Redwood National Park is far from just a national park. It is home to some of the tallest trees in the world – redwoods (scientifically known as sequoia sempervirens). Nature and hiking lovers will love walking the trails through old-growth forests and the hundreds and hundreds of redwood trees. Redwood National Park is easily one of the best places to visit in the United States and has hiking trails to match. You’ll find some of the best hikes in California and the United States – with photo opportunities galore.
So, we’ve established that Redwood National Park is definitely worth visiting. Its tall trees make it one of the most iconic national parks in the country. But what do you need to know before you go? This guide will cover all the essential details, plus a few bonus sections. We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get started.
What is the history of Redwood National Park?
Table of Contents
Every traditional story starts at the beginning, and Redwood National Park has quite the story. Initially, the national park was home to different groups of Native American Indians who had a thorough knowledge of the park and its flora and fauna. The tribes mostly lived off deer, fish, nuts, and berries. They also believed in the Spirit Beings, a predecessor race to the humans who acted as guides, showing people how to live on the land.
Redwood National Park first entered European colonizers’ radars when gold was discovered in the Trinity River around the 1850s. After that, flocks of Europeans came to settle in what is now Redwood National Park and its surrounding areas.
The Europeans were highly hostile to the existing Native American Indians, and many were paid by the state to conduct murders to push the native people off of the land. While the movement did result in tragic massacres, it failed its overall aim to wipe out all the Native American Indians in Redwood National Park. Yurok, Hupa, Tolowa, and Karuk communities still live on reservations across and around the national park.
It is essential to be aware of the socio-political history of Redwood National Park before visiting, just to comprehend the importance of the land and acknowledge its dark past.
Taking the story back to the 1850s gold rush, another industry that boomed at this time was logging. The tall trees were a gold mine for immigrants arriving in the park, as their size and durability made them prized and highly sought after. Just three years later, in 1853, the region already had nine sawmills.
By the turn of the century, people were beginning to become concerned about preserving the tiny remaining amount of redwood trees. Out of these concerns, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Prairie Creek Redwoods were formed. The decision to create state parks hoped to counteract some of the impacts of logging, creating safe spaces for some redwoods to grow.
However, forming these three state parks was not enough to eradicate logging concerns. In 1930, chainsaws and bulldozers allowed for an even higher rate of destruction, and logging capacity increased tenfold. When it got to the 1960s, almost 90% of old-growth redwoods had been lost.
Partially in response to this, the Redwood National Park was officially created in 1968. Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Trillium Falls Trail, and Tall Trees Grove were all saved from further logging by giving the land an official title and protected status. Protected areas in the region were growing, and now Redwood National Park had a real, recognized name – an important step in the park’s history.
In 1978, the government purchased more than 10,000 acres from private logging companies – enlarging the national park boundaries and protecting even more land. Despite all these efforts, just 5% of the original old-growth redwood forest remains today across California.
Redwood National Park is vital in preserving the tree and its legacy. Charities like Save the Redwoods League are still fighting to restore lands damaged during logging events that often occurred over fifty years ago. Redwood National Park has a tragic history compared to other national parks.
The damage will take decades to heal – never mind beginning to reverse the damage. But its history is also a triumphant story and armed with all its backstory, visitors will appreciate the value of the Redwood National Park ten times more.
Best things to do in Redwood National Park
Now that you’ve got the history of the national park and its redwood trees let’s look at the best things to do in Redwood National Park. The park has so much to do – whether you want to hike, explore its smaller state parks, or cycle. Allow at least a full day to visit and tick off a few of these fantastic activities, and, if possible, stay for a few days to a week to experience the best of the park.
Ready to be inspired? This section will cover all the best things to do in the Redwood National and State Parks. The region includes four areas: Redwood National Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, and Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park.
We’ll split things up by each park, so you can get a clear idea of which activities best combine together.
Redwood National Park
Let’s start with the main park – Redwood National Park. You easily need a whole day just to appreciate Redwood National Park. If you are short on time, you’ll need to prioritize effectively to see the top attractions of your choice. These are our top five.
1. Walk Lady Bird Johnson Grove
Lady Bird Johnson Grove is a beautiful reserve in Redwood National Park. The area is named after the former First Lady in recognition of her tireless environmental efforts. Visitors can walk through Lady Bird Johnson Grove using the 1.4-mile scenic trail. You’ll find plenty of information boards and photo-worthy stops, so allow between an hour and two hours to complete the trail leisurely.
2. Visit Redwood Creek Overlook
Redwood Creek Overlook is a renowned sunset spot. This is the perfect spot if you want a romantic place to finish a busy day in Redwood National Park. The overlook is set on a slight vantage point, so you look down over a valley of trees. Often, a light mist cloaks most of the forest below, which is an incredibly stunning sight.
Don’t rush off after sunset, as the overlook is a brilliant place for star gazing. Bring a blanket and a warm drink, and settle in for the evening.
3. Visit Bald Hills
The Bald Hills sharply contrast Redwood National Park’s old-growth forests. As their name might suggest, the Bald Hills are almost entirely empty of trees. Instead, you’ll find meadows and open prairie. Visiting the Bald Hills is one of the best things to do in Redwood National Park to experience a contrasting landscape to old-growth redwoods.
One of the best ways to visit is to drive along Bald Hills Road. Lady Bird Johnson Grove is located on the first three miles of Bald Hills Road, so it is an excellent attraction to combine with a scenic drive through the prairies.
4. Walk Tall Trees Trail
Tall Trees Trail is a 4.5-mile return hike that whisks you away to Tall Trees Grove. The grove is one of the most famous locations within Redwood National Park, thanks to a National Geographic Magazine published in 1963. National Geographic covered Tall Trees Grove as the national park’s leading attraction, and the grove has attracted substantial crowds since.
Be aware that Tall Trees Trail is ranked as a challenging route. There is a 487-meter elevation change, and the trail can get wet and slippery to only tackle the route in good conditions and with adequate clothing.
5. Go on a horseback riding trail
Going horseback riding is an exciting way to explore Redwood National Park and offers a different perspective than exploring on foot. Redwood Trails Horse Rides offer scenic trail rides through the national park and are highly rated as a reliable tour operator. Most tour operators allow you to get close to the redwoods and provide information about the local area. A guided tour and a horseback ride? It sounds like a win to us.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Next up is Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is situated with part of its boundaries along the west coast. It is a hot spot for wildlife spotting (especially elk). It is the starting point of Redwood National and State Parks’ major backpacking trail. Excited? You should be.
1. See the Roosevelt Elk
Roosevelt elk are one of the best animals to spot in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Roosevelt elk are the largest type of elk in North America and are named after former President Roosevelt. They live in large herds and are incredible to spot and photograph. If you are visiting Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, spotting Roosevelt elk should be at the top of your list.
Elk Prairie, Elk Meadow, and Gold Bluffs Beach are all top places to see Roosevelt elk in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
2. Hike the Coastal Trail
If you love multi-day hiking trips, the Coastal Trail is one of the best things to do when visiting Redwood National Park and State Parks. The trail is part of the 1,200-mile California Coastal Trail. But, unless you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, we recommend completing the Redwood National and State Parks section of the trail. It starts in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and stretches 70 miles along the coastline. You’ll spot redwoods, stunning beaches, views of the Pacific Ocean, wildlife like elk, and maybe even whales.
Short on time? Gold Bluffs Beach to Fern Canyon is a beautiful section perfectly suited to a day hike.
3. Drive Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway
Prefer to drive rather than walk? No problem. Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway is a gorgeous ten-mile road that winds through old-growth redwoods. There are numerous places where you can get out to stretch your legs and snap photos if you wish. But, otherwise, it is just the perfect place to just cruise through for stunning views and minimal effort.
Allow a few hours to drive the parkway leisurely. A few hours should also be plenty of time to jump out occasionally for photographs, a short walk, or a picnic.
4. Hike Trillium Falls
Trillium Falls is a short, almost 3-mile loop that takes you through an old-growth forest, past a sawmill, and to a waterfall at the beautiful endpoint. The hike is family-friendly, with a few easy switchbacks and extremely moderate elevation gain.
It is a photogenic and relaxing route, and Trillium Falls is the ultimate reward for your efforts. The endpoint of the hike overlooks the waterfall from a steel bridge – providing a beautiful vantage point to admire the crashing falls.
5. Visit Fern Canyon
Wave hello to Hollywood because Fern Canyon was a filming location for Jurassic Park 2. The canyons (as you may have guessed) are covered in ferns, and the effect is mesmerizing. It is no wonder that Fern Canyon caught the eyes of movie producers. The canyon walls are 50 feet high.
You must complete a short mile-long loop trail to reach Fern Canyon. Allow around half an hour to complete the loop, plus a little extra time to stop, admire, and snap photos of Fern Canyon itself.
Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park is one of the best places to admire the Redwood National and State Parks coastline. You’ll have scenic coastal drives and overlooks galore. With some luck, you’ll even spot whales if you visit Redwood National Park during winter or early spring. Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park is full of activities. Let’s get started.
1. Drive the Scenic Coastal Drive
This eight-mile scenic drive is stunning. The route winds along the California Coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and you’ll experience the beauty of the redwoods meeting the ocean. It is a beautiful thing to do, and it makes logistical sense, too, since it connects Del Norte State Park with Prairie Creek State Park.
If you plan to explore both state parks, just incorporate the Coastal Drive into your journey. Make sure to add it to your itinerary – even if it is just to take the scenic route from A to B.
2. Whale Watch at Klamath River Overlook
Who doesn’t love whale watching? Klamath River Overlook is a beautiful place to spot whales from through winter and early spring. At these times of the year, you mostly spot migrating Californian gray whales. Sometimes, you can also spot humpbacks and blue whales. We suggest bringing a warm blanket and drink – you’ll need to be patient, but the effort is worthwhile when you spot a pod.
3. Visit Enderts Beach
Enderts Beach is best known for its rock pools. Stop by to peer into the pools, and maybe you’ll spot starfish (or at least a few crabs and fish). Enderts Beach is a great spot to have a classic beach experience and enjoy any warmer weather.
4. Hike the Damnation Creek Trail
While only around 4-miles in length, Damnation Creek Trail is one of the most challenging in the region. You can expect a steep elevation gain and will need a great fitness level to complete the trail in good time. The draw? A beautiful cliff-side redwood forest and the satisfaction of completing a tricky route.
5. Visit False Klamath Cove
False Klamath Cove is prime picnicking territory and has a romantic, wild-feeling atmosphere. The small beach is littered with stones in an effortless ‘I am beautiful without being pristine’ way. There are also informative signposts with information on local marine life.
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is our final state park to cover. The park is home to the Smith River and is located further inland than the other two state parks. It gets its name from the explorer Jedediah Smith. It is home to some of the most impressive redwoods and forest trails in the Redwood National and State Parks. Ready to hear more? We’ve got some great attractions lined up.
1. Drive Howland Hill Road
This scenic drive is for the adventurous only. The National Park Service warns that the road ‘is suitable for drivers not afraid of dust and getting very, very close to redwoods’. If that sounds exciting, the ten-mile drive is probably up your street. Allow around an hour to complete the route, plus a bit longer to account for any stops.
2. Walk Boy Scout Tree Trail
Boy Scout Tree Trail is a fantastic mid-length hike when visiting Redwood National Park. It is around 5.5 miles long and includes many points of interest, including Fern Falls. Get ready to snap lots of photos. It is of moderate difficulty, and you should allow around four to five hours to complete the hike.
3. Walk Stout Grove
Speaking of photographs, Stout Grove is one of the most photographed spots in all of the Redwood National and State Parks. The grove is relatively small, but you can easily spend an hour or so there. Some trees grow to around 90 meters in height, and the forest scenery is breathtaking.
4. Go fishing on the Smith River
If you love fishing, Jedediah Smith State Park is the place to go. The state park is famous for salmon and steelhead from October to February, while summer is best for cutthroat trout. What could be better than a day of fishing along the riverside? It is one of the most relaxing things in the Redwood National and State Parks.
5. Mountain bike the Little Bald Hills Trail to South Fork Road
The Little Bald Hills Trail to South Fork Road is a 19.6-mile trail shared by bikers, horseback riders, and hikers. But, for a different experience after all the hiking trails, we suggest mountain biking the trail. You’ll pass plenty of local flora like bear grass and wind your way through beautiful redwood forests. Are Jedediah Smith redwoods the best of all? We’ll let you decide.
Nearby parks to visit from Redwood National Park
So, those are the three state parks that are included in the national park boundaries. But plenty of other California state parks boast redwood groves, some of which are just a short drive from the Redwood National and State Parks.
These are the best nearby parks to visit from Redwood National Park.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Humboldt Redwoods State Park is California’s 3rd largest state park and encompasses a staggering 53,000 acres. It is most famous for the Avenue of Giants – a 31.5-mile scenic drive that takes drivers on tour through the best of the park.
Sue-Meg State Park
Just further down the coast, Sue-Meg State Park is a brilliant day trip from Redwood National Park. If you want nearby attractions, it doesn’t get more interesting than a visit to Sue-Meg. The state park has a lot of cultural attractions and historic sites, like a preserved traditional Yurok plank house.
Harry A Merlo State Recreation Area
Harry A Merlo State Recreation Area is located just outside Redwood National Park. The area is small enough to explore in an hour. However, it offers a different landscape than you typically find inside the national park. The area sits on the edge of the Big Lagoon and is predominately wetlands. If you get lucky, it also has a resident herd of elk that you may spot.
Redwood National Park FAQs
Now that we’ve covered all the exciting bits, what about the essential practical details? This is everything you need to know about visiting Redwood National Park – from exact location and transportation options to how to get a free permit and where to stay.
Where is Redwood National Park?
So, where is Redwood National Park? The national park and its state parks are located in Northern California, hugging a large section of the California coast and spreading inland toward Six Rivers National Forest. The national park and state parks are relatively spread out from each other, so be prepared to do a bit of driving to see them all.
Redwood National Park is located just south of Orick. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is close to Redwood National Park and immediately north of Orick.
Del Norte and Jedediah Smith State Parks are also located close together, about an hour’s drive north of Redwood and Prairie Creek. Del Norte Coast State Park is south of Crescent City (42 miles north of Orick). Prairie Creek is located immediately east of Crescent City.
How to get to Redwood National Park
The easiest way is to fly into Eureka-Arcata Airport or Crescent City Airport. You can rent a car from here and easily continue your journey with a short drive into the national park or to your accommodation. Those short on time should choose this method of getting to Redwood National Park. It will allow you to maximize your time exploring the park and reduce unnecessary travel time.
Of course, if you don’t mind a six-hour drive, you might find flying to San Francisco Airport cheaper. If you are flying internationally, you may have to stopover in San Francisco anyway. In that case, rent a car and road trip your way to Redwood National Park – stopping at attractions and state parks along the way.
This option is best for those who have plenty of time, want to save money on flights, and are up for adding an extra adventure to the experience. It is also worth adding that many people add the redwood trees at Redwood National Park as one of the final attractions on a West Coast road trip.
Don’t drive? Not a problem. You can hop on a Greyhound bus. A Greyhound service runs between Crescent City and Arcata twice daily, six days a week (don’t try to catch it on a Sunday). It is quite feasible to travel to Redwood National Park using Greyhound buses. You’ll just need to plan ahead to avoid getting stranded and be confident with timekeeping.
Another option is to book a tour of Redwood National Park that includes transfers. If you don’t mind a whistle-stop tour and are happy for the tour operator to set the pace, this is a great way to reach the park and fit a lot into a small amount of time without driving. This is probably the most expensive option, but it is definitely the easiest if you don’t drive.
Best time to visit Redwood National Park
As a quick answer, the best time to visit Redwood National Park is in spring. The temperatures are milder, the rain is starting to dwindle off, and you’ve got all the new forms of life sprouting up. Since Redwood National Park is best for outdoor activities like hiking and all its main attractions are outdoors, these are all critical factors to consider.
The peak season to visit Redwood National Park is between May and September. While it isn’t like other national parks that get completely crowded, you might find visiting more relaxing outside of this period. Late March or April are considered good months to pick.
Are March and April off the table for some reason? Fall is the next best choice since it is also a shoulder season, and the weather is still relatively mild.
Last but not least, winter is cold and wet, so you’ll need to be hardy and well-prepared to visit then. We wouldn’t recommend it if you don’t like being outdoors in bad weather. It is the least popular time to visit Redwood National Park. But if you don’t mind the wet and the wind, then it can be an excellent choice to avoid crowds as much as possible.
What to pack to visit Redwood National Park
After talking about wet and cold weather, it might not surprise you that the first things on your packing list should be waterproof. You should have a waterproof coat, hiking boots, and perhaps even waterproof trousers (especially if you visit during winter). The last thing you want is to slip and get soaked on a trail or get caught halfway around a hike in a downpour.
For more packing recommendations check out our Ultimate Packing List!
Next, you want warm but breathable layers. Merino wool is a very popular choice, and you’ll find all sorts of base layers available in this material. Aim to have thermal leggings/trousers and a long-sleeved thermal top. You can then add or remove outer layers as necessary.
When hiking, a torch, bug spray, suncream (you never know), a hat, bear spray, and a portable charger are all must-brings. It might be a good idea to bring a first aid kit, too, especially if you want to tackle some of the longer, more remote hikes. And if you’re going to camp, you’ll also need all your camping equipment.
And what good are all these items without anything to carry them in? You should have two bags – a small hiking backpack and whatever bag you are happy to leave at your accommodation.
Last but not least, we’d really recommend a camera. After all, you’ll be getting up close with the world’s tallest tree species. You’ll need memories of your experience.
Where to stay in Redwood National Park
You’ve got all the information you need, except where to stay. These are the best budget, mid-range, and luxury options. Let’s take a look.
Budget: Gold Bluffs Beach Campground
If backcountry camping is a bit out of your comfort zone, Gold Bluffs Beach Campground is a beautiful entry point. Plus, you’ll be camping directly on the beach, which surely has got to be one of the best budget-friendly accommodation choices in the US.
The facilities are also excellent; you’ll have showers, restrooms, fire pits, and even bear-proof lockers.
Mid-range: Holiday Inn Express Redwood National Park
This contemporary property is the perfect mid-range accommodation choice in Redwood National Park. It is situated in Klamath and has the ideal location to explore nearby attractions like the Coastal Drive and Klamath River Overlook.
Each room comes with an en-suite, seating area, and coffee-making facilities. Some options include extra features like a microwave and a complimentary continental breakfast. There is a lot of flexibility within Holiday Inn Express’ room choices which fits a wide range of mid-range budgets. Check prices and availability on Tripadvisor.
Luxury: Oreq-W Ranch House
Oreq-W Ranch House is a sole-use holiday home with two bedrooms and a sofa bed available in the living room. It is an ideal luxury getaway for a small group or family. Located in central Orick, guests will have easy access to the Redwood National and State Parks, plus all the comforts of a home in town.
The property comes with free wi-fi and a garden to enjoy. If you want that home away from home feel, you can’t find much more luxurious.
Don’t forget to stop by one of the park’s visitor centers. Hiouchi Visitor Center and Kuchel Visitor Center are two of the most built-up. However, all visitor centers are brilliant places to pick up a park map, get expert advice, and use the toilet and water facilities. Keep an eye out and use them as pit stops as you explore.
Visiting Redwood National Park is clearly one for your bucket list. The park is a fascinating place to visit, and seeing the world’s tallest trees up close is a memory that will last a lifetime.
Hopefully, after reading this guide, you’ll have realized how much more Redwood National Park has to offer besides its tall trees. The national park is diverse and exciting – packed with attractions, activities, and accommodation choices. Have an incredible time.