Redwood National Park – what to do and see

Redwoods are shown in Redwood National Park

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Redwood National Park has so much for the nature lover that it’s hard to summarize it up in a blog post. From exploring the Northern California coast to hiking among the tallest trees in the world, there is so much to see at this beautiful park. I spent four days hiking and camping there but could have spent four weeks.

To plan my trip, I used the “Hike the Parks, Redwood National & State Parks” guide book published by Mountaineers Books and a National Geographic topographical map. I always carry a map on my hikes, but I also love using these maps to plan out my trip. Being a visual person, it really helps me, well, map it out. I also used the park’s website to help guide.

A national park and state parks combined

Both the National Park Service and the California State Parks cooperatively manage their contiguous redwood parklands. Both park services have a nice history of working together, and in 1994 the two decided to work together to preserve, protect, and allow visitors to explore these precious lands.

There are three California State Parks as a part of the Redwood National and State Parks conglomerate – Jedediah Smith Redwoods, Del Norte Coast Redwoods, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks.

Elk are shown at Redwood National Park

The ocean is a big part

Don’t be fooled by the name Redwood National Park. There’s a lot more to the park other than the tallest trees in the world. Before I began researching my trip to Redwood National Park, I didn’t even know it was on the coast, let alone that the coast is a big part of it.

Most of Redwood National Park is accessed from Highway 101, which also follows along the Pacific Coast. There are numerous overlooks giving you glimpses of the ocean as well as several hiking trails showcasing this beautiful ecosystem.

While visiting Redwood National Park, be sure to check the tide report. At low tide, you can walk out among the tide pools and explore a different world. It’s also nice just to sit on the beach and watch the waves crash in. The Wilson Creek picnic area is a great place to explore tide pools.

At the Klamath River Overlook (north of the river) and the Coastal Drive (on the south side of the river), you can see where mountain streams and the ocean collide to make a whole other type of ecosystem. I really liked this part because it’s so different from the bayou estuaries of the Gulf Coast that I am used to.

The sun set at Redwood National Park

Hiking at Redwood National Park

Redwood National and State Parks encompasses an extremely large area. So of course there is a ton of great hiking trails to do. I spent four days at the park and still didn’t get to all the trails I wanted to hike. However, there are a few great trails that give you the best sampling of the coastal redwoods and coastal mountains.

Best for redwood groves

Tall Trees

The Tall Trees Trail is a 3.4-mile lollipop loop. This trail takes you deep into the heart of the redwood forest. The trail takes you down into the valley of Redwood Creek and into the Tall Trees Grove. A free permit is required, but I had no problems obtaining one. It also requires driving down a dirt road to find the trailhead.

It’s a beautiful trail that lets you see the hillside of the Coast Range and walk under the tallest trees in the world. You also get to explore and see Redwood Creek.

Ferns are shown at Redwood National Park

Stout Grove

I have to say, Stout Grove is my favorite of the redwood hikes. The entire area is almost all redwood trees. There are not many other types of trees mixed in. So as you hike you are enveloped within the massive trunks of redwoods and prehistoric-looking ferns.

The Stout Grove trail can be accessed from two trailheads. I chose to make it a lollipop loop and begin at the River Trailhead, across from the Little Bald Hill Trails. This made my hike 1.5 miles.

the sun streams through the trees

Cathedral Trees/Prairie Creek

The Cathedral Trees and Prairie Creek Loop is also a magnificent place to experience the redwoods. This loop follows near the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway and can be accessed from several points along the road. I chose to begin at the Prairie Creek Visitor Center. It goes by the Big Tree, where you can step back and admire one of these towering giants.

This loop is 3 miles and combines the Prairie Creek Trail, the Foothill Trail Access No. 1, Circle Trail, and Cathedral Trees Trail.

Redwoods are shown

Best for beach vibes

Hidden Beach

My favorite hike in Redwood National Park is the Yurok Loop to Hidden Beach. This 2-mile trail takes you through a lagoon landscape and then to some of the best views of the Pacific Ocean. Hidden Beach is my favorite beach in the park because it is tucked into a cove. I also loved having to hike to it, because I had to earn the view. It also makes it more of a secret, living up to its name.

The trail to hidden beach is shown

Mouth Klamath River Overlook

Even though the Mouth of Klamath River Overlook is only a short 1-mile out-and-back, its steepness makes it strenuous. It climbs down 425 feet in only a half of a mile and, of course, then back up in a half of a mile. But the view is well worth the huffing and puffing you will be doing.

My guidebook said it has the best views on the Pacific Coast. And a Redwood National Park interpreter agreed. She said she has worked all up and down the California coast and it was her favorite.

The view of the mouth of Klamath River is shown in Redwood National Park

Fern Canyon

While hiking Fern Canyon, you are technically surrounded by trees, but I’m including it as a hike for beach vibes because it is right on the edge of the beach. Also, because while hiking Fern Canyon, there’s a good chance your feet are going to get wet. This 1.1-mile lollipop loop takes you to a narrow canyon with fern-carpeted walls. The thick greenery around you makes you feel like you’re walking into something from a fairytale.

Fern Canyon is shown

Scenic Drives

Because Redwood National Park covers so much territory, a scenic drive is a great way to explore it. Of course, driving Highway 101 provides a plethora of scenery. There are lots of pullouts to take in the views.

The view from Highway 101 is shown
Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway

Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway branches off of Highway 101 between the towns of Klamath and Orick. This is a paved drive that takes you through the heart of the old-growth redwood forest in Prairie Creek Redwood State Park. There are several pullouts and trailheads.

The Cal-Barrel Road

The Cal-Barrel Road leaves from the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway just north of the Prairie Creek Visitor Center. This is a dirt road and trailers are prohibited. There are only a few places to pull over and enjoy the forest from outside your vehicle, but it’s still worth a drive. The drive gives you a feel for how dense and dark the forest is.

The Cal-Barrel Road is shown
Bald Hills Road

One mile north of Orick, California, you will find the Bald Hills Road on the east side of Highway 101. The Bald Hills Road is a mostly paved road with two-way traffic. However, Motorhomes, RVs, and trailers are not advised. It’s 17 miles one way. On this road, you will find the Lady Bird Johnson Grove and the Tall Trees access road.

Coastal Drive Loop

The Coastal Drive Loop provided my favorite views of the Pacific Ocean within Redwood National Park. This is a mostly paved road, but motorhomes, RVs, and trailers are prohibited. One mile south of Klamath, the Coastal Drive Loop begins on Klamath Beach Road. You then turn left onto Alder Camp Road. After two miles you come to a junction, where you go right and continue for one and a half miles on a one-way unpaved road. The drive then meets back up with Klamath Beach Road again giving you amazing views of the mouth of the Klamath River, where you go right back to the highway.

The mouth of the Klamath River is shown in Redwood National Park
The Mouth of the Klamath River is shown

High Bluff Overlook along the Coastal Drive Loop was probably my favorite overlook in the park. You can walk to the left or right. If you go to the right, it’s a little bit more of a walk, but it’s so worth it.

Howland Hill Road

Howland Hill Road goes from the town of Crescent City to Jedediah Smith State Park. It is a mostly unpaved road with two-way traffic. Motorhomes, RVs, and trailers are not advised. It has numerous pull-outs and trailheads along its path. From this road, you can access the Stout Grove of redwoods, which was my favorite in the park. To find the drive from Crescent City, turn on Elk Valley Road. Continue one mile to find Howland Hill Road.

The sunlight streams through the trees at Redwood National Park

Where to camp at Redwood National Park

All of the campgrounds within the Redwood National and State Parks are a part of one of the three state parks. I chose to stay at Mill Creek Campground in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. I chose it because it was the most centrally located of all the campgrounds. However, Mill Creek closes in the off-season, from early October to mid-May.

A campground at Redwood National Park is shown
My campsite at Mill Creek Campground

Gold Bluffs Beach Campground is the only campground that does not allow trailers but does allow RVs up to 24 feet. This campground is on the beach and is located within the Prairie Creek Redwood State Park. Elk Prairie Campground is also within the Prairie Creek Redwood State Park.

Jedediah Smith Campground is located within the Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park. Both Jedediah Smith and Elk Prairie campgrounds also have cabins.

And of course, there are many other amenities for lodging in Crescent City and all along Highway 101.

Redwood National Park

I ended up with an extra day at Redwood National Park, and I was so glad I had it. I spent four days at the park, but I could have spent four weeks. There is so much to do and see within Redwood National Park. The redwoods are definitely different from the sequoia trees, and I loved comparing the two.

I was also extremely impressed with North California’s coast. I didn’t expect to spend as much time on the beach as I did. But is truly amazing.

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From exploring the Northern California coast to hiking among the tallest trees in the world, there is so much to see Redwood National Park.

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