Redwood National Park: How To See the World’s Tallest Trees

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Julie and I have had Redwood National and State Parks (Redwood National Park) on our travel bucket list for a long time. We finally made this dream a reality.  

How was our experience? We will tell you all about it and provide you with a guide to Redwood National Park so you can see the world’s tallest trees.

What Is Special about Redwood National Park?

I have always had an affection for trees. Each year, I look forward to admiring their vibrant autumn colors. I marvel at the durability of mature trees. They are like respected elder family members.

I will never look at trees the same way again. We have walked under giant cacti at Saguaro National Park, but the coastal redwoods are in a different class. The redwoods stretch to the sky, making you feel like a tiny ant.  

In Ohio, it is not common to see trees over 100 feet tall. Coastal redwoods can exceed 300 feet. Beyond their size, the beautiful trees just feel majestic. When the sun highlights the reddish bark and green leaves, it brings a smile.

The biggest surprise for us was how quiet the forest could be. During times of few visitors, it is nearly silent. We heard an occasional bird sing, but not often. You could practically hear a pin drop.

The park is so beautiful and peaceful that it is difficult to describe. All I know is Julie, and I would like to go back. If there ever was a magical forest, this is it.

Let’s shine a little more light on the main attraction.

Coastal Redwoods

Cluster of coastal redwoods
Coastal redwoods often grow in clusters

Where do they grow?

The giant trees grow along the Pacific Coast in northern and central California and southern Oregon.

How tall do they get?

Average mature trees are typically 200 to 240 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet in diameter. Trees in the region have exceeded 370 feet.

How long do they live?

Coastal redwoods can live up to 2,000 years.

How big are these trees in diameter?

The base can be up to 22 feet in diameter. Some coastal redwoods have exceeded this.  

Giant sequoias are bigger in diameter and can have a base of up to 40 feet. However, giant sequoias do not grow as tall as coastal redwoods.

Other Facts & Information

Cone of coastal redwood tree
Coastal redwood cones are surprisingly small

The scientific name is Sequoia sempervirens.

Coastal redwoods are conifers and reproduce by seed or sprout. The seed size is comparable to a tomato seed.  

Julie and I were shocked at how small the cones were relative to their height. It is almost laughable, but the cones are the size of a large olive.

The bark can be up to 12 inches thick and contains many tannins. Accordingly, the trees are resistant to insects and diseases.

Coastal redwoods do not have a tap root. Their roots surprisingly only grow 10 to 13 feet down into the soil. Since the roots do not grow deep, they must spread out wide. The roots may spread out 60 to 80 feet.  

You will often see clusters of coastal redwood trees. The roots intertwine with one another. The trees work together with such a shallow root system to provide more stability. Nature truly is amazing!

Confusion

As much as I love the redwood trees, I must admit that the park is confusing. It is a combination of one national park and three state parks. Therein lies the problem.

Navigating the website for information is more challenging compared to other national parks. Many GPS apps do not have accurate information for Redwood National Park.  

The national park itself is in the southern end of the region. Yet, the official headquarters sits in the north.  

You would think each state park would have a visitor center, but that is not the case. Specific street addresses are not provided for some of the visitor centers.  

Some day-use areas require additional fees. Permits are required for two hikes.  

We expected to see plaques or signs noting all significant trees and areas. In reality, it is very inconsistent.  

Redwoods extend beyond these four parks. One of the most famous scenic drives, Avenue of the Giants, where you can drive your car through a redwood tree, is not even part of the Redwood National and State Parks. It is located in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

It just feels like everything should be housed under the federal level and streamlined.

With some national parks, you can show up and quickly find the primary points of interest. That is not the case with Redwood National Park.  

If you have specific points of interest in mind, you need to do a little homework before your trip. By doing some research, your experience can be enjoyable rather than frustrating.

Location & Directions

Redwood National Park is nestled between Crescent City and Orick in the coastal region of northern California. It is approximately 50 miles from one end to the other.  

Highway 101 provides easy access to the park. The drive from Portland, Oregon, or San Francisco, California, is about six hours.

Park Organization

Bottom of fallen coastal redwood
Julie standing by fallen coastal redwood

The park has five main areas. Starting from the north, these areas are:

  • Hiouchi
  • Crescent City
  • Klamath
  • Prairie Creek
  • Orick

The park is a collaboration of the national park and three state parks. We will list them in order heading from north to south.

  • Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park – is located in the Hiouchi area.
  • Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park – is located in the Crescent City area.
  • Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park – is located in the Prairie Creek area.
  • Redwood National Park – is located in the Orick area.

Fees & Passes

Redwood National and State Parks are free to enter. However, day-use areas in the state parks require fees. State and federal park passes are honored. You may drive scenic roads through all four parks without an entrance fee.

  • Gold Bluffs Beach & Fern Canyon – The fee for the day-use area is $12.00. State and federal park passes will be honored. Between May 1 and September 30, you need a permit to enter the Gold Bluffs Beach Day Use Area, including the Fern Canyon Trailhead. Visit the Redwood National Park site for more information and to apply for the permit.
  • Jedediah Smith Campground – The day-use fee to park next to the Smith River is $8.00. State and federal park passes will be honored.

Operating Hours & Seasons

Redwood National Park is open 24 hours a day, year-round.

Weather

Sunbeams filtering through coastal redwoods in Redwood National & State Parks
Sunbeams filtering through coastal redwoods

The weather is pretty consistent, regardless of the season. In general, it is cool and damp. Dress in light, warm layers. Fahrenheit temperatures typically range from the mid-40s to mid-60s.  

It can get foggy in summer when temperatures occasionally climb to the low 70s. Winters are cool and rainy. The region averages 60 to 80 inches of rain from October through April.

What to Wear

Dress in light, warm layers, so you can adapt if needed. Since the area gets a lot of rain, pack a waterproof windbreaker.  

I have a Columbia jacket. It is so lightweight and easy to pack. I love it. I have chased many waterfalls and completed many rainy hikes in my coat. It has proven to be waterproof and durable time and time again.

Pets

The park has developed what they call a BARK! Ranger program to keep dogs and their humans safe. Here are the guidelines:

  • Bag your poop and dispose of it in the proper bins.
  • Always wear a leash, 6 feet or less.
  • Respect wildlife. Don’t harm, chase, or bark at wildlife.
  • Know where you can go.

The biggest question for most of you will be about the letter K.  

So, where can you go with your dog?

  • Campgrounds
  • Roads
  • Picnic areas
  • Beaches

Pets are not allowed on park trails.

Cell Service

You will likely find cell service to be limited. 

The best northern areas for cell service are:

  • Crescent City
  • Hiouchi Visitor Center
  • Jedediah Smith Redwoods Campground

The best southern areas for cell service are:

  • Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center
  • Prairie Creek Visitor Center
  • The southern end of Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway

WiFi

The visitor centers do not have WiFi.

How To Get Around

The best way to get around the park is by car.

Visitor Centers

Standing on giant redwood logs
Standing on massive redwood logs

The park has five visitor centers. Three are located in the north, while two are in the south.

You can obtain information, maps, and trip-planning advice at these locations. Hours may vary at each location based on seasonal staffing. Check the park website to verify hours.

Northern Visitor Centers

Hiouchi Visitor Center – is located near Hiouchi, CA, on Highway 199.

Jedediah Smith Visitor Center – is located 10 miles east of Crescent City on Highway 199.

Crescent City Information Center – is located at 1111 2nd Street, Crescent City, CA 95531

Southern Visitor Centers

Prairie Creek Visitor Center – is located on Highway 101, just off the southern end of the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway.

Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center – is located 1 mile south of Orick, CA, on Highway 101.

Things To Do

Scenic Drives

One of the most popular activities at Redwood National Park is to take a scenic drive. The views are breathtaking! There is something magical about driving between giants standing right next to the road on each side of you.  

Occasionally, you can see sunbeams filtering between the forest. Did I mention that scenic drives are magical?   

Oddly, you can drive through the entire park along some of the tallest trees in the world without knowing you were ever in the park.  

Here are some of the best scenic drives.

Howland Hill Road

Distance: 10 miles one way

Description: The drive is primarily unpaved and takes you through the heart of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. You will see many beautiful tall trees, but the road is narrow and bumpy.

Enderts Beach Road

Distance: 2 ¼ miles one way.

Description: You have stunning coastal views on this paved road and the potential for elk sightings. Whale watching is a popular activity along this part of the coast.

Requa Road

Distance: The 2 ¼-mile drive to Klamath River Overlook is paved but steep and narrow. 

Description: You get beautiful views along an area where freshwater and saltwater merge. Birding and whale watching are popular here.

Coastal Drive Loop

Distance: The 9 miles drive has steep grades and sharp curves. 

Description: You will have panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and Klamath River.

Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway

Distance: 10 miles one way.

Description: The paved road takes you through the heart of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. The road is wide, with plenty of places to stop and explore. There are many monstrous trees here. In my opinion, this is the best scenic drive in the parks. It is gorgeous! 

Cal-Barrel Road

Distance: 1 ½ mile one way.

Description: The unpaved road is narrow and winding but takes you through fantastic old-growth coastal redwoods.

Davison Road

Distance: 7 miles one way.

Description: The primarily unpaved road takes you to the popular Gold Bluffs Beach and Fern Canyon. You will pass through meadows known for Roosevelt elk.

Bald Hills Road

Distance: 17 miles one way. 

Description: The unpaved road is narrow, rough, has many curves and includes a steep hill. You will pass open prairies painted with wildflowers. There is potential for Roosevelt elk and black bear sightings.

Hiking

You can literally walk through the hollowed out trunk of this redwood.
Walking through hollowed out redwood trunk

There are many great trails in Redwood National Park. The truth is just being near the gentle giants is special. However, we will give you guidance on the best hikes. We will also provide other highlights for each park so you can make the most of your time.

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

  • Stout Grove Trail is an easy 0.5-mile loop through the Stout Memorial Grove. It is a beautiful area with trees over 300 feet tall, massive redwood logs, and tree stumps.
  • Grove of Titans is a 1.7-mile round-trip hike that takes you through some of the world’s largest trees. Part of the trail is an elevated boardwalk. There are signs along the way with great information about the trees and their ecosystem.
  • Boy Scout Tree Trail is a moderate 5.5-mile round-trip hike. It is more challenging due to trail length and an elevation change of more than 900 feet. However, you are surrounded by a gorgeous forest with many large trees.

Other highlights in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park:

  • Howland Hill Road scenic drive

Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park

  • Damnation Creek Trail is a challenging hike that is nearly 4 miles. You will descend 1,100 feet through the tall trees onto a narrow, rocky beach. Of course, the inevitable 1,100-foot climb on the way out awaits you. I wonder where this trail got its name?

Other highlights in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park:

  • Tide pooling at Endert’s Beach
  • Hiking or biking the Coastal Trail

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Big Tree in Redwood National and State Parks
Big Tree
  • Fern Canyon may be the most iconic hike in the park. It looks like a prehistoric forest with canyon walls covered in lush ferns. Fern Canyon was used for a scene in the film, The Lost World: Jurassic Park. There are a couple of different access points which drastically impact the distance of the hike. The short version is an easy 1.1-mile walk. The extended version provides a moderate 13-mile hike. With either hike, you will cross a stream. So, you will get wet. From May 1 to September 30, permits are required to access the Gold Bluffs Beach day use area and the Fern Canyon trailhead. Visit the park site for permit information
  • Karl Knapp is an easy 2.6-mile hike that takes you through two tunnels. Spoiler alert – these tunnels are fallen trees. This hike was formerly called the Prairie Creek and Foothill Loop Trail.  
  • Trillium Falls is a 2.6-mile moderate loop with a small but pretty waterfall. You will find many maple and fir trees in addition to coastal redwoods.

Other highlights in Prairie Creek State Park:

  • Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway
  • Roosevelt Elk
  • Big Tree Wayside

Redwood National Park

  • Lady Bird Johnson Grove is a beautiful and easy 1.5-mile hike. Beyond many tall redwoods, you will see a plaque honoring Lady Bird Johnson for her role as First Lady and her dedication to creating and protecting natural habitats. The path is wide and well-maintained. The area is so peaceful and breathtaking.
  • Tall Trees Grove is a moderate 4.5-mile round-trip hike through some of the tallest trees in the park. You will descend 800 feet down to Redwood Creek. The hike is very popular due to its name. There are plenty of other tall trees in the previously mentioned hiking areas. Permits are required for this hike and are issued only online. You can obtain more information about the Tall Trees permit here.

Other highlights in Redwood National Park

  • Bald Hills Road scenic drive

Camping

Developed Campgrounds

There are four developed campgrounds.

  • Jedediah Smith
  • Mill Creek
  • Elk Prairie
  • Gold Bluffs Beach

Camping fees are $35. Flush toilets and shower facilities are available. There is no water or electric hookup. Dump stations are available at Jedediah Smith and Mill Creek. Cabins are available for $100 a night in summer ($80 in winter) at Jedediah Smith and Ek Prairie.  

Backcountry Camping

The park has seven designated areas for backcountry camping. A permit is required and can only be issued online.

Visit the park’s camping page for more information on all your camping options. 

Tide Pooling

Low tide brings an opportunity for tide pooling in the park’s coastal areas. You may find sea stars, giant green anemones, crabs, mussels, and periwinkle snails.

Julie and I love tide pooling. We first discovered it at Acadia National Park and have been hooked ever since. An entire world teeming with life is exposed when the tide rolls out. It is surreal.

Best places for tide pooling:

  • Endert’s Beach
  • Damnation Creek
  • False Klamath Cove

Wildlife Viewing

The park is not known for iconic wildlife like you might find in Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska or Glacier National Park in Montana. However, the park houses a variety of wildlife on land and in the sea. Many of the animals are rarely observed.

Land Mammals

Some of the more commonly observed animals include:

  • Black-tailed deer
  • Roosevelt elk
  • Chipmunk
  • Squirrel

Look for deer and elk in the prairies, grasslands, and woodlands. Chipmunks and squirrels are usually found in forested areas. 

Other significant mammals that inhabit the region but are rarely seen include:

  • Coyote
  • Gray fox
  • Black bear
  • Bobcat
  • Mountain lion

These animals can potentially be in a variety of habitats. Be aware of your surroundings as you explore the park.

Beavers and river otters may be observed along creeks.

Roosevelt Elk
Roosevelt elk in Redwood National and State Parks
Spotting a Roosevelt elk in Prairie Creek

The Roosevelt elk is the biggest species of North American elk and can exceed 1,000 pounds. Elk are not as big as moose, but they are exciting to see in the wild.

Roosevelt elk are a little darker in color than Rocky Mountain elk. Fortunately, they are the easiest animal in the park to observe. They are usually spotted south of the Klamath River in Prairie Creek Redwoods State park.

Best places to observe Roosevelt elk:

  • Elk Prairie: The prime viewing area is six miles north of Orick on the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway.
  • Elk Meadow: Take the Davison Road exit, 3 miles north of Orick, on Highway 101
  • Gold Bluffs Beach: Continue four miles from Elk Meadow on Davison Road.
  • Bald Hills Road: Take the Bald Hills Road exit, one mile north of Orick, on Highway 101.

Marine Mammals

You can look for sea mammals along the coastal regions of the park.

Whale Watching

Gray whales may be seen throughout the year, but due to migration, the best viewing months are March, April, November, and December. Humpback whales and orcas are occasionally spotted as well.

You will likely need binoculars to find them. Look for their spouts as you scan the waters. Once you see a spout and know what to look for, they become much easier to spot.

Best places for whale watching:

  • Klamath River Overlook
  • Crescent Beach Overlook
  • Wilson Creek
  • High Bluff Overlook
  • Gold Bluffs Beach
  • Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center
Seals and Sea Lions

You can find harbor seals, California sea lions, and Steller sea lions hauled out on beaches and rocky areas. We found them near Battery Point Lighthouse.

Birding

Due to varying habitats, there are many different types of birds in Redwood National Park. Approximately 280 species have been seen here.  

In the old-growth conifer forest, you can find warblers, flycatchers, swifts, thrushes, jays, woodpeckers, ruffed grouse, and owls. The endangered marbled murrelet inhabits the park’s forest.

In the oak woodlands and prairies, you may spot a red-tailed hawk, western scrub jay, western bluebird, merlin, and western meadowlark. You can see American dipper, yellow warbler, spotted sandpiper, and common merganser along streams.

Near freshwater ponds and coastal lagoons, you can observe ducks, herons, egrets, bald eagles, osprey, peregrine falcon, and belted kingfisher. You may spot gulls, whimbrels, sandpipers, caspian terns, and California brown pelicans on the beaches. Threatened western snowy plovers also inhabit the shores here.

You may see common murres, cormorant, and pigeon guillemots along the coastal cliffs and seamounts.

California Condors

In 1987, California Condors were nearly extinct. Only 27 remained, and these all lived in zoos. Conservationists have been diligently working to restore the condor population.  

In March 2022, the first five California condors were returned to the wild in the Redwoods.

How can you help?

  • Keep your distance.
  • Properly dispose of trash.

Visit Battery Point Lighthouse

Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City, CA
Battery Point Lighthouse

One of the most incredible things to do at Redwood National Park is to go to Battery Point Lighthouse. At high tide, the lighthouse is an island. You can walk across the rocky path to the lighthouse during low tide. The journey is more exciting because it is inaccessible for hours at a time.

Timing is vital when it comes to seeing Battery Point Lighthouse. Check the tide table and plan accordingly.  

We went early in the morning when a thick fog covered the beach. It put in perspective the need for a lighthouse. 

Exploring the rocky shoreline and boardwalk was a lot of fun in the fog. You can find sea stars on the pillars of the boardwalk. There are lots of birds searching for food during low tide.  

Sea lions and seals inhabit the area. You are likely to hear them before you see them. They sound like a pack of barking dogs. We were fortunate to spot many of them sprawled on docks near the boardwalk. 

Visitors often overlook the Battery Point Lighthouse area as it is neither a forest nor a sandy beach. There is a lot to explore here.

Foggy morning walk on boardwalk by Battery Point Lighthouse
Foggy morning walk on boardwalk near Battery Point Lighthouse

Best Time To Visit

Due to mild year-round temperatures, any time of year is an excellent time to visit. Keep in mind the winter months tend to be a bit cooler and rainier.

How Many Days Do You Need?

You can see most of the highlights in two or three days. If you merely want to see some coastal redwood trees and take a scenic drive or a leisurely day hike, you can accomplish it in a day or half. You will need at least two days to explore all park areas fully.

Where To Stay

Cabin near Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Private cabin in the Redwoods

There are many hotels in the Crescent City area in the north and Arcata in the south.  

I usually do not promote specific places to stay. However, we had such a great experience with our cabin that I feel compelled to tell you about it.

Julie and I stayed in a small cabin by Fern Hook Vacation Cabins. It is located near Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The development is new and will have nine houses soon. When we stayed, only three were built.  

Each cabin is fresh and cozy and comes with a kitchen. Your privacy is off the charts. You are surrounded by lots of trees, including coastal redwoods.  

The area is wonderful. It is so quiet and peaceful. You can relax and truly enjoy the redwood trees.  

I cannot recommend this place enough. It is wonderful! Visit the listing for more information: VRBO Private Redwood Retreat

Wrap Up: Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park is a magical forest with the tallest trees on the planet. The trees are beautiful and resilient. Redwood National Park should be on your travel bucket list if you enjoy scenic drives or day hikes through the woods.

Make sure your freezer has plenty of ice. When your visit is over, you need it to soothe your strained neck from staring toward the heavens. A trip to admire the giants is well worth it.  

About the author

We are Scott and Julie at Miles with McConkey. After nearly 30 years, we took a leap of faith out of the corporate world to enjoy a life of travel and adventure. We hope to inspire you to find ways to travel more and enjoy life now.

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