Top 10 Things to Know About Redwood National & State Parks: PHOTOS

by Jon D. B.

Beneath the tallest trees on Earth, Redwood National & State Parks house some of the most dire, fascinating facts of any American parks.

Redwood National Park is a unique place all around. For one, you’ll hardly (if ever) see the park listed or reported in any capacity as just “Redwood National Park.” This conundrum is one of the 10 things to know we’re breaking down below, as it’s not only interesting, but pertinent to navigating your northern California visit.

Beyond that, most people know Redwood as the home of the tallest trees on our planet. But did you know there’s also 40 miles of rugged coastline in this ancient landscape? Or that the area is highly prone to earthquakes? Prepare for your journey to Redwood – or simply take a crash course in the parks’ fascinating journey – below.

10. Here, There Be Earthquakes

Dense coastal redwood Sequoia sempervirens forest in Redwood National Park California showing fallen tree that has become a nurse log for new plant growth, Redwood National Park in northern California near Eureka California. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Seismic activity has knocked down its fair share of giant redwood trees over the millennia. In fact, the northern California Redwood parks are located within the most active seismological region in the United States. The culprit? Three of Earth’s tectonic plates, including the North American Pacific and Gorda Plates, meet just 100 miles (160 km) southwest of the parks.

This is known as the Mendocino Triple Junction, and it produces minor-to-major earthquakes on a yearly basis. Redwood National & State Parks are shaken by several minor earthquakes each year as a result. Fallout includes everything from landslides to fallen trees and an ever-shifting landscape.

Park officials monitor this seismic activity, and have the possibility of major 6+ magnitude earthquakes on their radar. Or seismometer, more aptly.

9. Redwood National & State Parks House ‘Hyperion,’ Earth’s Tallest Tree

Northern California, Redwood Np, Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Redwood Trees, Person, Released. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Back in 2006 and prior, the “Stratosphere Giant” – a tree of unimaginable proportions – was considered the tallest tree on the planet at 371.1 feet (113.11 m). But in the decades since, another tree has taken this mantle.

Now called Hyperion, another, even taller tree resides deep within Redwoods National and State Parks. Hyperion is inaccessible by trails, but scientists now know this coast redwood is the tallest tree in the world. And at over 380 feet (116 m), Hyperion isn’t even finished growing yet!

Hyperion is believed to be somewhere between 600 and 800-years-old, which is less than half the known lifespan of redwoods. Thanks to the parks’ protection, this giant may grow to be far taller in the centuries to come.

8. Redwood National & State Parks are Home to the Tallest, Not Largest, Trees in the World

UNSPECIFIED – DECEMBER 16: USA, California, Redwood National Park (UNESCO World Heritage List, 1980). Sequoia trees (Photo by DEA / G.SIOEN/De Agostini via Getty Images)

Referring to Hyperion and its fellow redwoods as the largest trees in the world, however, would be incorrect.

While the coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are the tallest trees in the world, the honor of largest trees in the world belongs to the giant sequoia species (Sequoiadendron giganteum).

To learn about the largest tree in the world by volume, General Sherman Tree, see our Top 10 Things to Know About Sequoia National Park.

7. These Giants are as Ancient as they are Tall

Rootball symmetry, Stout Grove, Redwoods NP (Photo credit: J.Chao, NPS)

Typically, a redwood tree lives to be around 600-years-old, which is no mean feat and a remarkable lifespan for any living organism. But some redwood trees have actually been recorded at over 2,000-years-old.

Some scientists think these giants can live far beyond that, too, in perfect conditions. In fact, one redwood in particular, the President, is believed to be the oldest living redwood tree. The giant sequoia is estimated to be around 3,200-years-old!

6. Wildfires are an Integral Part of Redwood Ecosystems

A redwood tree burns internally during California’s devastating 2020 wildfires. (Photo by Randy Vazquez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)

Wildfires have always been a part of life in California. But recent decades of climate change have seen fires become far more frequent, intense, hotter, and much more devastating as a result.

But in Redwood National & State Parks, wildfires are actually a necessity. When burning under natural circumstances, they’re one of the most healthy events for these ancient forests. Wildfires remove underbrush and dead plants and trees, providing nutrients for giants like redwoods. Fires also enrich the soil below by breaking down these components into rich topsoil.

Like many national parks, Redwood officials conduct prescribed burns to keep the forests thriving, and to help prevent more of the sort of devastating super-fires we’ve seen in the last decades.

5. Redwood National & State Parks Also Hold Immense Animal Diversity

UNITED STATES – 1995/01/01: USA, Northern California, Redwood National Park, Roosevelt Elk. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

While Redwood National & State Parks are known for their titular trees, the parks also host incredible diversity of wildlife. Many endangered species call the parks home, including:

  • Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina)
  • Steller sea lion (Eumatopias jubatus)
  • Coho and Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch, O. tshawytscha)
  • Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus)
  • Western Snowy Plover (Charadrius nivosus nivosus)
  • Fishers (Pekania pennanti)

And as of 2022, the park is now home to California condors for the first time in over a century. Redwood Ranger Steven Krause spoke to us at length about this incredible revitalization. And on May 3, 2022, this long-held hope became a reality for the parks.

So the next time you visit Redwood, be sure to look up for the condors. You’re much more likely to see Roosevelt elk (above), however – a favorite species of park visitors.

4. Indigenous Peoples of Redwood National & State Parks

Archie Thompson, 93, is a Yurok tribal elder and one of the last remaining native speakers alive. “They didn’t want Indian language spoken,” Thompson said of the boarding school he attended as a young boy in the Hoopa Valley. “You couldn’t do your own culture.” (Photo by Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The past and present of northern California’s Indigenous Americans is too complex to summarize here, but their presence in and connection to the Redwood lands is paramount.

Today, four distinct Indigenous languages remain intact thanks to dedicated elders. These are:

  • Tolowa
  • Yurok
  • Hupa
  • Karuk

Each tribes’ language is still alive thanks to these individuals. But thankfully, recent years have housed a revival of interest in Native Language, and younger generations are beginning to learn and speak their languages fluently. This is, without a doubt, crucial to preserving their immense Indigenous history – one that is intrinsic to the lands of Redwood National & State Parks.

3. Logging Nearly Wiped Out Redwoods Forever

MAY 28 1977, MAR 29 1977: Loggers protest legislation that would limit harvesting of lumber in Redwood National Park in northern California. The protest convoy was formed earlier that month in effort to save loggers jobs from threat of proposed expansion of Redwood forest. Credit: Denver Post (Denver Post via Getty Images)

As beautiful as Redwood parks are to behold today, their legacy is a heartbreaking one. Less than two centuries ago, forests of giant redwoods were at 2,000,000 acres. This held true around 1850, but the influx of European settlers stripping northern California of resources would change the landscape forever.

As literal thousands of immigrants crossed Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to settle California, the redwood forests became prized logging territories. And when the California Gold Rush didn’t yield the riches miners hoped for, the majority turned to logging redwoods to attempt fortune.

Because of this unparalleled harvesting, only 10% of that original 2 million acres of redwoods remain today.

2. We Owe These Parks to the ‘Save the Redwoods League’

Redwood National Park (UNESCO World Heritage List, 1980), California, United States of America. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Much like the preservation of the North American bison, the above led to a massive conservation movement on behalf of redwood forests. Logging continued for decades without any restrictions, and by the time the 20th century rolled around these trees were in danger of disappearing altogether.

But a group of dedicated citizens formed the Save the Redwoods League in 1918 to stop that from happening. Out of their perseverance sprang 3 of the 4 parks that protect redwood forests to this day. Which brings us to the unique structure of Redwood National & State Parks today.

1. Redwood National Park is a collection of National and State Parks

(Photo credit: Redwood National & State Parks, NPS)

Although it is still common to refer to the parks as Redwood National Park, the proper term is Redwood National & State Parks. The National Park Service (NPS) uses the acronym REDW for these parks (not RNSP as is often misused).

REDW is a combination of Redwood National Park with three state parks, all of which share common conservation goals. They are managed jointly by the Department of the Interior’s NPS and the state of California. They are: 

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

But this structure didn’t form until NPS and the California Department of Parks and Recreation (CDPR) merged the parks in 1994. Today, their joint headquarters resides in Crescent City, CA.

To learn more from a Redwood Park Ranger ahead of your excursion, see our National Parks Journal: Ranger Steven Krause on ‘Must Sees’ and ‘Hidden Gems’ of Redwood National and State Parks next.