In this article, I will share everything you need to know about visiting Redwood National Park. From camping and other lodging options to hiking, how to get there, how the park is organized and a lot of great things to do in and around the park.
Visiting Redwood National Park
The majestic beauty of the redwoods at Redwood National Park is one you can’t match anywhere else in the world.
The world goes quiet and calm as you walk amongst these giants. Like grand elders surrounding you and guiding you on a journey through time to explore the generations of these grand trees.
If you are lucky enough while you explore Redwood National Park you might even come across “Hyperion”, the tallest coastal redwood and the world’s tallest known living tree, last measured at 115m tall (379 ft). The exact location of the tree is kept a secret, but you might just come across this secret gem during your visit to the redwoods.
So you are planning on visiting Redwood National Park area? What the most interesting parts of the park are for your adventure will depend on what you are interested in.
I’ll explain more about that later, and will tell you what the best things to do in Redwood National Park are, but let’s start with how to get here.
How to Get to Redwood National Park
You’ll need a car to access the beauty of the Redwood National Park.
This will be one of the most scenic road trips of your life, so buckle up and enjoy the ride!
Getting from San Francisco to Redwood National Park
If you are coming from the San Francisco area, head straight up Highway 101 following along the California coastline. The drive will take you through scenic mountain landscapes, quaint little towns with delicious local food, and along coastal views of the pacific ocean.
Don’t be shy to stop at viewpoints and take it all in!
If you have the time, take the scenic side route along the way through the Avenue of the Giants which features some of the great Sequoias (the tree cousin of the redwoods). Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world, as Sequoias don’t get as tall, but they end up getting extremely wide.
Local Tip: When driving through Arcata, if you are looking for one of the most delicious brunches you’ll ever have, check out Renata’s Creperie. As a previous local I can tell you it is a place you will not want to pass by! With nearly all locally sourced ingredients in their crepes and homemade whipped cream on their mocha’s, it is melt in your mouth AMAZING!
Getting from Oregon to Redwood National Park
When coming down from Oregon to visit Redwood National Park, find your way to Crescent City, then head South on Highway 101.
Along the way you’ll see the giant Paul Bunyan and Blue Ox at the Trees of Mystery. This is a must-see for seeing truly unique redwood trees, but I’ll explain more about that later.
After the Trees of Mystery, you’ll get to Klamath, where you can find the drive through redwood tree. It’s a great photo opportunity!
Tip: If you want to grab lunch and fuel then Klamath is your last opportunity to do so.
What to See at Redwood National Park
When visiting Redwood National Park you’ll have the chance to walk amongst some of the tallest trees in the world.
You’ll get to spend time in a temperate rainforest covered with many ferns and other flora. California is one of the most plant diverse places in the world, so take some time to have a look at the amazing diversity of plants while visiting!
Being a temperate rainforest also means it is much cooler and can be wet/foggy weather at any time. I’d, therefore, recommend to bring a light jacket and wear clothes suited for a cool day.
There is also a wide variety of wildlife you might see in the forest including elk, eagles, foxes, songbirds, skinks, bears and deer. On the coast, you might see seals, sea lions, and whales.
As a wildlife biologist who studied in this particular area I can tell you there are an amazing amount of plants and animals you can see in this small area. Bring some binoculars if you can. You won’t be disappointed!
If you love photography, the scenery within Redwood National Park is unique and beautiful to capture. With landscapes of mist, mountains, and coastlines you’ll amaze family and friends when you share these snapshots. So don’t leave the camera in the car when going for a hike!
How Redwood National Park is Organized
Although Redwood National Park is one park it is often used to refer to ‘The Redwood National and State Parks’.
The Redwood National and State Parks comprises one national and three state parks, located along the coast of northern California:
- Redwood National Park
- Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
- Jedediah-Smith Redwoods State Park
- Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
The combined Redwood National and State Parks contain 139,000 acres (560 km2).
Whether you have to pay a fee or not depends on where you go. A good updated map of Redwood National and State Parks will help you assess the different zones.
The National Park zones are free of charge to visit, but California State Parks collect a day-use fee for visitors. At present, it costs US$8 for a day pass to visit the above mentioned California State Parks.
To check for any changes in fees and for more information visit the California Parks & Recreation’s Fees page.
Fee Free Days:
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 21
- National Park Week’s opening weekend in April
- National Park Service’s birthday, August 25
- National Public Lands Day, 4th Saturday in September
- Veterans Day Weekend in November
Best Time to Visit Redwood National Park
Summer is the best time to visit Redwood National Park.
The weather will be at its sunniest but is often still quite mild in temperature. This is also the busiest time of year to visit with kids on school holidays and many people out for vacation (June – Aug).
If you want to avoid the crowds and still have fairly good weather Spring and Autumn are also great times for visiting Redwood National Park (May, Sept, Oct).
As someone who lived here for over 5 years, I’d recommend wearing clothes you would normally wear in Autumn, no matter what month it is. And have a light rain jacket on hand.
Also, layers are your friend. You might be able to enjoy a t-shirt in the middle of the day, but mornings and late afternoon you’ll often need a flannel or a jumper.
Things To Do in Redwood National Park
If you are into hiking and going on nature walks then this is definitely the place for you! There are tons of options for hikes ranging from easy to multi-day hiking trails.
Getting an updated map from the National Park website or from the tourist center when you arrive is a great resource for finding a hike that will suit you best. Cell phone signal is not reliable in many of these areas, so I recommend using a paper map.
I’ll share more information about hiking in Redwood National Park later in this article.
Along Highway 101 there are some super fun tourist stops to see including local tree carvings, a drive through a redwood tree, and more.
Don’t be afraid to stop at many of these sites and have a look while you stretch your legs.
Want to go camping in Redwood National Park? That is a great idea for getting the full experience of being among the redwoods.
With many great campgrounds scattered throughout the park to choose from you can choose whether you want to be close to the ocean, a stream, or in the mountains. Many of these campgrounds will give you the best opportunity to spot some of the local wildlife such as the Roosevelt Elk.
More of a glamping type person? Not to worry, there are plenty of lovely cabins within the Redwood National Park area. The folks that run these cabins are great resources for getting local advice on places to see within close proximity to your rental. They also might know of eagles nests nearby you could have a look at through your binoculars or the best swimming spot within walking distance.
Later in the article I’ll share some more detailed information about camping in Redwood National Park and other lodging options.
But first I want to highlight two fun things to do in Redwood National Park area, besides hiking and camping:
1. Trees of Mystery
This is a must see for anyone, especially those with kids, when traveling to Redwood National Park.
I have gone myself with friends in previous years, and this past year I took my Australian husband and our baby. My husband said it was his favorite part of our visit to the USA.
You’ll pull into a parking lot right off the main highway 101 and see a giant Paul Bunyan and his giant blue ox (famous folklore characters), but it is what is behind that will amaze you.
There is a guided hiking trail that guides you along to some of the most unique, and unbelievable redwood trees you will ever see.
Halfway through the guided hike, there is an included gondola ride to a lookout platform at the top of the hill where you are able to see the ocean on one side, and beautiful mountain views on the other.
Once you’ve taken in those hilltop views and enjoyed the view filled gondola ride back down the hill, you’ll continue the guided hike, past life-size wooden carvings explaining the folk story of Paul Bunyan and his Blue Ox. This part is especially great for the kids, as they’ll have a laugh at some of the silly humor.
You end up back at the main building with options of some fun souvenirs (a favorite souvenir hotspot of mine) and a free native American museum with artifacts of some of the local tribes in this area. A truly unique museum worth taking some time to look through.
2. Drive-Through Redwood Tree
The Klamath Tour Thru Tree in Klamath is a fun photo opportunity for your trip to Redwood National Park.
You can actually drive through the redwood tree! Carefully carved in 1976 this now tourist attraction is a great place to take a very unique family photo, including the car!
Hiking in Redwood National Park
One of the main reasons people visit this area is to go hiking in Redwood National Park.
You can find truly stunning hikes in the redwoods. I’ll share with you three of the favorite hiking trails in Redwood National Park and the State Parks. They’ll give you something to look at you won’t easily find anywhere else in the world.
If you would like more details about these specific hikes, or others this site is a great resource for redwood hikes.
Again, don’t forget to bring a light jumper or a coat for your adventure, as these magnificent trees block out most of the sunlight to the trails below and it can get quite chilly.
Also, look closely on your map to see whether the hike you choose falls within a California State Park. This will determine whether or not you’ll have to pay a day-use fee.
Quick note: there are not many food locations near Redwood National Park. So it’s a good idea to get picnic food from Arcata/Eureka or Crescent City before heading towards Redwood National Park.
Also Read: What to Bring on a Hike
3 Great Hiking Trails in Redwood National Park & State Parks:
1. Fern Canyon (Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park)
Distance: 0.7 mi loop (1.1 km)
Scenes from the movies Jurassic Park II and Star Wars were filmed at this beautiful location!
After a short hike from the coastal parking lot the trail will lead you to the hanging gardens of ferns from the walls that come up around you which makes Fern Canyon.
These walls are covered by a grand variety of fern species. If you look close you can find small hidden waterfalls underneath their delicate green fronds as you hike further up the canyon. It feels like you’ve been transported into a fairytale land the further you get within the canyon.
A trickle of a stream runs through this small canyon that you follow along. It is wise to wear foot attire you don’t mind getting wet and has good traction.
Quick note: the road to this location is a bit rough and not great for small cars. It is also very influenced by recent weather and rain. With significant rain, this area can quickly become inaccessible. Check with the local visitor center before trying to drive to this location.
2. Stout Grove Loop (Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park)
Distance: 0.5 mile loop (0.8 km)
This hike takes you through a dense and old collection of redwood trees. The giants have shaded out any other trees, so you’ll be able to really experience the towering glory of a redwood forest.
You’ll think all other trees are small after this hike!
Stout Grove is a lovely loop that truly takes you through the land of the giants, and it is an easily manageable hike for a morning or afternoon.
3. Tall Trees Grove (Redwood National Park)
Distance: 4.0 mi (6.5 km)
Looking for a bit more of a moderate hike? Tall Trees Grove won’t disappoint.
Here you’ll find what used to be the tallest living redwood in the world for some years (taller redwoods have since been recorded).
Being further inland, if it is a truly cold/foggy day along the coast you might find sun and a bit warmer weather here at Tall Trees Grove. There is also a lovely little creek along the trail that is a great place to stop and have a picnic.
You NEED a permit and a CODE for this trail, so visit a visitor center BEFORE driving to Tall Trees Grove.
There is a gate at the beginning of the road to get to the trail where you need the code to unlock the gate. This makes it an extra special place to get to, so don’t let the permit scare you away!
Redwood National Park Camping
Camping in Redwood National Park is a great way to truly take your time and enjoy the beauty of the redwoods.
Four campgrounds are nestled within the forest for you to pick from, though they require a permit/fee in order to be enjoyed. These fees help with the upkeep of these magnificent places.
The four developed campgrounds in Redwood National and State Parks are all managed by the California State Parks and you can find more information about them here.
If you want to ensure you have a spot saved for your planned trip go to their official website to reserve a campground. Currently the cost is US$35.
Be prepared to rough it at most of these locations. Bring your own tent, sleeping bags, cooking gear, water, food, and make sure to have a plan for taking your rubbish out with you.
Also, make sure you are informed on how to keep your camp food bear-proof. Yes, that’s a big deal in these areas. Curious black bears have no preference on whether they need to break a car window or scavenge through your belongings to find a yummy treat. Check out these official bear tips from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife to be best prepared for your trip.
Warning though, DO NOT FEED WILDLIFE. It only puts their life at risk by getting too used to humans. Please only take photos from a safe distance.
Quick note: there are not many food locations near Redwood National Park, so it is a good idea to stock up on food/water from Arcata/Eureka or Crescent City before heading towards Redwood National Park.
My 3 Recommendations for Camping in Redwood National Park:
1. Elk Prairie Campground
An easy to access campsite gem that will often reward you with views of the local elk herd and sounds of the evening owls. And it is within walking distance of Prairie Creek’s visitor center.
This campground has toilets and showers available for guests, it can accommodate tents and RV’s, and has a few cabins available to reserve through the state website.
2. Gold Bluffs Beach Campground
Want to camp and have a hike of Fern Canyon and the nearby trails?
Gold Bluffs Beach campground is a beautiful location right on the beach near the trailhead of Fern Canyon. It is a great spot for if you want to have both the beach and the forest within walking distance.
Be aware, the road to this location is rough and not great for small cars. It is also very affected by weather and rain. There are small water crossings, but with significant rain, this area can quickly become inaccessible.
Check with the local visitor center before trying to drive to this location.
3. Jedediah Smith Campground
Looking for a campground completely surrounded by redwoods, then this is your spot!
With toilets and showers available and over 100 campsites you should easily be able to have a comfortable stay during your visit.
The Smith River flows alongside the campground, so if it’s warm enough you can enjoy a refreshing swim midday.
Great hikes are not too far away such as the Stout Grove hike and a Visitor Center is also located at this location.
Cabins Near Redwood National Park
Some very cozy cabins can be found along Highway 101 near Redwood National Park.
Click here for an overview of cabins and other lodging options around Redwood National Park.
3 Redwood National Park Lodging Options I Want to Highlight:
1. Elk Meadow Cabins
Well known for being clean, cozy, and a great spot for elk sightings.
Eat breakfast on your front porch and take in the beautiful scenery around you. Easy to find and it puts you close to all the major sightseeing activities.
2. Elk Country R.V. Resort & Campgrounds
You can’t miss the bright red schoolhouse along the side of Highway 101.
If you want the highest chance of spotting the local elk herd in this area then make sure to stop and have a look around here, or book in and stay for the night!
As a local when driving by here I would often see the herd in front of this red schoolhouse.
It is an iconic spot for viewing wildlife, and it puts you close to many of the hiking trails in Redwood National Park. It’s quite close to Prairie Creek State Park.
3. State Park Campgrounds
Two of the aforementioned state park campgrounds have a few cabins available to rent through their website:
- Elk Prairie Campground
- Jedediah Smith Campground
So if you’d like to keep the real outdoorsy feel, but maybe don’t have access to all the gear to rough it, these campgrounds would be a great compromise.
What Are You Waiting For? Start Planning Your Trip to Redwood National Park!
It really is a one of a kind place in the world that should definitely be on everyone’s bucket list.
I feel so lucky to have lived among these giants for a few years. It certainly is an experience I’ll never forget.
I hope this guide helped you understand how this area works and gave you some good ideas for things to do in Redwood National Park.
And I hope you enjoy exploring this supersized world that is one of nature’s oldest and tallest wonders!
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