Overwhelmed by the top things to do in Redwood National & State Parks? We’re here to help! The soaring Coastal redwoods are the obvious star of the show. The tallest trees in the world will take up most of your visit, but don’t forget to make time for a canyon adventure and beaches.
Guide to Redwood National & State Parks
Redwood National & State Parks can seem overwhelming at first. From towering trees to teaming tidepools, Redwood National and State Parks offer unique outdoor adventures. Give your trip planning a jumpstart with our list of top 10 experiences in Redwoods National & State Parks. Happy travels! We can’t wait to hear about them.
Where is Redwood National & State Parks?
Tucked away on California’s north coast, Redwood National & State Parks include Redwoods National Park, Jedediah Smith State Park, Prairie Creek State Park, and Del Norte State Park. All in all, they encompass the northernmost section of protected Redwoods roughly between Crescent City and Orick. More state and national parks with redwoods lie farther south.
What is a Coast Redwood?
Coast redwood, California redwood, coastal redwood. You will hear all these names, but they all refer to Sequoia sempervirens. The tallest living thing on Earth, coast redwoods thrive in an environment below 2,000 feet with heavy winter rains, moderate year-round temperatures, and foggy weather. Welcome to the northern California coast! Here are some more facts about these towering trees:
Trees can grow to 350 feet tall and 20 feet across.
Despite their height, the roots are shallow – from a few inches to 6 feet underground.
Relatives of the coast redwood date to the Jurassic Era 160 million years ago. The oldest remaining coast redwoods are 2,000 years old.
Coast redwoods are insect, fire, and rot resistant (not fireproof!)
Originally, the coastal redwood habitat covered over 2 million acres. Only 118,00 acres of that habitat remains.
Only 5% of the world’s old-growth (over 200 years) coast redwoods still survive, 95% of which are in California.
Things to Know Before You Go
Redwood National & State Parks are open all year round! The most popular (and crowded) season is summer. We visited in November and nothing was crowded. For more information on the park’s operating hours and seasons, visit the National Park Service website.
If you want to camp, plan ahead! Redwood National & State Park has four campgrounds and they all take bookings. During high season, these campgrounds book out MONTHS in advance. For information on booking a campsite, visit the National Park Service website.
Redwood National & State Park covers an extensive area! Be prepared for long drives. Klamath is the most central location, but we stayed in the northern end at Crescent City.
Top 10 Things to Do in Redwoods National & State Parks
1. Wind Through Old Growth on Howland Hill Scenic Drive
Location: Jedediah Smith State Park
Of the many scenic drives in Redwood National & State Parks, Howland Hill is our favorite! If it works for your itinerary, I would recommend doing this first as an easy, but an we-inspiring introduction to the titan trees in the parks.
The narrow, hard-packed gravel road winds through old-growth forest. The road is two-way but narrow in most places. Drive slowly and be prepared to use pull-outs. Motorhomes/RVs and trailers are not allowed.
You could just drive the road and enjoy the view. It’s worth it! If you have time, Stout Memorial Grove is our favorite side hike. Boy Scout Tree Trail is frequently recommended, but we only thought it was OK.
BONUS STOP: Near where you start or end the Howland Hill Road is the somewhat hidden Simpson-Reed Grove. The gentle figure-eight trail (0.8 miles/0.5 km) was an unexpected gem in our Jedediah Smith State Park visit. Large trees and informational plaques make this a fun and educational extra stop.
2. Explore Stout Memorial Grove Loop
Location: Jedediah Smith State Park
If you want tons of old-growth trees in one easy walk, stop at Stout Memorial Grove. The easy 0.5-mile (0.8 km) loop trail is one towering redwood after another. A short spur trail leads to the Smith River.
You could quickly walk this in 30 minutes. Our kids wanted to explore every nook and cranny. The exploration took us at least an hour.
Stout Grove is accessed from Howland Hill Road. Combine the two for an excellent two-hour drive-hike combo.
3. Trek the Tall Trees Trail
Location: Redwood National Park
The Tall Trees Trail is a large grove of towering redwoods, many of which exceed 350 ft (106 meters) in height. The trail is a four-mile (6.5 km) round-trip hike with 800 feet (244 m) elevation change. Is it worth it? You bet!
The Tall Trees Trail requires a free permit that you must organize at least 2 days ahead. The trailhead is an hour from the park entrance, so you need a half-day to enjoy this hike.
A peaceful hike through ridge-top Coastal redwood trees. These trees grow to less soaring (but still tall) heights than their lowland counterparts. Life’s tough up on the exposed, wind-swept ridges of the California coast. We found it interesting to see the different environments, especially since most other hikes in the park are through lowland trees.
The grove is dedicated to Lady Bird Johnson, who as First Lady actively promoted the protection and creation of natural habitats.
Located off Bald Hills Road, this hike would easily be combined with Tall Trees Trail.
5. Hike Foothill Trail Loop to Big Tree
Location: Prairie Creek State Park
Recommended by the National Parks as an alternative hike to Tall Trees Trail, the Prairie Creek-Foothill Trail Loop is a beautiful, serene loop. The mostly flat 2.5-mile (4 km) trail meanders through the redwoods alongside babbling Prairie Creek.
You feel you’ve time-traveled back to Jurassic times in Fern Canyon. Apparently, Steven Spielberg agreed, since he used it for a location in Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World.
Canyon walls constantly drip with water, saturating the dense fern covering. We even spotted a black salamander! What you won’t spot are redwood trees. Fern Canyon is a completely different experience.
New permit process in 2022! From May 1 to September 30, you must apply online for a Gold Bluffs Beach/ Fern Canyon parking. No permits will be issued in person! For all the details, visit the National Park Service website.
Come prepared with waterproof boots as this trail requires log balancing, stream crossing, and downed tree scrambling. Much, much easier than Fiery Furnace in Arches National Park, but still requires the same adventurous spirit.
Apparently, if you visit in summer, wooden footbridges zig-zag across the creek. This means drier feet and more crowds. If you’re like us, you also think that means a lot less fun. Of course, the beauty of the canyon would remain.
BONUS ACTIVITY: If you have an extra 30 minutes, stop on the way to the trailhead and visit Trillium Falls. This flat, easy walk ends at a sweet little man-made waterfall.
7. Visit the Beach
Redwood National & State Parks have so many beaches to choose from depending on your itinerary! Our favorite beaches inside the parks are:
Gold Bluffs Beach (right across from the Fern Canyon trailhead in Prairie Creek State Park)
Enderts Beach for tide pooling (Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park)
Hidden Beach (Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park)
Don’t limit yourself to beaches inside the park boundaries! Crescent Beach near Crescent City and Agate Beach in Sue-meg State Park were two of our favorite beaches.
8. Look for Whales at Klamath River Overlook
Location: Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
Whether you see whales at the Klamath River Overlook is a wild card, but the view is worthwhile no matter what.
The hike is 1.0 miles round-trip – all downhill on the way out, all uphill on the way back (360 ft elevation gain). If you’re not up for a hike, the trailhead parking lot has a beautiful view out to the ocean, but the viewpoint is better.
9. Become a Redwood Junior Ranger
Location: All Redwood National & State Parks
This one’s mostly for the kids, but kids at heart are invited too. You can pick up a Redwood Junior Ranger activity booklet at an open visitor center or print-at-home ahead of time. The booklet was one of the quicker ones we’ve done. The activities have a lot of flexibility and can work with any itinerary.
If you visit in the summer (June to August), also ask for details about becoming a California State Park Junior Ranger.
10. Drive Through a Redwood Tree
You can’t drive through a tree inside Redwood National & State Parks, but there are two drive-through trees nearby. Totally unnecessary, but we had fun! We chose the Tour Thru Tree in Klamath. Despite some anxiety on the part of the driver (me), we made it through.
We spent 4 days in Redwoods National & State Parks in mid-November. We weren’t in a rush so you could optimize this itinerary if you have fewer days. This itinerary isn’t necessarily the “best itinerary”, but hopefully it’s useful as a jumping-off point for your planning.
Day 1 – Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park & Northern Coastal Vistas
Hiouchi Visitor Center to pick up park maps, newspaper, Junior Ranger books, and ask questions.
Complete the Redwood EdVenture Quest at Jedediah Smith Campground (sadly, this program is no longer available). Make sure to spend time at the river.
Drive Howland Hill Road with stops at Stout Memorial Grove Loop, Boy Scout Tree Trail, and Simpson-Reed Grove.
Day 2 – Redwood National Park (Inland)
Hike Tall Tree Trails (plan in advance for permit)
Stroll Lady Bird Johnson Grove
Drive through a Redwood tree in Klamath
Day 3 – Klamath River Overlook & Sue-meg State Park
Watch for whales at Klamath River Overlook
Beach time at Hidden Beach in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
Enjoy the trails and beach at Sue-meg State Park while completing the Redwood EdVenture Quest.
Day 4 – Redwood National Park (Coast) & Prairie Creek State Park
Complete the Redwood EdVenture Quest on Trillium Falls Trail (Redwood National Park)
Explore Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek State Park (during summer, plan in advance for a permit)
Beach time at Gold Bluffs Beach
Hike the Prairie Creek to Foothill Trail Loop, including Big Tree. Complete the Prairie Creek Trail Redwood EdVenture Quest.
Drive the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway (or walk it if it’s closed like when we were there)
Enjoy sunset at Enderts Beach in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
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