Top 10 Things To Do In Redwood National & State Parks

A view from the ground looking straight up into a canopy of Redwood trees
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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.

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.

Top 10 Experiences in Redwoods National & State Parks

Redwoods 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.

Signpost in Redwood National & State Parks with multiple arrows pointing in different directions but all to "big trees"

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 click here.
  • If you want to camp, plan ahead! Redwood National & State Park has four campgrounds and they all take advance bookings. During high season these campgrounds book out MONTHS in advance. For information on booking a campsite click here.
  • Redwood National & State Park covers a big area! Be prepared for long drives. Klamath is the most central location, but we stayed in the northern end at Crescent City.
  • Road and trail closures are common due to downed trees, forest fires…and COVID. Click here for current info on park closures.
  • Food is not available in the park! We recommend packing lunch and snacks before you head out.
  • Some Redwood National & State Parks charge an entrance fee.
    • Redwood National Park is free.
    • Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast, and Prairie Creek Redwoods state parks collect day-use fees at campground entrance stations. “America the Beautiful” AND California State Park passes work.
    • Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park collects an entrance fee to drive to Gold Bluffs Beach / Fern Canyon. “America the Beautiful” AND California State Park passes work.
    • On US National Park free entrance days, entrance and day-use fees are waived at all four Redwood 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 awe-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 Grove is our favorite side hike. Boy Scout Tree Trail is frequently recommended, but we only thought it was OK.

BONUS STOP: Near to 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.

A child stands in front of the root ball of a fallen redwood in Stout Memorial Grove in Redwood National & State Parks. The child does not even reach halfway up the height of the root ball.
Give her a few hundred more years and she’ll be as tall as this fallen Coastal redwood.

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 advance planning. You must obtain a free permit no later than 48 hours in advance and even earlier if you’re hiking during high season. The trailhead is an hour from the park entrance so you need a half-day minimum to enjoy Tall Trees.

Man and two children staring high into the canopy of the towering Coastal redwoods on the Tall Trees Trail in Redwood State & National Parks
Warning! You may get a neck cramp while walking amongst the Coastal redwoods at the bottom of the Tall Trees Trail.

4. Wander Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Location: Redwood National Park

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.

Kids can earn a Redwoods EdVenture Quest patch too!

Two children sitting on a fence in front of "Big Tree" a Coastal redwood in Prairie Creek State Park
The Prairie Creek-Foothills Trail is one of several ways to access “Big Tree.” We thought it was funny they chose this tree as “Big Tree” when the forest is full of big trees!

6. Get Your Feet Wet in Fern Canyon

Location: Prairie Creek State Park

You feel like 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.

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. Kids can earn a Redwoods EdVenture Quest patch too!

Fern Canyon in Redwood National & State Parks

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 tidepooling (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 Patrick’s Point State Park were two of our favorite beaches.

A child runs through the waves at Agate Beach in Patrick's Point State Park in northern California
Yes, our crazy kids swim in the Pacific Ocean in November…fully clothed.

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.

Woman hiking to the Klamath River Overlook in Redwood State & National Parks
We had the Klamath Overlook trail and viewpoint to ourselves. Next time we’ll bring binoculars and see if we can spot some whales!

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.

Unique to the Northern California redwoods, don’t miss out on Redwood EdVenture Quests. Redwood National & State Parks have three different quest trails. Click here to get all the details.

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.

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