Top 10 Things to Do in Redwood National & State Parks

by Jon D. B.
top-10-things-to-do-redwood-national-state-parks

Alongside the world’s most amazing primeval forests, Redwood National & State Parks (REDW) offer some of the best coastlines, camping, and hiking in California.

Here, you’ll find the tallest trees on Earth. But did you know the Redwood parks also conserve wildlife-filled prairies, majestic oak woodlands, raging rivers, and 40 miles of picturesque, rugged California coast?

The National Park Service (NPS) and California State Parks manage and conserve these lands together, offering a wonderland to visitors that include:

  • Redwood National Park
  • Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
  • Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
  • Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks

This northern California landscape hosts an amazing assortment of parks, but their bounty can also make planning a trip a bit confusing. So below, we’re breaking down the top 10 destinations to help you plan the ultimate Redwood excursion. Let’s get to it!

10. Best Scenic Drive: Avenue of the Giants

The only reason this magnificent drive is at #10 on our list is because it’s located in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. It may not be part of Redwood National & State Parks proper, but this world-famous scenic drive offers the most outstanding display of giant redwoods in all of California. All from the comfort of your vehicle.

Known as one of the best scenic drives on the planet, Avenue of the Giants is a 31-mile drive through everything you hope to see in Redwood country. The drive runs parallel to REDW’s Highway 101, and can’t be missed. It’s right alongside the parks featured in our Top 10, too, so we’d be doing you a disservice by leaving it out.

Here, you’ll also find picnic areas, campgrounds, and the Eel River, a gorgeous spot for fishing, walking, and floating. And it’s all beneath some of the most breathtaking giant redwoods left on Earth.

For scenic drives inside the park, see Redwood National Park’s scenic drives.

9. Redwood National Park’s Elk Meadow

Northern California, Redwood National Park, Roosevelt Elk in Elk Meadow. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)
  • LOCATION: North of Orick
  • CASIGNIFICANCE: A hub for hikers, bikers and wildlife watchers
  • DESIGNATION: National Park

Looking for wildlife watching in Redwood? How about hiking, biking, and plenty of parking alongside? Such a fantastic combo is a rarity in REDW, but Elk Meadow offers them all. All on top of being one of the best places to see the largest family of North American elk, the Roosevelt elk.

Here, you can also hit the gentle but serene Trillium Falls Trail, or tackle the steep Berry Glen Trail to experience further redwood forests. Or, bring a bike and experience one of the best rides in California. Bike towards Lost Man Creek Trail and the Bald Hills (another fantastic destination), the Elk Prairie Campground, or take to Gold Bluffs Beach for some camping (featured below).

8. Gold Bluffs Beach

  • LOCATION: Pull outs and parking along Gold Bluffs Beach
  • SIGNIFICANCE: A popular day-use area on the coast northwest of Orick
  • DESIGNATION: State Park

Want to camp right on the Pacific Ocean? Gold Bluffs Beach is the only place in Redwoods where you can camp on the beach, making it a true gem. Few things are as serene as falling asleep and waking up to the sound of the waves. So if there’s one place we recommend camping alongside exploring in Redwood National & State Parks, it’s here.

Gold Bluffs Beach is also known for the giant golden bluffs for which its named, giving this beach a unique, epic feel. On the shore, you’ll find miles of gray sand, giant driftwood, and picturesque dunes. The dunes are a protected environment, however, so be sure to respect their importance to the ecosystem. You might also spot seals and rare birds like snowy plovers along the beach. What more could you ask for?

7. Redwood National Park’s Redwood Creek Overlook

A beautiful sunset at Redwood Creek Overlook. (NPS / Ally Gran)
  • LOCATION: East of Orick on the Bald Hills Road
  • SIGNIFICANCE: Beautiful views with an insight to habitat restoration
  • DESIGNATION: National Park

This unique overlook offers a rarity in Redwood parks: an expansive view of thousands of acres of old-growth redwood forest. For this reason alone, it can’t be missed, as we often miss the forest for the trees.

From Redwood Creek Overlook, you’ll see miles of old-growth forest and spot the Pacific Ocean and coast. But as NPS’s photo above illustrates, be sure to stick around for an unmatched Pacific sunset.

Walking down into Redwood Creek Valley also showcases some of the tragic-but-fascinating logging history of REDW. Here, “you can clearly see the difference between the dark green old-growth redwood forest and lighter green secondary-growth forests,” NPS cites. Plenty of interpretive signs are here to help you decipher this history, too.

For more on the history of REDW, see our Top 10 Things to Know About Redwood National & State Parks.

6. Redwood National Park’s Crescent Beach Overlook

Since time immemorial, Crescent Beach has provided food, transport, and community to humans. (Photo: NPS Photo / B. Marciniec.)
  • LOCATION: Three miles south of Crescent City, CA
  • SIGNIFICANCE: A high scenic view of Crescent City’s beaches and harbor
  • DESIGNATION: National Park

Redwood’s other can’t-miss outlook offers a completely different view. At Crescent Beach Overlook, you’ll see miles of beach, the harbor of Crescent City, and jagged off-shore sea stacks all in the same place. When it’s not foggy, of course.

Crescent Beach Overlook also offers fantastic sunsets, so be sure to stick around if you can. Parking is limited, however, so planning accordingly is a must. If spots are full, head to Enderts Beach Road for more parking, bathroom facilities, and other trailheads.

From the Crescent Beach parking spots, a short paved trail leads to the overlook platform (above). There’s also access to picnic tables here, and interpretive signs that explain Crescent Beach’s fascinating history and geology.

As NPS cites, “This sweeping coastline is part of traditional lands and waters of Tolowa people. Fish, whales, and other mammals found here have long been a part of Tolowa culture and life. Their connection to the land and ocean in front of you remains strong.” It’s a fantastic area we can’t recommend enough.

5. Permit Required: Tall Trees Grove

If you’ve googled Redwood hikes at any point, it’s guaranteed Tall Trees Grove was recommended a thousand times. We’re doing the same, but with a dose of truth.

Tall Trees Grove is breathtaking and a 4.5 mile hike to reach, but isn’t accessible by any other route than this steep, strenuous trail. You’ll tackle 1,600 feet in elevation change, so it’s not for the inexperienced or light hiker.

It’s also imperative to know that Tall Trees Grove requires a permit. The permit is free and can only be secured online, but they’re limited to 50 parties for each day. And with the amount of publicity the grove gets, it is a competitive venture, to say the least.

That being said, hiking to – and experiencing – Tall Trees Grove is beyond a worthwhile venture. If you’re prepared, you won’t regret it.

For a less strenuous hike, REDW recommends the Prairie Creek-Foothill Trail Loop. It’s very easy to get to, has redwoods just as tall, and that loop is much easier on the knees and heart.

4. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

The last in the long string of redwood parks stretching up the northern California coast, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is regarded by many as the finest of the Redwood state parks. Here, you’ll find dense, primeval forests with ginormous ancient trees. In fact, it contains seven percent of all the old-growth redwoods left in the world,, NPS notes.

Among the Jedediah Smith redwoods, you can fish, snorkel, or kayak in the Smith River, the longest major free-flowing river in California. Or, take a historic drive on Howland Hill Road. And we highly recommend hiking through the park’s lush rainforest on its 20 miles of trails.

As the historic Save the Redwoods League said of this landscape, “Thick redwood forest, banana slugs, a beautiful river, and pollywogs… What more could you ask for?”

In short: Don’t seek out Redwood National Park and miss this co-managed gem.

3. Stout Memorial Grove

Stout Grove is an outstanding pocket of redwoods that were not logged in the 20th century. (NPS Photo / John Chao)
  • LOCATION: East of Crescent City, CA
  • SIGNIFICANCE: One of the most popular and enchanting groves of redwoods
  • DESIGNATION: State Park

And if you make it to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, the ultimate destination is Stout Memorial Grove. Here, 300-foot trees form the heart of the park.

A breathtaking 44-acre grove of old-growth redwoods, this is one destination where the challenge of getting there is beyond worth it. Once you’re there, the grove trail is a short 0.5 mile hike, leading to the edge of the Smith River. You can also take to the short spur trail descending down twenty feet into Mill Creek. Many choose to picnic, paddle, and swim at this spot amidst gorgeous scenery.

Allow for at least two hours to get to and from Stout Memorial Grove, and you won’t regret it.

2. Fern Canyon

Fern Canton, CA. (Photo: NPS / REDW)
  • LOCATION: North end of Gold Bluffs Beach
  • SIGNIFICANCE: A popular destination where ferns cover steep walls
  • DESIGNATION: State Park
  • MANAGED BY: California State Parks

Are you a Jurassic Park fan? Many film enthusiasts associate Redwood parks with Star Wars‘ home planet of the Ewoks, Endor. But that classic wasn’t actually shot within the parks. Fern Canyon, however, is on film in the original Jurassic Park franchise, and it’s not hard to see why.

This primeval canyon is a true hidden gem of the Redwood parks. If you come prepped to get your feet wet, this excursion will blow you away. Unparalleled natural beauty awaits in a fern and moss-coated ecosystem with Sitka spruce all around. It makes for an excellent change of pace from the giant redwoods (if you’d ever need one).

To get here, head for the Gold Bluffs Beach parking lot. From there, the trail can be done as a 1-mile “lolly-pop” loop (elevation gain of 150 feet). “If you want to do the loop, a quarter of the mile up the canyon keep an eye out for stairs leading up the left side as the canyon walls get less steep. This side-trail will then eventually loop back to the mouth of Fern Canyon,” NPS explains.

If you’d rather experience Fern Canyon directly, stick to the bed of Home Creek. When doing so, it’s only a quarter of a mile to the emerald walls of Fern Canyon.

1. Lady Bird Johnson Grove

  • LOCATION: North-east of Orick, three miles up the Bald Hills Road
  • SIGNIFICANCE: A historic grove of redwoods
  • DESIGNATION: National Park

A classic is a classic for a reason, and there’s no visiting Redwood National Park proper without seeing the ancient giants of Lady Bird Johnson Grove. A popular destination for decades, this short drive from Highway 101 is everything you’d expect from Redwood National & State Parks.

Here, a family-friendly loop trail of 1.5 miles winds through redwoods and other tall conifers. The hiker’s bridge is a memorable cross within.

To reach Lady Bird Johnson Grove, you’ll need to drive 3 miles of Bald Hills Road. This is a narrow and windy road with few turn-around spots, so definitely don’t plan to visit with an RV or trailer. Once you’re there, take part in daily ranger-led walks that begin at the parking lot, or take to an interpretive trail yourself.

No matter which you choose, you’ll have seen some of the most breathtaking forest left on Earth. Guaranteed.

To learn more ahead of your REDW excursion, be sure to see our Top 10 Things to Know About Redwood National & State Parks w/ PHOTOS next.

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