Redwood National Park is home to the world’s oldest growth coastal redwood trees. In fact, the world’s tallest tree (of any kind) grows here. Hyperion stands at 379 feet – that’s 70 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty! Unlike other national parks, Redwood National Park isn’t just a national park.
When people refer to Redwood National Park, they generally mean Redwood National and State Parks. This joint park is a unique partnership between Jedediah Smith Redwoods, Del Norte Coast Redwoods, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks and Redwood National Park. Together, these parks protect half of the world’s old-growth redwoods. This region is a once-in-a-lifetime place to lose yourself amongst these ancient beings. For simplicity, I’ll just continue to call this collection of parks “Redwood National Park”.
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Why You Should Visit
The beauty of redwoods is easy to see, but you should really visit for the feeling. Walking amongst these giants (many over 2,000 years old) makes you feel tiny and a part of something bigger at the same time. The ancient mosses and ferns take you back to a time millennia ago. The greenery from another era is the reason many movies, like Star Wars and Jurassic Park, chose to film here.
But redwoods aren’t the only thing to see here. Redwood National and State Parks sits along the coast of California. Venture to the coastline to observe the jagged shores and tide pool filled beaches. Redwood National Park gives you mystical forests and rugged coastal views all in one trip.
When to Visit
Redwood National Park gets the most visitors between May and September. The Summer is also the drier season – with only 2-5 rainy days per month. Summer in Redwood National Park brings low-hanging fog, rolling in from the Pacific Ocean. This fog provides the redwoods with moisture and is a photographer’s dream for moody photos.
The rest of the year averages around 17 rainy days per month and sees fewer visitors. That being said, Redwood National Park is open all year. The mild coastal climate keeps temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees year-round. If you prefer solitude, visit during the Winter – you’ll have many trails to yourself!
Getting to the Park
If you’re planning to fly to the redwoods, you have your pick of both regional and international airports:
Small, Single-Airline Regional Airports
- California Redwood Coast-Humboldt County Airport (ACV) – 30 minute drive
- Del Norte County Regional Airport (CEC) – 30 minute drive
- Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport (MFR) – 3 hour drive
- Sacramento International Airport (SMF) – 6 hour drive
- San Francisco International Airport (SFO) – 6 hour drive
- Oakland International Airport (OAK) – 6 hour drive
If you want to limit driving, consider flying into the local airports. But be aware, you’ll likely pay a premium at these smaller airports.
Use sites like Skyscanner to compare the cost of flying into these airports.
You’ll need to rent a car regardless of the airport you fly into. In the drier summer season, 4WD is not a necessity. But… I still recommend a high-clearance vehicle, like a small SUV. Unpaved park roads can become difficult to navigate after rain, so it’s best to visit in a vehicle higher off the ground.
I recommend flying into either San Francisco or Oakland and making a road trip of the drive up to Redwood National Park. Drive the scenic stretch of Highway 1 (the famous Pacific Coast Highway) up to the park instead. This scenic route will take you roughly 9 hours without stops – it’s a long day of driving, but so worth it!
Getting Around the Park
Unlike other parks, Redwood National Park does not have an official shuttle. The best way to get around the park is by driving. But this means trailhead parking and scenic drives can be busy during summer months. Like with any popular park, I recommend starting your day early to beat the crowds.
Where to Stay
Redwood National Park does not have any lodging or restaurants within park boundaries. If you want to stay in the park, your best bet is camping at one of the park’s 4 official campgrounds or venturing into the backcountry.
All 4 of the park’s campgrounds are reservable through Reserve California. And I highly recommend you make a reservation! While not as competitive as campgrounds in other parks like Yosemite, campgrounds will fill up ahead of time in the summer. It’s always best to make a reservation once you’ve finalized your trip itinerary.
The park has over 300 campsites spread across 4 campgrounds. All campgrounds have basic amenities like restrooms with showers, food lockers, and fire pits.
- Jedediah Smith Campground – Camp amongst old-growth redwoods near Smith River in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.
- Mill Creek Campground – Set up your tent amongst mossy, young redwoods and hiking trails in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park; Open in the summer only.
- Elk Prairie Campground – Spot a rare Roosevelt elk amongst the old-growth redwoods in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
- Gold Bluffs Beach Campground – Camp along the Pacific Ocean, near popular trails like Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
All campgrounds provide a unique experience camping amongst the redwoods and California coast. Pick a campground near your favorite activities, or move around to different campgrounds to take in all the park has to offer!
Redwood National Park’s backcountry requires a free permit. These permits are issued in-person at either Hiouchi or Kuchel Visitor Centers. You can only request a backcountry permit day-of.
There are 7 backcountry camping areas across the 4 parks. These areas either offer designated campsites or dispersed camping. Backcountry camping is only allowed in the specified backcountry camping areas.
If you plan to request a backcountry permit, use Redwood’s Backcountry Trip Planner to select a trail and camping area ahead of time.
If camping isn’t your style, consider staying in one of the many towns near the redwoods.
The largest coastal town between San Francisco and Portland, Eureka is a quaint town with many historic buildings. In fact, the entire town is a state historic landmark! In Eureka, you’re 45 minutes from the center of the park at Kuchel Visitor Center.
Home of the northernmost California lighthouse, Crescent City is one of the last towns before you hit the Oregon border. Crescent City is roughly an hour north of Kuchel Visitor Center.
Much smaller than Eureka, the Crescent City/Klamath area has fewer choices of accommodations. Consider smaller B&Bs like the Historic Requa Inn. There’s also a Holiday Inn Express in Klamath, not far from Crescent City.
Best Day Hikes
While there are a few longer hikes, many popular trails allow you to see the famous trees without straying too far from the road.
Tall Trees Grove
Trailhead: Tall Trees Access Road
Distance: 4 miles, roughly 3 hours
This hike is by far my favorite in the park. It’s so popular that the park has limited the number of hikers that can visit each day. To hike this trail, you need a free day-of permit from the Kuchel Visitor Center. Permits generally aren’t hard to get if you plan to arrive at the visitor center when it opens.
Tall Trees Grove is aptly named – it’s home to the world’s tallest tree, Hyperion, which stands at 379 feet tall. To put it in perspective, that’s taller than the Statue of Liberty and more than half the height of the Seattle Space Needle! The exact location of Hyperion is kept secret to avoid over-tourism and damage to the surrounding redwood trees.
You start your hike at the Tall Trees trailhead and descend 800 feet over 1.5 miles to the forest floor, along Redwood Creek. Walk amongst the old-growth redwoods on a one-mile loop before returning to the trailhead.
While this is only a 4-mile hike, you should budget at least half a day. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be stopping every few feet to say “Wow, I think this one really is the tallest tree we’ve seen!”. Tall Trees Grove has countless trees over 350 feet. Walk slowly, crane your neck, and soak up the feeling of being a tiny ant on the forest floor.
Look familiar? This trail was a filming location for Jurassic Park 2. But forget the Hollywood buzz – this trail is impressive all on its own.
Fern Canyon is, as you might expect, a 50-foot canyon covered (and I’m talking dripping, covered) in ancient, prehistoric-looking ferns. Some of these ferns are part of an ancient species, dating back 325 million years. Perhaps even to the Jurassic age… (I actually have no idea when the Jurassic age was, but let’s just go with it for the pun’s sake).
The trail following a creek bed through the canyon can be accessed in two ways. Choose between the moderate 12-mile James Irvine Loop Trail or the short 1-mile loop off unpaved Davison Road.
James Irvine to Fern Canyon Loop
Trailhead: Prairie Creek Visitor Center
Distance: 12 miles, roughly 6 hours
This loop is the most popular of the longer-distance hikes in the park. Cross creeks and stare at redwoods as you hike out to Fern Canyon. After strolling through the old-growth redwoods along James Irvine trail, you’ll arrive at Fern Canyon. Explore the majestic green canyon walls, then head back to the Prairie Creek Visitor Center via the Miner’s Ridge trail.
Fern Canyon via Davison Road
Trailhead: Fern Canyon Trailhead
Distance: 0.7 miles, roughly 1 hour
The trail through Fern Canyon is actually a creek bed. As you walk along the wet path, look up to admire the vivid green ferns lining the tall canyon walls.
To access Fern Canyon on this short 0.7-mile loop trail, you’ll need to drive to the end of Davison Road – an unpaved road out to Gold Bluffs Beach. This 10-mile dirt road can be difficult to traverse after a rainstorm. Check with park rangers at the Kuchel Visitor Center before attempting to drive Davison Road if you have a vehicle without 4WD.
Trailhead: Crescent Beach Overlook Parking Lot
Distance: 1.4 miles, roughly 1 hour
Redwood National Park has a lot more to offer than just forest views. The park runs along the coast, meaning there’s plenty of opportunity for rugged, coastal hikes. My favorite beach hike is the trek out to Enderts Beach.
Start your hike at the parking lot at the end of Enderts Beach Road, just past Crescent Beach Overlook. The trail follows the abandoned stretch of the coastal highway before passing through a wooded area on the hike down to the beach.
Tide pools are a popular attraction at the driftwood-filled Enderts Beach. Use tide tables to time your hike at low-tide. Try to spot starfish and sea urchins in the tide pools, but don’t touch!
Prairie Creek and Cathedral Tree Loop
Trailhead: Prairie Creek Visitor Center
Distance: 3.2 miles, roughly 2 hours
This loop trail is a perfect introduction to the redwoods in this region. Start your hike on the popular Prairie Creek trail. Walk amongst the redwoods and Prairie Creek. After following the Prairie Creek trail, reunite with Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. Across the road, follow the trail to Big Tree Wayside – one of the biggest trees in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
After checking out the big tree, follow the Cathedral Tree Trail back to the Prairie Creek Visitor Center. Keep your eyes peeled near the visitor center for the area’s famous Roosevelt elk!
Non-Hiking Things to Do
Unlike many national parks, scenic views in Redwood National Park can be found just off the road. If you’re short on time, scenic drives are the perfect way to explore the park.
As the name implies, this scenic drive takes you along the coast in the northern section of the park. This drive is best around sunset, as the fading light highlights the crashing waves below.
Start your drive on Highway 101 near Klamath. Turn off 101 onto Klamath Beach Road. Parts of this route are one-way so you must follow the route clockwise.
Turn left onto Alder Camp Road and stop at High Bluff Overlook. End your day with a picnic and bottle of wine as the sun fades to the Pacific horizon. Keep your eyes peeled for migrating whales from December to April.
After you’ve had your fill the ocean sunset, follow the road that runs parallel to the ocean heading north. You’ll pass an old World War II radar station, disguised as a farmhouse to avoid detection. Take Klamath Beach Road back to Highway 101 to finish your scenic drive.
Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway
This paved 10-mile scenic drive takes you through the redwoods of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway runs parallel to Highway 101. You can navigate the road starting at either the north end or the south end.
Observe skyscraping redwoods as you drive, or stop for a quick hike along the road. The Ah-Pah and Big Tree Wayside trails take you up-close and personal with the park’s namesakes.
As you drive, keep your eyes peeled for Roosevelt elk – a rare breed of elk that can weigh over 1,000 pounds.
Howland Hill Road
At the northern end of the park, Howland Hill Road takes you through the heart of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.
Start your drive near Crescent City on Highway 101. Take Elk Valley Road until it hits Howland Hill Road – a mostly unpaved path heading east.
Stop at the many turnoffs along Howland Hill Road or take a hike. The short 0.5-mile Stout Grove or 5.5-mile Boy Scout Tree Trail are popular breaks from the scenic drive.
Continue along the road as Howland Hill Road turns into Douglas Park Road. The scenic drive ends as the road meets Highway 199, near Hiouchi Visitor Center.
Side Trips Near Redwood National Park
Avenue of the Giants
South of Redwood National and State Parks, the popular Avenue of the Giants runs parallel to Highway 101. This road is not part of the Redwoods park alliance but still provides stunning roadside views.
Start this 31-mile scenic drive at either the southern entrance, off Highway 101 exit 645, or the northern entrance, off Highway 101 exit 674. At the beginning of your drive, stop to pick up a self-guided auto tour map from the information stand.
The Lost Coast is one of the world’s best backpacking destinations. While the only way to truly access this long stretch of rugged California coastline is on foot, driving Mattole Road can give you a sneak peek.
Mattole Road starts in the quaint town of Ferndale, about 20 miles south of Eureka. Follow the narrow, windy Mattole Road down to Black Sands Beach. While this stretch of road is only 20 miles, drive slowly and take at least an hour to soak in the views.
Continue along Mattole Road, through small towns like Petrolia. You’ll pass through Humboldt Redwoods State Park and eventually rejoin Highway 101.
Budget at least half a day for this scenic drive through the Lost Coast. Mattole Road is incredibly remote – we only saw a handful of cars for most of the drive! Be sure to fill up on gas before you leave Ferndale and drive carefully.
Cell service is limited in this region, so download Google Maps offline before beginning your journey.
- Always check road and trail conditions. Rain, fallen trees, and landslides are rapidly changing conditions in the park. Before you begin any of the scenic drives or hikes in the region, check trail conditions on the park website or with a ranger at any of the visitor centers.
- Fill up on gas. There are no gas stations in the park. Before starting any of the scenic drives or driving to a trailhead, make sure your car has plenty of gas to make it both there and back.
- Pack your lunch. There are also no restaurants or lodges within the park. To avoid driving out of the park for lunch and wasting time with the redwoods, eat a snack on the trail or pack a picnic lunch.
- Always carry rain gear. Even if you’re visiting in the drier Summer season, rain can still come at any time. Be prepared by carrying a rain jacket or poncho in your hiking day pack. This is one of the 10 essentials you should carry during every hike.
- Download park maps offline. Google Maps and other online navigation sites are notoriously bad in Redwood National and State Parks. The national park’s website provides detailed maps for anywhere you’d want to go in the park. Download or print these maps ahead of time and navigate the old fashioned way.
A Quick Recap
Redwood National Park is a dream for those looking to avoid the crowds at other busy California parks (*cough* Yosemite *cough*). The redwood trees are some of the oldest, and tallest, living things. The serenity of walking amongst these giant beings is unexplainable.
If you’re only in Redwood National Park for the weekend, don’t miss:
- Tall Trees Grove – this moderate hike is accessible by permit only and is home to the world’s tallest tree, Hyperion.
- Fern Canyon – explore a prehistoric fern-covered canyon via a 12-mile forested hike or a 1-mile loop off the unpaved Davison Road
- Coastal Drive – take this scenic drive at sunset to see the sky light up over the Pacific Ocean from High Bluff Overlook
- Lost Coast – make the side trip to the famed lost coast via rugged Mattole Road. Stop at Black Sands Beach to enjoy solitude only offered in this region.
As always, respect our national parks and leave no trace!
What’s the first thing you plan to do in Redwood National Park? Let me know in the comments!
More California Adventures:
- One Day in Joshua Tree National Park
- Best Day Trip to Yosemite National Park
- Roadtrip California’s Lost Coast
- Hiking Alamere Falls