National Parks Journal: Ranger Steven Krause on ‘Must Sees’ and ‘Hidden Gems’ of Redwood National and State Parks

by Jon D. B.

There’s nothing on Earth quite like basking in the ancient quiet of Redwood National and State Parks. And there’s no one better to guide you than Steven Krause.

Ranger Steven Krause’s official title is Park Guide to Redwood National Park. His degree in environmental education and interpretation happens to be in his job description, right alongside determination and elbow grease.

Steven spent 12 years as a seasonal ranger before being granted permanency, not an uncommon thing for the folks looking to become an integral part of our national parks (as our National Parks Journal shows). All that effort has translated into him earning a reputation as one of Redwood’s “walking encyclopedias,” a moniker that holds true mere moments into chatting with him.

In short: If you’re looking to plan a trip to one of America’s most fascinating and impressive national parks, Steven’s the man for the job.

Get to Know the Redwoods with National Park Guide Steven Krause

NPS Photo: Ally Gran

“The first misperception I have to tackle is when people come into the visitor’s center and ask ‘Where’s General Sherman? Point me to Sherman,’ and internally I’m like, ‘You’re in the wrong park!'” Krause laughs.

General Sherman is, in fact, a Giant Sequoia; making him a Sequoia National Park touchstone.

“It’s easy to get confused! People think there’s just one kind of redwood tree, when in fact there’s three kinds,” he explains. “There’s the Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) which is a living fossil from China. It was only known from fossil records until a living forest was re-discovered during World War II. Then you’ve got the Giant Sequoia (Sequoia giganteum), which is the largest tree on the planet by volume. And those are only found in isolated pockets of the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.”

And then there’s the Coast Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) inside Redwood National and State Parks. “They’re known as the tallest trees on the planet,” Krause continues. “Sadly, there’s only 4% left of what once stood here. We do currently have the tallest tree on the planet in the park, but we don’t tell people where it is so we can actively protect the habitat.”

Ranger Steven references the phrase “We’re loving our parks to death” for Redwood, and he’s right. So the focus, he says, should be on the gems presented to visitors. They are every bit as awe-inspiring to witness, he promises, as there’s certainly no shortage of ‘must sees’ in Redwood National and State Parks. And research, we agree, is key to taking the parks in for all they’re worth.

Must Sees: The Best Places to See ‘Big, Big Trees

NPS Photo: Steven Krause

To tackle this subject, Ranger Steven takes a deep breath. “The bottom line is, definitely look up a visitor’s guide in advance and then hit the visitor’s center when you arrive. Because a lot of the favorites, even park ranger favorites, change over time.

It also depends where you are coming from,” he says, “because the park is long and skinny. Redwood has no entrance stations and is partnered with three state parks which lie within its borders. If you don’t leave Highway 101, you might miss the whole park!”

One of the parks’ most visited destinations is Lady Bird Johnson Grove. “It’s an easy mile-and-a-half hike and it’s always breathtaking,” he says, “and the trailhead parking lot is just a ten-minute drive from the Kuchel Visitor Center in Orick off Bald Hills Road. It’s the dedication site for the national park and a great introduction to the redwood forest.”

Those visiting during summer, though, should be warned that the small parking lot here often overflows. Parking along the street, Steven says, will result in a ticket and a spoiled visit. So what should you do if Lady Bird Johnson Grove is packed?

“An excellent alternative is a visit to beautiful Trillium Falls. Its trailhead at the Elk Meadow Day Use Area has a large parking lot,” he offers. “The trail is 2.8 miles long with elevated switchbacks, but it’s only half a mile through the redwoods to a small waterfall.”

See ‘Even Bigger Big Trees’: Tall Trees Grove, Jedediah Smith and Prairie Creek State Parks

NPS Photo: Steven Krause

To see Redwood National Park’s iconic enormous trees, there are two plans of attack. Within the NPS, Ranger Steven says Tall Trees Grove is the place to go. This can be tricky, however, because “Tall Trees Grove is the only place at Redwood where you need to reserve a day use permit,” he emphasizes.

“It used to be first-come first-served, but that’s a thing of the past during peak season. Everything is online now, and it works out because you can schedule 4 weeks in advance, or down to 48 hours in advance.”

To do so, visit RNSP’s permit page here.

Prepare to “put a crick in your neck looking up all the time” at Tall Trees Grove, Krause laughs, as these are some of the tallest trees in the world. The Grove is also a 4-hour commitment (and 4-mile hike), so be sure to plan accordingly.

If reservations for this grove are full, or you happen upon a last-minute trip, then California’s Redwood State Parks will become the way to go.

“For our treasure seekers, the people wanting to see icons, I always recommend Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. That’s where more of the big, big, beautiful redwoods are,” Steven pinpoints. “Actually, they’re all big! Don’t miss the forest for the tree!”

Hidden Gems: Not just Redwoods! Diversity of Habitats & Organisms

NPS Photo: Steven Krause

As for those hidden gems, “We don’t only have tall trees,” he continues. “Redwood National Park offers a diversity of ecologies including some phenomenal coastlines, creeks, rivers, lagoons, and coastal prairies! You can go tide-pooling at False Klamath Cove or Endert’s Beach or go swimming or kayaking in the Smith River.”

Another oft-missed gem are the Bald Hill Prairies, Krause adds. “It’s a completely under-appreciated section of the park. This is such a vast cultural landscape. It’s very important to our history and the local tribes. We have five historic sheep barns that are made completely out of redwood; beautiful architecture you can visit and touch.”

And then there’s Ranger Steven Krause’s “perfect pocket” of Redwood National and State Parks. “My personal favorite is the Hope Creek-Ten Taypo Loop Trail,” he offers. “It’s part of the state park technically, but it’s a 3.6-mile loop up 800 feet. It’s simply beautiful. You’ve got the classic big redwoods at the bottom of the hill. As you get higher, there’s less redwoods and more Douglas firs and hemlocks. You can see the fallout of some truly historic wildfires there. I like to go in May or June when semi-parasitic or symbiotic plants such as Gnome plants and several orchids are on full display. The park has several species of plants that can’t photosynthesize, so they draw their nutrients from fungi, which in turn draw nutrients from plant roots.”

For any fellow mushroom lovers, “There’s fantastic mushrooms everywhere, especially in fall! I’m a nature nerd, and I’m always looking for unique plants, unique mushrooms. Unique things to experience,” Steven says.

“There’s just so much color!” he continues of Ten Taypo-Hope Creek and so many of the parks’ redwood trails. “Hot pink clintonia flowers, bright yellow monkeyflowers, orange sulfur shelf fungi… Due to seasonal timing, there’s all kinds of diversity here that most visitors will never see. But this is the perfect place to do it.”

Other Important Things to Consider When Visiting Redwood National Park

For a few final tips on planning your trip, Ranger Steven Krause says “Vehicle clearance is also important. We have gravel roads, and depending on the time of year many cars won’t be able to traverse the park unless they have decent wheel clearance.”

Another big ask is: “Do you have pets? I can save visitors a lot of time by telling them ‘Here’s where you need to go with your dog,’ because pets are only allowed in certain areas of the park. Ask for a Bark Ranger brochure at any one of the visitor centers.”

Outsider will be back with more from Ranger Steven Krause for our National Parks Journal soon. Until then, start planning that “trip of a lifetime” to Redwood National and State Parks. As Steven says, “You won’t regret a single minute of it.”