plentiful water, good soil, and wind protection, many of the trees here have grown taller than 350 feet.
Because the Tall Trees Grove trail is written about often and is difficult to access, it has quite a mystique. Visitors have to apply online for one of 50 free permits. Then, it’s a long drive to the trailhead, including a steep climb up Bald Hills Road. Next, you open a locked gate with a secret combination and then drive 6 miles more on an unpaved road. Finally, you walk 1.3 miles with about 800 feet of elevation change to get to the grove.
There are two common reactions to this process. People like my husband hear this and say, “Let’s go somewhere else that’s easier to access.” People like me hear this and really want to go.
A visit here is an adventure, and the permit means that you’ll be far from the foot traffic of other visitors. You’re assured the peace and serenity that you imagine in a redwood grove.
Visitors also enjoy the side trails that lead out to Redwood Creek. This is a good spot to hang out and relax. With a backcountry camping permit, you can even camp here should you want to extend your stay.
Alas, John won the battle this time. The longer trail ending in a steep climb seemed a bit ambitious for our boys. But, if you have at least a half-day and plenty of energy, it might be the perfect adventure for you.
2. Take a Family-Friendly Hike
Redwood National and State Parks have wonderful family-friendly trails through spectacular scenery. There are so many that it’s hard to choose among them! The following are some great family hiking options to add to your itinerary. Talk to a park ranger to see which trails they recommend for your group.
FERN CANYON (PRAIRIE CREEK REDWOODS STATE PARK)
The Fern Canyon Trail should be high on your list of things to do in Redwood State and National Parks! Fans of Jurassic Park may recognize the setting. Being in the canyon, it’s not hard to imagine yourself in a prehistoric world.
As you enter the canyon you’re surrounded by lush green walls covered in large ferns. You’ll follow a little stream, which you hop across several times along the 1.1-mile trail. Many stream crossings have small footbridges, but we all got our feet wet at least once anyway. Some kids were having a great time in rainboots. I recommend that as an option if you can squeeze them in your bags.
At the end of the canyon, you reach a stairway that leads to a trail that loops back along the top of the canyon. The way back is not nearly as remarkable as the canyon part of the walk. If I were to do it again, I’d turn around and enjoy a second walk through the canyon!
Now getting to the canyon is an adventure in and of itself. The 8-mile drive on unpaved Davison Road takes over 30 minutes and includes two stream crossings. Neither RVs nor low-clearance vehicles are recommended.
Be prepared to pay $8 in cash at the entrance kiosk near Gold Bluffs beach. You don’t want to get through Davison Road only to have to turn back around again!
If you have older kids, consider reaching Fern Canyon from the 12 mile James Irvine Trail loop. The trail leaves from the Prairie Creek Visitor Center.
TRILLIUM FALLS (REDWOOD NATIONAL PARK)
Check out the Trillium Falls hike if an easy hike through old-growth redwoods, flowers, ferns, and a small waterfall appeals to you. Many rangers recommend this as one of the best things to do in Redwood National and State Parks.
The trailhead is at the Elk Meadow off Davison Road. The parking lot is large enough for vehicles of any size, and restrooms and picnic tables are nearby.
The beginning of the trail has some spectacular old-growth redwoods. You’ll reach the namesake waterfall 0.5 miles past the trailhead. Many stop and turn around here after snapping a photo from the hikers’ bridge nearby.
If you want to continue on the full loop, the total walk is about 3 miles with a total elevation of 440 feet.
COASTAL TRAIL (DEL NORTE REDWOODS STATE PARK)
Many think about seeing redwoods here, but there are also miles of California coastline to explore. The combination of enormous trees and the expanse of the ocean make the park even more stunning. Along the park’s Pacific edge are 70 miles of Coastal Trail that are nearly continuous through the parks.
The most family-friendly section is near Crescent Beach, with a trailhead by the picnic area on Enderts Beach Road. The 3.5-mile loop connects the coastline between the Crescent Beach Picnic Area and the Crescent Beach Overlook, offering incredible ocean views along the way. Keep an eye out for Roosevelt elk enjoying the beaches below.
BOY SCOUT TREE TRAIL (JEDEDIAH SMITH REDWOODS STATE PARK)
Families looking for a bit of a challenge in the northern part of the park will enjoy the Boy Scout Tree Trail. Allow a half-day to access and walk this moderately challenging 5.3-mile trail.
Though this trail has become increasingly popular, many still love it for its remote and pristine feeling. You won’t hear traffic noise or see signs of development like many of the park’s other trails.
An unmarked side trail near the turnaround leads to the namesake Boy Scout Tree. You’ll find a giant double tree that some think resembles a two-fingered Cub Scout salute. Turn around when you get to Fern Falls, a small cascade at the edge of the redwoods.
To access the trailhead, drive about 3.5 miles along Howland Hill Road. It may be unpaved and dusty, but it’s one of many visitors’ favorite drives. The road is not suitable for RVs. There’s a small lot at the trailhead, but you may have to use overflow parking on the road. This could add around 0.25 miles to your trip.
REVELATION TRAIL (PRAIRIE CREEK REDWOODS STATE PARK)
One of my first museum jobs many moons ago was for the Museum of Modern Art’s Access Programs. It was a life-changing experience. I learned that accessible programming makes wonderful programming for everyone.
Similarly, the Revelation Trail makes a wonderful introduction to redwoods for all park visitors. The 0.25-mile loop takes visitors on a flat and accessible walk through beautiful old-growth redwoods. Interpretive signage along the way encourages the use of many senses to experience these natural wonders.
The trailhead for the Revelation Trail is only about 500 yards from the Visitor Center. Other trails that connect to Revelation Trail include a nature trail across Prairie Creek and a short trail that leads to the Elk Prairie Picnic Area.
PRAIRIE CREEK-FOOTHILL LOOP (PRAIRIE CREEK REDWOODS STATE PARK)
This is a fun and easy loop trail for the whole family. The flat 2.5-mile trail winds along babbling Prairie Creek. It’s ADA accessible, stroller-friendly, and passes under some of the tallest redwood trees in the world.
Leaving from the Prairie Creek Visitor Center, head north and follow signs for the “Big Tree.” As you cross the creek, look down to see what might be swimming by!
Many of the park’s other trails lead from this loop. Pick up a brochure at the visitor center and talk to a ranger about options that might be best for your group.
3. Explore the Parks’ Scenic Drives
NEWTON B. DRURY SCENIC PARKWAY (PRAIRIE CREEK REDWOODS STATE PARK)
This 10-mile paved alternative to Highway 101 is a perfect way to get to or from the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park Visitor Center.
Pass through old-growth forests with plenty of places to pull over for closer looks and short walks. Make a quick stop to check out the Big Tree Wayside or pause to gawk at the resident herd of Roosevelt elk near the Prairie Creek Visitor Center.
On the first Saturday of the month from October through May, the parkway closes to cars for Hike and Bike day. If you’re lucky enough to time your visit with one of these days, it would make for a fantastic family bike ride.
HOWLAND HILL ROAD (JEDEDIAH SMITH REDWOODS STATE PARK)
Howland Hill Road goes through the heart of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. With sections of narrow unpaved road and hundreds of old-growth redwoods looming overhead, you’ll want to allow at least 45 minutes for the drive.
There are many amazing stops and detours here, including Boy Scout Tree Trail and Stout Grove.
RVs and Trailers will not fit on this road.
BALD HILLS ROAD (REDWOOD NATIONAL PARK)
The diversity of landscapes experienced on Bald Hills Road makes this drive a special one.
The road begins with a steep 15 percent grade through the redwoods. This is where you can access the Lady Bird Johnson and the Tall Trees trailheads. Once you pass the redwoods, the road opens into prairie land where spring wildflowers bloom. Keep your eyes open for grazing black bears and elk here
As if that weren’t enough, there’s also Redwood Creek Overlook where you can view the creek flowing into the Pacific Ocean. Not too shabby!
4. Enjoy Scenic Overlooks and Viewpoints
BIG TREE WAYSIDE (PRAIRIE CREEK REDWOODS STATE PARK)
The Big Tree Wayside is an easy stop off the Newton Drury Scenic Parkway. It’s a short stroll to get to the namesake tree. You’ll find a large viewing platform that allows visitors to get up close and pose for photo opps.
No, the tree is not the largest or tallest in the park. But it is impressive all the same. We had fun with the observation tools that help you focus on parts of the tree that give us clues to its history. I was also a big fan of the signage pointing every which way to more big trees!
Visitors can continue to the nearby “Circle Trail” for further exploration.
KLAMATH RIVER OVERLOOK (DEL NORTE REDWOODS STATE PARK)
This popular overlook offers spectacular views of where the Klamath River meets the Pacific Ocean.
Make sure to bring binoculars to focus on the amazing array of wildlife that thrives here. This is a popular spot to observe migrating gray whales in the spring and fall, and seals love to lounge on the sandpit at the mouth of the river. This is also a lovely spot to bring a picnic and soak in incredible sunset views.
Interpretative signage shares the area’s human history as well. For thousands of years, the mouth of the Klamath River has been a special place to native people. The river’s mouth is still a sacred place to the Yurok who have a ceremonial site south of the river.
This site is also a trailhead for the “Klamath Section” of the California Coastal Trail, which leads north to the Lagoon Creek Day Use Area. After 0.5 miles, this steep trail leads to another ocean overlook. Just remember, what goes down must come back up!
CRESCENT BEACH OVERLOOK (DEL NORTE REDWOODS STATE PARK)
South of Crescent City, the Crescent Beach Overlook shows off miles of beach, Crescent City harbor, and views of off-shore sea stacks. Visitors can take in the area’s incredible sunset views from onsite picnic tables.
If the two parking spots are taken, you can park at the end of Enderts Beach Road, a few hundred feet south. The area is also a trailhead for the “Last Chance” section of the California Coastal Trail.
This coastline viewed from here is part of the Tolowa people’s lands and waters. Their connection to the land, wildlife, and ocean that surrounds Crescent Beach remains strong today.
5. Spot Fascinating Wildlife
The ecological diversity of Redwood National and State Parks is one reason it is one of California’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It’s not hard to meet the local wildlife here. As always, make sure to view with caution and give animals their space.
Some of the wildlife you might see during your visit are described below.
Roosevelt Elk are the largest elk species found in North America. We camped in Elk Prairie Campground at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and were surprised to see them every time we drove past the prairie. At one point they were laying around close to the visitor center.
There are seven herds in the Redwoods National and State Parks, with the largest making their home in the Bald Hills area. They may look majestic, but they can be a hazard during calving (spring) and breeding (fall) seasons. Rangers recommend keeping at least a 75-foot distance from them.
SEALS AND SEA LIONS
Given that a large part of Redwoods National and State Park is coastal, it’s no surprise that seals and sea lions are easy to find.
We spent some time at a small lagoon near the mouth of the Klamath River where Klamath Beach Road becomes Coastal Drive. West of the Yurok ceremonial site is a rocky beach protected from the pounding waves by a sandbar.
As the boys were playing near the water, John and I were taking in our surroundings and tuned in to barking sounds. We looked across the horizon and noticed that the sandbar was covered in seals and sea lions. They’d pop up in the water nearby, startling the boys into a giggle.
It turns out that this is a great fishing site for all creatures. We also saw plenty of humans and birds out to catch their next meal
Living close to Santa Cruz, we are no strangers to banana slugs. These decomposers are an essential part of the redwood forest ecosystem and a fun forest mascot.
We only spotted one during our trip near the Big Tree Wayside. Going on a banana slug hunt is always a great way to keep the kids engaged on a redwood hike…if they can take their eyes away from the tree canopy!
The high bluffs looking toward the ocean are great for whale watching on a clear, calm day. Klamath River Overlook is one of the best spots in the park to see migrating gray whales. Peak migration times for whale watching are November-December and March-April.
Other good viewing spots are Crescent Beach Overlook, Wilson Creek, High Bluff Overlook, Gold Bluffs Beach, and the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center. Make sure to bring your binoculars!
GIANT GREEN SEA ANEMONE
Enderts Beach is the best place in Redwood National and State Parks to explore tidepools. It may just be the best place in California. The rocky tide pools along the shoreline showcase a wide range of invertebrates that even casual observers like us can find!
To get there, hike 0.25 miles to Enderts Beach from the “Coastal Trail: Last Chance Grade” trailhead. This walk descends about 200-feet down to the rocky beach below. Once on the beach, head north for about another 0.5 miles so that you’re basically under the parking lot.
Once at the pools you can view sea stars, carnivorous giant green sea anemones, sea cucumbers, crabs, and more! Watch your feet and take care not to harm the animals found in the pools.
Rangers offer tide pool walks during the summer. If there aren’t any guided walks, pick up a pamphlet at the visitor center as a guide.
Always check the tide tables before you go, and remember not to turn your back to the ocean.
Redwood National and State Parks are a birder’s paradise. Amazingly, 280 species of birds have been spotted within the park boundaries. There are about 800 species in the entire country, which means about ⅓ of the country’s bird species have been recorded here!
There are so many birds here because of the parks’ habitat diversity. You can visit several habitats in one day and see and hear dozens of birds species.
The parks’ estuaries offer some spectacular birdwatching. In protected wetlands, you can spot herons, egrets, coots, bald eagles, osprey, peregrine falcons, and belted kingfishers! Along the shoreline, keep your eyes open for California pelicans, cormorants, and loons.
We found the Stellar Jays that live in the forests to be particularly smart and aggressive. We had a regular visitor until we figured out that the “bear boxes” are actually “bird boxes.” Our campground friend took off with grapes and a hot dog while we were prepping for dinner. It took a while to figure out how to keep everything covered all the time! Bird-loving JJ who held a falcon after watching it eat breakfast was terrified of the local jays.
Check out the park’s bird checklist here.
6. Ride Your Bikes
Bicycling can be a great way for families to experience Redwood National and State Parks. When biking everyone can look up and enjoy the giant trees together. It’s also easier to spot good places to stop and explore when you’re not driving through.
Many of the family-friendly biking trails are on the southern end of the park, particularly in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. The Elk Meadow Day Use Area is the primary hub for connecting different bike trails near Prairie Creek. Many trails are on old logging roads that go through second-growth forests. About a mile of ancient redwoods can be explored by bike at the western end of the Lost Man Creek Trail. On the parks’ northern side, outfitters like Redwood Rides offer guided tours along Howland Hill Road.
If you’re visiting on the first Saturday of the month between October and May, participate in Hike and Bike Day on the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. On these days the gorgeous road is closed to car traffic.
Check out the Redwood National Park Biking in the Park Brochure and talk to park rangers to find the best biking trails for your group.
7. Get on the Water
Our big adventure of the trip was a guided kayak ride along the Smith River with Redwood Rides. To be honest, I did not do my due diligence researching this trip. We had been on some mellow estuary kayak trips and had a great time. I envisioned a relaxing float down the river, with time to soak in the scenery and a stop in Stout Grove. This was not what we experienced.
This excursion was an introduction to kayaking river rapids. Most of the rapids were a level 1, except for one level 2 near the end. Given that my kids are not the best in water, and I’m not great at paddling against a current, I was STRESSED the whole time.
That being said, everyone else in our family – including the kids – loved it. The only problem we ended up having was getting stuck on the rocks in the shallow water. If your kids are good swimmers, I would recommend this experience as an adventure splurge.
TRADITIONAL DUGOUT CANOE
For a different type of water fun, enjoy a two-hour exploration of the Klamath River by dugout canoe.
The Yurok dugout canoe, Oohl’-we’-yoch, honors redwoods by giving them new life as a prized creation. While you glide across the water, your guide will share information and stories about wildlife and the history of the Klamath River.
This is a wonderful way to learn Yurok history and experience their traditions first hand.
JET BOAT TOUR
If you want to combine a nature tour with some adventure, check out Klamath River Jet Boat Tours.
This 45-minute river tour combines information about the river’s history, culture, and wildlife with high speed and spins. Be prepared to get wet!
8. See the Redwoods by Horseback
Looking for a unique way to experience Redwood National and State Parks? Join the Redwood Creek Buckarettes for a guided horseback ride through old-growth forests.
Tours include a photo of you and your horse in one of the redwood goose pens, those hollow openings you often see in redwood trunks.
9. Hit the Beach
With miles and miles of coastline, there is no shortage of opportunities to play at the beach in Redwood National and State Parks.
Know that while there are some great places to play along the shore, the ocean in this part of northern California is not for swimming. The water is very cold, currents are swift, and parents should keep an eye out for sneaker waves.
GOLD BLUFFS BEACH
If you’re hiking Fern Canyon, take some time to play at the long stretch of Gold Bluffs Beach after your walk. We were stunned by this expanse of sand and enjoyed relaxing for a bit and soaking up the afternoon sun.
When I first made the plans for our trip, I thought we’d be able to access the beach easily from Elk Praire Campground. One trip along Davison Road ruled this idea out! It’s unpaved with some steep and winding sections. To get to the Day Use Parking Lot, also the Fern Canyon Trailhead, you have to cross some streams in the road. RVs and Trailers are not recommended on the hilly part and low-clearance vehicles are not recommended for the stream crossings.
If you plan to spend a lot of time at the beach, consider camping in the Gold Bluffs Beach Campground. The sites are exposed, but many have ocean views.
KLAMATH RIVER ESTUARY LAGOON
On the recommendation of a friend, we spent a fun morning on the rocky beach along the Klamath River Estuary. This estuary is at the mouth of the Klamath River where it meets the Pacific Ocean.
Though you can see the ocean waves from here, a sandbar blocks them from the shoreline, leaving a calm lagoon. This makes for a perfect feeding ground for the local seals, birds, and fishermen. We enjoyed watching each of them!
This area is located across the river from the Klamath River Overlook. You actually look down onto it from there. The best way to find it is to put Lost Rocks Boulder in your GPS. Park near the bend where Klamath Beach Road becomes Coastal Drive and walk to the shoreline from there.
As you walk to the lagoon, you’ll see a Yurok Ceremonial site. Respect the site and stay on the trail and shore.
As mentioned above, Enderts Beach offers a great opportunity to see wildlife in the tide pools.
This beach is also considered one of Redwood National Park’s most scenic. After tide-pooling, enjoy sunny afternoons playing by the shore with a kite and a few sand toys. It’s also a great spot for a sunset walk.
10. Learn from Rangers at the Park Visitor Centers
Visitor Centers are always a good first stop. Rangers are happy to help you get oriented and pick which programs, trails, and activities work best for your group.
This is also where you can pick up a Junior Ranger booklet at the start of your visit, and turn in your work for a badge at the end.
Redwood National Park also participates in the Redwood EdVentures Quest program. This is like a nature scavenger hunt through popular family hikes and walks. The quest clues guide you through the trail to a final clue, which is the key to a special prize. For details or to download printable quests, visit redwood-edventures.org.
If you choose to use the app, download it before getting to the park or at the visitor center where cell service is most reliable.
THOMAS H KUCHEL VISITOR CENTER
Located just off US Highway 101, south of Orick, CA
At the park’s southern end, the Thomas H Kuchel Visitor Center is set on a lovely stretch of coastline. This is a good spot to talk to rangers, join a patio talk or ocean walk, and browse the little gift shop. Exhibits here focus on coastal redwoods and watersheds.
We also enjoyed a final Redwood National Park picnic here in the day-use area nearby. We picnicked overlooking the Pacific Ocean, hatching a plan to come back soon.
PRAIRIE CREEK VISITOR CENTER
Located off US Highway 101, at the southern end of the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway
Stop here for information, passport stamps, and souvenirs. This is a jumping-off point for many of the park’s popular trails.
Join ranger-led walks and evening campfire programs in the summer. Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet, and browse small exhibits on the coastal redwood forest, wildlife, and park history.
CRESCENT CITY INFORMATION CENTER
Located at 1111 Second Street, Crescent City, CA (right off US Hwy 101 on the corner of 2nd and K Street)
Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet and park newspapers.
Retail staff offer information and manage the bookstore. Get your park passport stamped, and use the center’s picnic area and public restroom.
JEDEDIAH SMITH INFORMATION CENTER
Located at US Highway 199, 10 miles east of Crescent City, CA in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park Campground
Join a ranger-led walk and evening campfire program here during the summer. Browse small exhibits on coastal redwoods, history, and local wildlife.
Retail staff are on-site to manage the bookstore and stamp park passports. Visitors can use the restrooms, picnic areas, and access several trails from here.
HIOUCHI INFORMATION CENTER
Located across the street from the Jedediah Smith Visitor Center on US Highway 199 at Hiouchi, CA
Exhibits focus on coastal redwoods, wildlife, and preservation history. A self-guided walk with interpretive signs is just outside.
Park rangers and retail staff provide information onsite. Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet, have your park passport stamped, and use the restrooms and picnic area.
YUROK VISITOR CENTER
Located at 101 Klamath Blvd, Klamath, CA
Though outside of park boundaries, the Yurok Visitor Center is well worth a stop. The new 3,500 sq. ft. space is a hub for tourist information. You’ll also find exhibits that educate visitors about the tribe’s heritage and culture.
WHAT TO DO NEAR REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS
Explore Crescent City, CA
We had hoped to spend a good part of one of our days in Crescent City but had to hurry back due to timed road construction on 101. If you find yourself nearby, spend some time checking out this little city south of the Oregon border. Visitors enjoy Crescent Beach, Battery Point Lighthouse, Ocean World aquarium, beachfront playgrounds, and more!
Visit Trees of Mystery
The true mystery to me is why a giant statue of lumberjack Paul Bunyan draws in tourists who are there to experience amazing trees saved from the lumberjacks. But alas, we were among those lured in and curious to see what this place was about.
The Redwood Canopy Trail allows you to walk high up among the trees through a series of swinging bridges. This was by far everyone’s favorite part of the park. The boys would have been happy if we stayed there doing loops through the canopy the whole time.
After that, we enjoyed the Gondola ride which takes you up high to a viewing platform on the hill. It’s a quick ride and there are limited things to do once you get to the top. We spent about 10 minutes here and headed back down.
Interpretive panels throughout the park point out unique features of the redwood trees. They’ve creatively named some, like the Chandelier Tree and the Octopus Tree, which draws you in to take a closer look.
Going through the Paul Bunyan story area, on the other hand, was cringe-worthy. It had me wondering why we were taught to look up to these characters as children. It was a strange experience to be hearing the stories of frontiersmen who cut down massive trees at a park named in celebration of the trees.
Overall, the canopy trail was great. I’m not sure the rest added to our experience.
This is Bigfoot Territory, and we had a lot of fun teasing the kids about finding Bigfoot at every step along the way.
Bug thought this was a lot of fun until one of his 50-mile surprises was a toy Bigfoot. He immediately decided he did not like it and wanted nothing to do with Bigfoot throughout the trip. That didn’t stop John from hiding his Bigfoot toy around the campsite in places where he was sure to find it though!
If you want to add a little Bigfoot to your family vacation, consider a stop at Willow Creek’s Bigfoot Museum. The little town even has a Bigfoot-themed motel. Fodor’s has a great list of places to search for Sasquatch near Redwood National and State Parks.
WHERE TO STAY WHEN VISITING REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS
Unlike many of the larger National Parks, there is no central lodge or village at Redwood National and State Parks. We chose to camp at Elk Prairie Campground and loved the location. More good options are below.
Best Campgrounds in Redwood National and State Parks
ELK PRAIRIE CAMPGROUND
This is a great option for a centrally located campground. It was an easy stroll from our site to the Prairie Creek Visitor Center and Elk Prairie. We saw the herd every day of our visit!
We booked a site along Prairie Creek months in advance. I noticed that the sizes of the sites are very uneven. Some are quite spacious, and others don’t seem big enough for a standard tent. If you have a large tent or RV, double-check the size before booking!
My favorite sites were 24 and 25. These had large redwoods in the campsite and seemed to offer more space. Site 60 is a deeply shaded site enclosed by beautiful trees. Site 55 is wide and open and offers great access to the creek. Reserve your campsite here.
Next time we camp here we’ll aim to get one of the four camping cabins located in a sunny spot right across the prairie. The cabins have electricity, but they don’t have a kitchen or bathroom. Each has bunk beds, but no mattress pads. There are BBQs, fire pits, and picnic tables outside. You can check availability here under “Meadow Cabin Colony.”
GOLD BLUFFS BEACH CAMPGROUND
Gold Bluffs Beach Campground is, as you probably guessed, on Gold Bluffs Beach. If you like the idea of waking up to a beautiful beach and the ocean, this could be the spot for you. Sites 9, 12, 13, and 14 are closest to the beach itself.
One thing to know before you book here is that all sites are open and exposed. There are no large trees nearby, which also means not a lot of privacy. Another thing to consider is that Davison Road is short in mileage but takes a good 45 minutes to get through depending on traffic. It won’t be easy to stop by the site and head back out again. Reserve a Gold Bluffs Beach Campsite here.
MILL CREEK CAMPGROUND
Located in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, Mill Creek Campground is one of California’s most beautiful spots to camp. Located 9 miles south of Crescent City, visitors love the lush redwood forest surrounding their campsites.
There are 145 sites total, with 22 designated tents only. Most can be reserved ahead of time, though some are first-come, first-served sites.
Reserve a Mill Creek Campground Campsite here.
Cabins and Vacation Rentals Nearby
FERN HOOK CABINS
You don’t have to sacrifice comfort to be surrounded by nature. Located in Hiouchi, outside Jedediah Smith Redwoods Park, these new cabins are set amongst redwoods and ferns.
GETTING TO REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS
Redwood National and State Parks are located along the Northern Coast of California. The southern end is at Orick, CA. This is about a 5.5-hour drive north from San Francisco. The northern end is at Crescent City, CA. This is about a 5.5-hour drive south from Portland, OR.
Driving is the best way to explore the parks, which are connected by Highway 101. There is no major signage to let you know that you are in the parks, so navigation requires some preparation.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO TO REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS
Hours and Fees
Redwood National and State Parks are free except for specific day-use areas in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.
State Park day-use passes and Interagency Federal Passes (Senior, Annual, Access, etc.) are accepted within the three state parks. The kiosks require cash payments. Credit and debit cards aren’t accepted. If you’re camping in the park, the fee is included with your campsite reservation.
- Gold Bluffs Beach / Fern Canyon: $8.00 paid at the kiosk at the southern end of Gold Bluffs Beach after Davison Road.
- Jedediah Smith Campground: $8.00 day use fee for vehicles parking along the Smith River.
Roads, trails, and access to the parks are open year-round. Some campgrounds and information centers are closed in the off-season (October-May). Visitor Centers are usually open from 9 am – 5 pm, but hours may vary on holidays.
ROAD TRIP ESSENTIALS
You’ll be driving a lot on your visit to Redwood National and State Parks, and you may be visiting as part of an even larger road trip. Plan to make sure you have everything you need to stay safe and comfortable. You can read about our own road trip essentials here.
DOWNLOAD THE MAP
Download park maps ahead of time so that you always have them with you. We found this especially helpful in parks like these without clear boundaries and poor cell reception. You can also buy a more detailed trail map, like this one from National Geographic.
Know that you’re not going to have great cell reception during your visit, and plan accordingly. This is where bringing maps and having a rough plan before your trip can help.
ROAD WORK SCHEDULES
Highway 101 is the only road that goes through the whole park, and road construction or a landslide can shut the whole thing down. Not being able to go north and south on 101 during certain hours changed our trip plans dramatically. Make sure you look at the main NPS site for road closures and traffic updates.
BRING DRINKING WATER AND SNACKS
Always a good rule of thumb on any hike!
DRESS IN LAYERS AND BRING HIKING SHOES
Weather in Redwood National Parks can shift throughout the day and depends on where you are. You can go from cool misty groves to warm sunny prairies to windswept beaches. Bring some layers and a waterproof coat that you can throw on in case of rain. Hiking shoes are also helpful to keep you from slipping on the damp trails.
WHAT IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS
Like most National Parks, summer is the high season in Redwood National and State Parks. Almost half of the parks’ annual visitors arrive over the summer. Given the size and layout of the park, though, few areas feel overly crowded. Plan to get to popular trails like Fern Canyon early.
Temperatures in the summer are still on the cool end in the 60s with occasional rain. Summer fog blankets the forest nearest the coastline, which many visitors love for the mysterious atmosphere it creates.
Summer months also offer the highest number of programs and activities from rangers and nearby outfitters.
Fall is a lovely time to visit Redwood National and State Parks, with mild temperatures and fewer crowds. The area’s rainy season begins in October, so pack accordingly.
You can find fall colors on trails with diverse foliage like the Trillium Falls Trail. Prairie Creek Redwood State Park’s Hike and Bike Day on the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway begins in October and continues through the spring.
A traditional winter at Redwoods National and State Parks means rain, and we hope that tradition continues! I believe there’s no bad weather, just bad clothes. If you layer and prepare for wet weather, you might get to experience the feeling of having these magical forests all to yourself.
Another bonus is that December is a peak month for the gray whale migration. You should be able to see them from the Klamath River Overlook, Crescent Beach Overlook, or Wilson Creek.
The rainy season continues through April, so you can expect a mild and damp springtime in the Parks. Make sure to avoid the stream crossings. There won’t be footbridges and currents can be strong.
Springtime offers stunning wildflower blooms throughout the park. Bright pink rhododendrons start blooming in May, adding even more beauty to popular trails like the Lady Bird Johnson Grove.
ITINERARY: A 4-DAY WEEKEND IN REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS
Some people pass through Redwood National Park on 101 and just pop through a grove. Others stay for a week for a full-on family vacation. Whether you stay 1 night or 5 depends on your group and your goals for your visit.
I put together a 4-day sample itinerary based on our experience in the park. It’s a jumping-off point for families planning their own visit, so you can get an idea of which areas are easier to group.
In retrospect, the itinerary I had for us is laughable now that we’ve actually been to the area. Due to road access and road construction schedules, it was much more challenging to get to places than I imagined. We camped in Elk Prairie Campground and I thought we’d be able to easily drive over to Gold Bluffs Beach to watch the sunset. One trip over Davison Road to hike Fern Canyon ruled that idea out!
Pick your must-do’s first and build around that. There will likely be an experience or two that falls off the list, but you can still count on having an amazing visit and some wonderful new memories.
Day 1: Set up camp and relax.
On Day 1, we try to take it easy. It’s likely been a long drive, so we focus on switching to the getaway mindset and finding some easy options for the kids to run around.
Set up camp, and explore the area where you’ve landed. Visit a nearby Visitor Center to pick up Junior Ranger booklets and talk to a ranger about your plans.
Day 2: Prairie Creek Highlights.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park offers some amazing sights within easy access of each other. In one day it can make sense to:
- Hike Fern Canyon. Get here early before the crowds arrive so that you can experience the full magic of the canyon without feeling rushed by big groups.
- Picnic and Play at Gold Bluffs Beach.
- Stop by the Visitor Center and see if you can spot the herd on the Elk Prairie.
- Drive the Newton B. Drury Scenic Highway and make some stops along the way. If you don’t have the energy for more trails, the Big Tree Wayside stop is a fun and easy way to stretch your legs.
- Enjoy a magical sunset at the Klamath River Overlook or along the shore near the lagoon.
Day 3: Have an Adventure.
- Choose an adventure that pushes your boundaries a bit. Consider hiking the Tall Trees Grove, kayaking the Smith River, experiencing the Klamath by dugout canoe, or exploring the redwoods by horseback. Getting out of your comfort zones together is exciting. It also creates the best stories and unforgettable memories.
- After lunch and some relaxing time, check out a redwood grove or a short trail near your home base.
Day 4: Goodbye for now Redwoods National and State Parks.
- Make time to stop by a Visitor Center and trade in your Junior Ranger work for a badge.
- Have a picnic by the Visitor Center and soak in some more park views.
- End your park experience with a hike through Lady Bird Johnson Grove on the southern end or Stout Grove on the northern end, depending on which way you’re headed.
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