Visiting Redwood National and State Parks is a unique experience, with stunning ancient trees towering above and a diverse ecosystem teeming with life. But, with over 131,983 acres of land and over 200 miles of trails, it can be challenging to navigate the area and plan your visit effectively. This blog post aims to guide tourists on the layout of Redwood National and State Parks, making their visit far more manageable and memorable.
Is it a National or State Park?
Both! The Redwood National and State Parks are a complex of one national park and three California state parks located along the coast of northern California. The park consists of four distinct areas. Each area offers a unique experience, and we highly recommend visiting all of them. Take a look at this official map from the National Park Service website.
Starting from the north of the park near the Oregon border, the first area is called the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The park’s crown jewel is Stout Grove, which is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and ancient groves in the park. This majestic 44-acre grove of old-growth redwoods is located off of the scenic Howland Hills Road.
Moving towards the south, the next area is called Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. The park is home to some spectacular coastal vistas, cascading sea cliffs, and tide pools to explore. You can hike along the Smith River, camp in the ancient forests, and observe grey whales year-round. We highly recommend visiting the Damnation Creek Trail; it is one of the most scenic trails in the park and offers some breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.
Continuing south, the third area of the park is called the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. It is situated in the heart of the park, and it is known for its 75 miles of hiking trails that meander through old-growth forests, open prairies, and along Gold Bluffs Beach. Some of the highlights of this area include the Fern Canyon, which was used as a set in the movie Jurassic Park, and the Elk Prairie, where you can encounter a resident herd of Roosevelt Elk.
Finally, moving towards the Southern end of the park, we have the Humboldt Lagoons State Park. The park is known for its stunning coastal lagoons that are a haven for waterfowl and migrating shorebirds. Visitors to this area can explore the vast stretches of sandy beaches, paddle around the lagoons, or go on a guided canoe tour to witness the area’s mesmerizing beauty.
Redwood National Park is located in northern California and is a highlight of any California road trip. The park is located roughly 300 miles north of San Francisco, 300 miles northwest of Sacramento, 300 miles south of Portland, and 350 miles west of Reno-Tahoe airport. One great option for those flying to the area is to start in San Francisco and take the scenic route on the northern section of the Pacific Coast Highway to enjoy stunning ocean views along the way.
Another fabulous route is to fly into the Tahoe-Reno airport, explore Lake Tahoe, and then drive through Lassen Volcanic National Park on your way to the Redwood National and State Parks.
Things to Do
Redwood National and State Parks offer a wide range of activities for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. The most popular activity is hiking, with trails ranging from easy to strenuous. There are also tidal pools, beaches, scenic drives, and more.
The best place to start is at one of the park’s four visitor centers: Kuchel Visitor Center, Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center, Hiouchi Visitor Center, and Prairie Creek Visitor Center. The staff at the visitor centers are more than knowledgeable about the park, they are passionate about it. They’ll provide you with insightful maps and brochures, and detail the highlights of the park and highlight the best places to visit.
Redwood National and State Park not only thrives with remarkable natural beauty but is rich in history as well. From the native tribes that called it home for a thousand years to early European settlers, the Redwood region has an extraordinary heritage worth exploring. The visitor centers display exhibits on the geological history, the once-thriving logging industry, and the park’s natural and cultural history.
Finally, if you’re traveling with kids (or those who are kids at heart), the visitor center is where you’ll get your Junior Ranger badge.
One of the best ways to experience the area is to drive along the park’s scenic byways. These are the five that we traveled.
Bald Hills Road is a 17-mile scenic drive in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park that starts at the entrance of the Elk Meadow and ends at the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, a grove of old-growth redwoods named after the former first lady. The drive takes you through open grasslands, oak woodlands, and offers views from the tops of hills. Keep your eyes peeled as this drive is known for its sightings of Roosevelt elks.
The Coastal Drive skirts the Pacific Ocean and takes you through a 10-mile loop that starts and ends at Klamath River Overlook. This drive provides a unique vantage point to view the ocean, sand dunes, and redwood forests. A must-visit during this drive is the Trees of Mystery, a roadside attraction where visitors can experience the flora and fauna of the region with the help of a guided tour.
Enderts Beach Road is a 5-mile road that takes you through a dense forest that leads to the Pacific Ocean. As you make your way to the beach, you will be treated to panoramic views that make the drive worth it. When you reach Enderts Beach, you can take a leisurely stroll, listen to the waves, and enjoy the serene atmosphere.
Howland Hill Road is a narrow one-lane dirt road in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park that winds through some of the oldest and most impressive redwood groves in the park. The drive is a total of 10 miles round trip and is filled with towering trees that form a beautiful canopy overhead. We suggest taking some time to explore Stout Grove, which is considered one of the most breathtaking areas of Redwood National and State Parks.
Named after the conservationist who rescued the ancient redwoods from logging in the 1920s and 1930s, the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway in Prairie Creek State Park runs the length of parkland that connects the northern and southern sections of Redwood National and State Parks. The road takes you through old-growth redwoods and stunning landscapes, offering breathtaking views of towering trees, wildflowers, and occasional wildlife. We recommend making a stop at the Elk Meadow Overlook, which provides an ideal spot for wildlife observation as you can see thousands of elk grazing in the meadow.
Redwood National and State Parks have over 200 miles of hiking trails that take visitors through some of the park’s most stunning areas. These trails range from easy walks to challenging hikes and provide access to ancient redwoods, historic sites, and stunning vistas. Some of our favorites include:
- Boy Scout Tree Trail
The Boy Scout Tree Trail is a moderate 5.5-mile hike that takes you through the heart of the redwood forest. The trailhead is located in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, and the trail takes you past some of the largest trees in the park. The highlight of the hike is the Boy Scout Tree, which is one of the largest trees in the world. Keep in mind that this hike requires a good level of fitness, as there are some steep sections.
2. Fern Canyon Trail
The Fern Canyon Trail is a 1-mile hike that takes you through a lush, narrow canyon that is draped in ferns. The walls of the canyon are covered in greenery, and the streams that run through the canyon provide a soothing soundtrack. The trailhead is located in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and the trail is easy to follow.
- James Irvine Trail
The James Irvine Trail is a moderate 4.5-mile hike that takes you through a diverse range of ecosystems. Also located in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and the trail takes you through a redwood forest, past a beautiful waterfall, and along the coast.
- Tall Trees Grove Trail
The Tall Trees Grove Trail is a moderate 3.5-mile hike that takes you through a grove of some of the tallest trees in the world. The trailhead is located in Redwood National Park, and the trail takes you down a steep hill, past a picturesque creek, and into a forest of towering redwoods. The highlight of the hike is the Tall Trees Grove, which is home to some of the tallest trees in the world, including the Stratosphere Giant, which stands at over 370 feet tall.
- Lady Bird Johnson Grove
This easy 1.5-mile loop is located off the scenic Bald Hills Road in the southern end of the park. As you walk through the grove, there are informational signs that provide information about the forest’s ecology, including the different types of shrubs, ferns, and trees including some of the famed Redwoods towering over 300 feet high.
The Redwood National and State Parks also feature several gorgeous beaches that you can explore. The park’s coastline stretches over 37 miles and offers visitors fantastic opportunities to explore tidal pools, watch wildlife, and relax on the sandy shores. Some of the best beaches in the park include Enderts Beach, South Beach, and Gold Bluffs Beach.
- Enderts Beach
Located in Crescent City, Enderts Beach is a local favorite due to its picturesque scenery and tide pools. It features wide stretches of soft sand, perfect for a fun picnic with family or friends. Hikers will love the trail system that sprawls out from the beach area, allowing you to take in the remarkable vistas of the Pacific Ocean.
2. South Beach
South Beach is another fantastic spot, offering many of the same amenities as Enderts Beach, but without the crowds. The beach extends for miles and features multi-colored sand and a beautiful rock archway. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of seals, sea lions, and pelicans out in the surf. Fishing is also a popular activity at South Beach, with anglers coming to catch perch and rockfish.
We enjoyed a walk on this beach after visiting the Battery Point Lighthouse. Only accessible during low tide, you walk across the sand to a small island housing the 45-foot-tall lighthouse. The lighthouse also houses a historical museum that is covered with photographs, artifacts, and documents that showcase its rich history.
3. Gold Bluffs Beach
With its miles of unspoiled beach stretches, this spot is a serene setting for sunbathing and picnicking. This spectacular sandy beach is flanked by 60-foot high sand dunes and offers stunning views of the Humboldt Bay and Pacific Ocean. One of the best things about this beach is that it offers an unparalleled camping experience, with campsites overlooking the ocean.
Where to Stay: Camping and Lodging Options
Redwood National and State Parks offer a variety of camping and lodging options to suit all budgets and preferences. The park has four campgrounds with facilities like restrooms, showers, and picnic tables. If you prefer more luxurious lodging, there are several lodges and cabins near the park, including the historic Requa Inn and the Elk Meadow Cabins.
Crescent City is a great base for all your Redwood National Park activities. We enjoyed the Crescent City / Redwoods KOA Campground. It has RV and tent sites, as well as cabins for rent.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Redwood National and State Parks is from May to September when the weather is warm and dry. However, if you want to avoid the crowds, consider visiting in the shoulder seasons of March to April and October to November. Be prepared for rain during the winter months, which can make hiking and camping more challenging.
Plan Your Trip Today
The Redwood National and State Parks are a must-visit destination for anyone looking to surround themselves with the majestic beauty of nature. With towering trees, beautiful hiking trails, and a range of activities to suit all interests, Redwood National and State Parks are the perfect place to relax and recharge away from the hustle and bustle of city life. We hope this guide has provided you with all the information you need to plan your visit and make the most of your trip. Get ready for an unforgettable experience among the magnificent redwoods!
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