The Redwoods National Park is a unique national park that we really enjoyed visiting. It has such a wide variety of plants and wildlife, but the main attraction is the vast groves of the ginormous coastal redwoods. These trees are the tallest in the world and live to be thousands of years old. I was in awe walking through these ancient forests and I think you will be too.
About the Redwoods
The Redwoods became a national park in 1968. It is a designated World Heritage Site and is also part of the California Coast Ranges Biosphere Reserve. The park was created to protect the giant coastal redwoods that remained. In the 1800’s, many redwoods were logged, eliminating many of the coastal redwoods. Redwood is an expensive wood due to it’s durability and resistance to fire. Thankfully, the State of California began protecting the trees in the 1920’s.
The tallest tree in the world can be found in this park, however it’s exact location is kept a secret to prevent tourists from damaging it’s shallow roots and causing it to subsequently die. Trees have been recorded at over 370 feet here and at an age of 2000 years. These massive trees grow from a seed around the size of a grain of rice. It is truly incredible at the fortitude of these trees.
However, trees aren’t the only thing to see in the Redwoods National and State Parks. There are many miles of coastline and many waterway activities. This park has something for everyone, regardless if you are a tree hugger, a beach bum, or neither.
Wait, I thought the Redwoods are a national park?
It is! However, this national park is very different than many of our other national parks. This is something that greatly confused me when I began researching for our trip. The Redwoods National Park is made up of several California State-owned parks, as well as some land that is solely managed by the National Park Service. The National Park Service and the California State Park Service work together to co-manage the entire area. So while you visit this area, you are visiting both national and state parks simultaneously. This partnership between state and national governments allow you to seamlessly visit the entire area without having to worry about paying a fee to a different state park after traveling only a few miles in a different direction. While these parks are all comanaged, it is important to note that the amount of signage and the style of signage differs between the state park divisions. We recommend stopping at one of the main national park visitor centers, either the Houchi Visitor Center to the north or the Kuchel Visitor Center to the south, to pick up the free national park guide that tells you about the entire area and how to drive through each area.
How to get to the Redwoods
The redwoods can be found in northwest California, mostly along the coast. It is directly between San Francisco, CA and Portland, OR, being only 5.5 hours north of San Francisco, CA and 5.5 hours south of Portland, OR. The best way to access this park is by private vehicle since there is no park-wide transportation here. RV’s and trailers are allowed on most of the main roads in the area, but there are many roads throughout the park (and to some of the best areas) that do not allow longer vehicles such as RV’s or trailer’s due to the road’s condition. We traveled through this area in a small compact car, but it did limit us from accessing one trail on a forest road that we wanted to do. Making sure you have the right vehicle for your needs is just something to keep in mind if you have specific hikes or activities you would like to do.
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is the northernmost state park that is part of the Redwoods National Park. It is one of the less visited areas of the park as it is the farthest from San Francisco, so many weekend-trippers don’t make it up here. However, this was our favorite area out of the entire national park and think that it is worth a little extra driving to make it up here.
-Houchi Visitor Center
The Houchi Visitor Center is the northernmost visitor center in the park. Here you can find information regarding current conditions of the park, maps, and park guides. It is located in Houchi, CA which is close to Crescent City. Near here you can find the class national park entrance sign if you were planning on taking a picture with it. The Houchi Visitor Center has various programs, ranger activities, and inforation about all parts of the park.
-Drive the Howland Hill Road
The Howland Hill Road begins about 1 mile before Stout Grove. It is a gravel road that is around 10 miles long. Cars can drive on this road, but RV’s and trailers are not allowed due to some narrow areas in the road and some sharp turns. Even though it is gravel, it is a well-maintained road and is wide for most of the trip. We were able to take our small compact rental car on this drive and it did completely fine. This drive is my favorite drive in the entire park. The gravel road weaves in between redwood trees for 10 miles. Throughout the entire drive, there are multiple places to pull off on the side of the road and admire the redwood trees or begin a hike through the woods. Some of the hikes that begin from this road are Fern Falls via Boy Scout Tree Trail and Grove of Titans. Many people are unaware of this road or do not come to this part of the park, so it was not crowded anywhere on the road. It was such a neat experience driving through the redwood trees.
Stout Grove is about 1.5 miles down the Howland Hill Road if beginning on the western end of the road. There is a small parking lot and restrooms. From the parking lot, take the 0.7 mile trail loop that meanders through the Stout Grove of redwood trees. On the Stout Grove Trail you will encounter trees bigger than you could ever imagine. Some have fallen down and you can see their roots exposed to see how truly big these trees are. Meander through the beautiful giants and you will feel like an ant. It is magnificent to see how resilient these trees are. Some of these trees have survived wildfires and trauma, but they continue to live on. It is very humbling walking among these trees.
Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
-Crescent Beach Overlook and Enderts Beach Tidepools
This was one of our favorite things to do in the park that wasn’t seeing the trees. I was apprehensive about this beach because I couldn’t find much about it on the internet or in fellow bloggers posts, however, we were blown away by this place! To find Enderts Beach, park your car at the Crescent Beach Overlook. Here, you can catch a glimpse of Crescent Beach. There is a small parking lot as well as some spots along the road. From the parking lot, it is around 0.5 mile to walk down to the beach. Most of the walk is flat and has beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean, then it drops down on an easy incline to reach the beach. Along the path there are many wild berry bushes, flowers, and small wildlife. The trail will lead you to the top of a large boulder on the sand where you can see the entire beach. Take the step-like notches down the right of the rock to access the actual sand. This last part of the trail makes it less accessible, but we did see some older individuals with canes slowly making their way down, so I suppose it is possible if you take your time, however I would not recommend it if you don’t feel comfortable going down this rock.
Walk left across the beach until you reach the rocks on the other side of the beach. What you will be able to see will really depend on the tide levels while you are there, but if the tide is right, you will be able to see all of these gorgeous tide pools. Low tide is the best time to see the tidepools. Check the tide times here. If you crouch down and look into the small pools of water left by the ocean as it receded, you will find another world. At first we didn’t notice anything, but after slowing down and looking, we were able to see so many brightly colored starfish clinging to rocks. There were also many clams, sea anemones, mussels, crabs, and other small crustaceans crawling about on the floor of these water pools. Occasionally a wave would come back over, covering the starfish with foamy salt water and bringing brightly colored seaweed in. Some of the different creates we saw were the giant green anemone, leather starfish, acorn barnacles, and sea urchins.
Again if the tide is right, there is a small tunnel/arch that leads to another small cover on the other side of the big rock. If it is safe, go through this arch to find even more, less disturbed tide pools on the other side. We had so much fun running around, clamoring over rocks, and exploring these little ecosystems. Take note that the rocks are very slippery and can be dangerous, so take care.
Please note, do not disturb the wildlife here and watch where you are stepping to avoid stepping on any small crabs or clams. Do not touch the starfish as they can absorb germs from your hands and die quickly. We could have spent hours here and think it is really worth your time stopping.
-Beach Overlooks on Route 101
Most of Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park follows the coast down for many miles. The only way to go through Del Norte Coast to the next state park is via highway 101. There are several great pull-offs on highway 101 while driving through the Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. Make sure you take the time to stop at all of the pretty beach pull-offs.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is one of the more visited areas of the Redwoods National Park. Many people recommend some trails in this area, however this was one of the parts of the park we liked less. One of the most recommended trails in the park is the Fern Canyon Trail however, we ended up not going here. It is actually difficult to get there if you do not have the correct car and can be very crowded. Fern Canyon is known for having ferns hanging off the side of the hillsides, but we were able to find this similar atmosphere on some other less crowded trails. The unexpected, less crowded places were actually our favorite places in the park. However, there are some things in this area of the park that we would totally recommend!
-Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway
Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway is the road that you will need to turn onto from Highway 101 to get to the Prairie Creek part of the park. So essentially if you go to many places in the Prairie Creek part of the park, you will likely already be on this road. Regardless, this road is worth the drive all the way through. This parkway takes you by some of the biggest tree groves in the entire national park. There are many unmarked stops along the way, so be sure you go slow enough to not pass some beautiful groves. There are many hiking trails weaving throughout this whole area and so most of the roadside pull-offs have some sort of trail connecting it to somewhere. Our favorite stop on this road was at Big Tree.
Big Tree can be found about halfway through the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. There is a small parking lot with restrooms. From the parking lot here, there is an accessible trail to reach Big Tree. Big Tree is literally a very BIG Tree. It is not the tallest in the park, but it is very wide. This tree almost 300 feet high, 23.7 feet in diameter, 74.5 feet in circumference, and estimated to be almost 1500 years old! There is a platform around big tree so that you can get up close and personal with him without hurting his fragile roots. The roots of coastal redwoods are very fragile and are one of their biggest vulnerabilities (more-so than wildfires!) From here there are also several trails of different lengths so that you can explore many more “big trees.”
Redwoods National Park Orick Area
-Lady Bird Johnson Grove
This grove was visited by Lady Bird Johnson in 1968 during the Redwood National Park dedication. The next year, the park renamed this grove after her to recognize her commitment to environmental preservation. The Lady Bird Johnson Grove trail is a 1.5 mile trail that meanders thoughout this grove. The trail is well maintained, wide, and flat. Along the trail, there are several benches and resting areas that you can sit at to soak in the forest vibes and catch your breath if you need to. One of my favorite parts of the trail is actually at the very beginning from the parking lot. There is a large, gorgeous wooden bridge that you must cross to pass over the road and reach the trail. The Lady Bird Johnson Grove trail is very kid-friendly. This trail is very relaxing and has many beautiful trees to admire.
-Kuchel Visitor Center
Kuchel Visitor Center is the most southern-most visitor center of the Redwoods National Park. Here you can find information regarding current conditions of the park, maps, and park guides. The Kuchel Visitor Center also hosts a variety of programs and exhibits of both adults and children. More information on current programming can be found on the National Park Service Website.
-Note that there is often construction on highway 101 due to the road being on a hillside so there is often landslides. Please check local updates before your travel dates to make sure you can plan accordingly.
-Also, the temperature here might not be what you expect. Even though it is on the coastline, it can be very cold for most of the year. When we visited in early August, we wore pants and coats to try to keep warm. Check the latest weather forecasts so that you can pack appropriate clothing and gear.
Have you visited the Redwoods National and State Parks? Any questions about Redwoods National Park? Let me know down below in the comments!
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