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Redwood Parks in California: the Tallest Trees in the World

May 11, 2021 /
Redwood National Park California

Warning: Due to COVID 19 some information in this article (e.g. operating hours) may not be up-to-date.

When talking about Redwood National Park it would be more correct to say “parks”, because in northern California, a few miles from the Oregon border, the Redwood National and State Parks system includes four national and state parks that make giant redwood forests their undoubted strength.

Organizing an on the road trip to this part of California is not for everyone because Redwood National and State Parks are a bit out of the way for classic west coast itineraries (you’ll usually see this kind of trees on Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Park). It’s different if you’re also planning an Oregon coast tour because in this case you can definitely combine the two, maybe starting from San Francisco and ending the tour in Seattle.

Location and Directions

Where is Redwood National Park located? Well, Highway 101 (also known as El Camino Real) runs through the Redwood Parks and therefore is the best way to reach this part of California. The two cities that border this extensive area are Crescent City to the north and Orick to the south.

From San Francisco it takes about 5.5 hours by car to get there, while if you are traveling down here from the Oregon coast, the town of Crescent City is only half an hour drive from Brookings.

Things to do in Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park Map

This is the National Park itself managed by National Park Services and is the largest of the four parks. If you are traveling on Highway 101 from the south, stop just before Orick at the Kuchel Visitor Center (For hours of operation you can check the official website) where you can get detailed information about what the park has to offer, and if necessary, get permits to go on some trails that we will go over in detail later.

Let’s find out the best things to do and see in this area.

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Redwood National Park CaliforniaIf you are short on time and want to visit this park, there is a short loop just over a mile long that is the perfect way to get a snapshot of the natural beauty of this area.

It’s very easy to get there. Drive past the town of Orick along Highway 101 heading north for about 1.2 miles until you come to Bald Hills Road. After driving a little over 2.5 miles, on your right you will find a small parking lot where the loop starts and continues into the woods.

Redwood Creek Overlook

Must see in Redwood National ParkAnother 6.5 miles or so further on Bald Hills Road, you’ll reach the Redwood Creek Overlook. If you’re lucky enough to have a sunny day without fog, you can enjoy the panorama of a redwood forest stretching all the way to the coast.

Tall Trees Grove

What to do in Redwood National ParkJust beyond Redwood Creek Overlook, there is a trail that leads to one of the most famous areas of the park (many say it the main reason to visit Redwood National Park) but at the same time, unfortunately, it is more complicated to reach. Although it is possible to drive through this part of the park, you will notice that the entrance is barred by a gate with a code lock.

Only 50 daily permits are granted to visit this part of the park. Normally they turn out to be more than enough to meet the needs of tourists, but during the high season they may still run out. You can request them at the visitor center, which will also provide you the combination to open the gate.

If you are one of the lucky ones who managed to get a permit, once you pass the gate, you will have to drive about 6 miles on a dirt road (Be especially careful if it has rained recently, because there will be a lot of mud). Once you have parked your car, a trail awaits you. This trail is 3.4 miles roundtrip and there is a fairly steep climb for at least 1 mile. Your effort will be worth it, because you have the opportunity to be a unique place where the tallest trees in the world grow.

Obviously, considering all the time it takes to get to this place and to complete the hike, it is best to go here only if you have more than one day to visit the park. In fact, you will need to give yourself at least 3 hours to get to the parking lot and to walk the entire trail.

Things to do in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Redwood National and State ParksThis is one of the most pristine parks despite the presence of numerous trails and scenic roads. Even during the high season, you won’t find large crowds, except perhaps in Fern Canyon.

To reach the Prairie Creek Visitor Center you will need to take Highway 101 for a little more than 3 miles northbound from Orick until you see the exit for Newton B. Drury Scenic Pkwy which will take you to the visitor center. There are many trails that begin here, but they require a fair amount of time, so if you have the time to hike these trails, you can ask the rangers present for detailed information.

Big Tree Circle Trail

redwood national park campingThe trail can be reached by taking the scenic Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway. You will find the sign for Big Tree about one mile north of the visitor center. The short loop starts at the small parking lot and on this trail you can observe one of the most majestic trees in the park.

Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway

redwood national park scenic driveThis is also recommended for those who have little time to visit the park since you will have to drive a short stretch anyway to reach the visitor center (from where you will easily be able to start the brief walk in the Big Tree area). In addition, what makes this scenic road convenient is that it can be easily reached by taking Highway 101 and then you can get back on the highway a little less than 10 miles further.

Anyway, it is definitely a recommended detour and should seriously consider including it in your itinerary.

Fern Canyon

Fern Canyon RedwoodThis is the most popular attraction in the park and also one of the most photographed. The most scenic characteristic is that the rocky walls of the gorge are completely covered with ferns. This place is so picturesque that Steven Spielberg decided to use it as a location to shoot some scenes of Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World.

The easiest way to reach it is to drive along Davison Road from Highway 101, a road that is worth driving anyway since it goes through the forest, and then comes out on the coast and offers you a great view of the Pacific Ocean. To reach the trailhead, you must continue to the end of the road past the Gold Bluff Beach campsite. This will take you to a parking lot where you can start the short trail that leads to the Fern Canyon Gorge.

Things to do in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park

best hikes in redwood national parkPerhaps one of the most easily visited of the four parks since Highway 101 practically runs through it in its entirety and all the main trails and viewpoints can be reached from the highway. If you want to stay overnight in the park, you can stay at a very popular campground called Mill Creek Campground. The visitor center, also known as the Crescent City Information Center, is located in the town of the same name.

Yurok Loop Trail

best trails in redwood national parkComing from the south, this is one of the first points of interest you may encounter. It is well known (though not as spectacular) because it is short, easy to walk around, and the large parking area that runs along one side of Lagoon Creek is close to Highway 101.

After a short walk in the woods, you will reach the coast, where you can see unique rock formations emerging from the water. Basically, this is the main attraction of this trail, but there are no redwoods here. This is why once you reach the coast you can also go back and without walking the entire trail again.

Damnation Creek Trail

redwood national park hikesThe park’s most famous and most popular route. It is about 3.5 miles round trip with an elevation gain of more than 1177 ft. that will take you through the forest to the coast directly to the shore. However, consider that this trail is quite tiring (especially the return trip) due to the length and elevation, and you must have a fair amount of time to tackle it.

Most days of the year, due to the geographical position of this route, there is fog, but instead of being a disturbance, it will add considerable charm to your experience. The trail is not easy to find on the road (As you can see from the photo), but you will know you are in the right place when you see a large open area and we have marked it on the map so that you can find it more easily.

Attention: To reach the beach it is necessary to cross a bridge built over a small canyon that has recently been destroyed making it impossible to continue and reach the end. This does not take away from the experience of this trail (unless you were determined to reach the coast). However, since there are plans to rebuild it, check the official website to find out if the situation has changed.

Crescent Beach Overlook

best easy day hikes redwood national and state parksIf you don’t want to go for a walk but still want to get an idea of the unique beauty found in this redwood forest that dives into the Pacific Ocean, you can consider going to the Crescent Beach Overlook. This vantage point is easily reached by car by taking the Enderts Beach Road just before getting to Crescent City. On the way to the viewing point, there are beautiful views along the road and it definitely makes for a pleasant drive.

Things to do in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

Redwood National Park mapsThis is the northernmost of the redwood parks on this route. The information center is located in the small town of Hiouchi.

Stout Memorial Grove Trail

where is redwood national park One of the most famous trails in all of the parks in this area with redwoods, this trail has spectacular views and, in addition, it is easy (a little under a mile round trip). The redwoods that grow along the course of the Smith River are even more enchanting in the afternoon sun, so if you can, plan to take a walk here in the afternoon and bring your camera.

The only downside is that in the summer, due to its proximity to fresh water, mosquitoes are particularly numerous and annoying, so come prepared.

There are two ways to reach this trail. If you are coming from the north you will have to reach the small town of Hiouchi either by taking Highway 199 or the N Bank Road (both branches of Highway 101). Once you have passed Hiouchi, you will have to cross the Nels Christensen Memorial Bridge, which will be on your right and follow S Fork Road. Once you have crossed another bridge (this time over the Smith River), take Douglas Park Drive. Stay on this road until it becomes Howland Hill Road and continue on this road until you see signs to Stout Grove on your right.

If you’re coming from the south, all you have to do is to follow the directions that you can read in the section below on Howland Hill Road.

Howland Hill Road

where to stay near redwood national parkThis is not only a scenic road but, as mentioned earlier, is also the best way to get to Stout Grove if you are coming from the south.

Before Crescent City, you will need to turn right and take Humboldt Road, which will take you through a small town called Bertsch-Oceanview. Follow the road until you reach the end, then turn right and take Howland Hill Road.

About halfway down the road, you are likely to find numerous cars parked on the side of the road and in a small clearing. This means that you have arrived at the trailhead of another quite famous trail in the park, The Boy Scout Tree Trail. This is a challenging trail (more than 4 miles) and it’s not a loop (so you’ll be going back the same way you came), but it has spectacular views of the redwood forest. If you have time, you can consider hiking at least part of it to stretch your legs.

If you drive along this road with your rental car be careful because in some places the road is in bad conditions and it is quite narrow, so pay particular attention especially if it rains (of if it has just rained).

Safety tips

Relying on a GPS to reach the most important points of this park can be misleading because the redwood parks are not well marked, so the advice is to get official maps of the park at the various visitor centers and rely only on those.

Given the condition of the roads in these parks, it is best to check the official website to make sure the roads are accessible and to avoid nasty surprises.

As is the case in other parks in the U.S., since you are in the middle of nature, it is not uncommon to find wild animals along the way. Usually, even the sound of people approaching causes the animals to run away, but in case you have a close encounter with bears, mountain lions or Roosevelt’s Wapiti, I suggest that you pay close attention to the guidelines suggested by the National Park Service.

Where to Stay near Redwood National Park

The town of Crescent City near Jebediah Smith Redwoods State Park definitely has the best selection of accommodations. I recommend the Lighthouse Inn (681 US Highway 101 South), a simple hotel whose main strengths are its good quality at a low price, cleanliness and sizeable rooms. On the other hand, it does not offer spectacular views, but for those looking for a comfortable solution without spending too much, this may be the right choice.

Those looking for a better view can consider staying at the Oceanfront Lodge (100 A Street), which, as the name says, is on the ocean. Some rooms have a view of the picturesque lighthouse of Battery Point.

Search for a hotel in Crescent City

South of the parks, unfortunately, most of the accommodations are not in Orick, as it would be expected, but a little further south near a city called Trinidad, where you can consider staying at the well-kept View Crest Lodge (3415 Patrick’s Point Drive), built-in a very green area where you relax before resuming your road trip.

Going even further south you will find good hotels in the city of Arcade. Here those who prefer to play it safe and choose high-ranking hotel chains can consider an overnight at the Best Western Arcata Inn with both indoor and outdoor swimming pools and hospitality typical of the Best Western.

Can You Drive through a Tree?

One of the most famous photos of Sequoia National Park, another park in California to include many giant trees, is certainly that of the Tunnel Log, a fallen sequoia that has a tunnel that cars can pass through. If you’re wondering if such a thing exists inside Redwood National and State Parks, the answer is… no.

what to do in redwood national park

That is to say, there is no tunnel dug into a tree inside the parks, however, there is one privately managed near the town of Klamath about halfway between the Praire Creek and Del Norte parks. If you can’t resist the temptation to take a picture of the tree, head to the Tour-Thru Tree (430 CA-169, Klamath) and by paying $5 per car you can go home and say you drove through a live tree (unlike the one in Sequoia Park, which is a fallen tree trunk).

What about Avenue of the Giants?

Avenue of the Giants California

If you’ve heard of the Avenue of the Giants, the spectacular scenic road that winds through California’s tall redwoods, and you’re wondering why you didn’t find it mentioned in this article, the reason is that it’s inside Humboldt Redwood State Park, about 75 miles south of Orick, that has redwood in its name but is not located in the Redwood National and State Parks we’ve described so far.

Filippo Nardelli
Filippo Nardelli

I have a degree in History of North America and have always been fascinated by the United States.

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