Welcome To The Forest
Redwood National Park draws nature enthusiasts from all over the world to enjoy this supreme primeval forest paradise, home to the tallest trees on Earth. The park features other natural attractions too. America’s largest elk species graze in roadside prairies. Hollywood directors go to Fern Canyon to recreate dinosaur habitat. And hikers enjoy hundreds of miles of trails and beaches wilder than any in California. The park, which, due to its unique mixture of climate and geography, protects a forest ecosystem unchanged from the Jurassic Age, is recognized as both a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve. May the forest be with you.
Redwood National Park is located on the north coast of California, about 300 miles north San Francisco and 50 miles south of the Oregon border. The closest city to the park is Orick, a small town within the park boundaries.
The nearest airport, which has daily flights to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Denver, is about 25 miles south in McKinleyville.
Driving? From the south, take Highway 101 North. From the north, take Highway 199 and Highway 101 South. From the east on Interstate 5, take State Road 299 or State Road 36, then north on Highway 101.
Once in the park, you can appreciate the best of the redwoods in just a few minutes or over an entire week. The biggest and best trees are in Redwood National Park and neighboring Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
Redwood National Park was created in October 1968 and expanded in March 1978. It is managed jointly with Prairie Creek, Jedediah Smith and Del Norte Redwoods State Parks as Redwood National & State Parks. Together the park system protects more than 110,000 acres of forest, about 40,000 of them covered in old growth redwoods.
Redwoods grow from Big Sur to the Oregon border, but the tallest, oldest and largest stands are in Northern Humboldt County. In fact, of all the remaining virgin redwoods, half reside in Redwood National & State Parks, including almost all of the twenty tallest specimens.
Hikes and Walks
Easy. For a quick redwood experience, start at the Prairie Creek Visitor Center, at the south end of the Newton B. Drury Parkway, an 11-mile scenic road that meanders through the parks. From there, the Revelation Trail offers an immediate immersion into old growth giants on a flat loop. With side spurs an easy walk can last 10 or 30 minutes.
Moderate. If you have an hour or so, take the Prairie Creek, Foothills or Cathedral Trees trails, which feature colossal redwoods such as Big Tree, the National Geographic Tree and the Corkscrew Tree. With more time, consider the Lady Bird Johnson Grove east of Orick off Highway 101.
Challenging. For perhaps the single best redwood experience, set aside half a day or more for the Tall Trees Grove. It requires a free day-pass from the Thomas Kuchel Information Center just south of Orick, on the beach. Drive up Bald Hills Drive, turn down the Tall Trees dirt access road, and descend a steep 1.5 mile trail to see some of the tallest known redwoods, such as the Libby Tree, Melkor and Nugget, which inspired the creation of Redwood National Park in 1968. Nearby, off trail in a hidden spot to protect it from foot traffic, stands Hyperion, the world’s tallest tree at 380 feet.
Seasons and Weather
The best time to visit, according to some, is the autumn. The summer visitors are gone and the California coast enjoys its sunniest, warmest days.
Still, each season has advantages. Spring showcases wildflowers, migratory birds and bustling waterfalls and creeks. Summer features ranger walks, children’s activities and adorable Roosevelt elk calves. (Don’t watch too closely.)
Fall brings colorful deciduous leaf displays, especially the vine maples, and rutting Roosevelt elk. And, to the delight of outdoors photographers, winter rejuvenates the redwood forest with fog and rain. No matter the season, bring layers of clothing to prepare for moist and cool to warm temps anytime.
Evergreens dominate the Pacific Northwest. Sitka spruce and Douglas fir thrive from Alaska to Oregon, but the majestic coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) reign supreme in northern California.
One mysterious trait of many the old redwoods are burls, masses of stem tissue, spurred perhaps by disease or injury. These “basal burls,” which may sprout from the trunk base or high up the stem and branches, grow and morph into odd, often fantastical shapes.
On the forest floor, redwood sorrel often drapes the ground in a lush green carpet, dotted with islands of many kinds of rare ferns, including the elegant five-fingered species.
Many wild species thrive in Redwood National and State Parks, including Roosevelt elk, black bears, bald eagles, flying squirrels and giant banana slugs. Salmon and steelhead trout, as many anglers know, make seasonal runs up the wild and protected Redwood Creek and Klamath and Smith rivers. Fishing is allowed in the park, with proper permits, in the rivers and in the ocean. Details here.
The 40 miles of wild coastline in the park includes hidden coves, sea stacks, panoramic overlooks, tide pools and beaches covered in sand, gold flakes, agates and driftwood. Along the beach, hermit crabs, octopus, abalone, sea stars and monkey face eels hide in tide pools and caves.
Offshore, gray whales, porpoises, sea lions, pelicans, ospreys, and gulls frolic and forage. Beachcombers should be mindful of tides, unexpected waves and current ocean conditions.
Maps and Information
There are five visitors centers in Redwood National & State Parks, foremost among them the Thomas Kuchel Information Center, on Hwy 101 two miles south of Orick, right on the beach; and the Prairie Creek Visitor Center on the Newton Drury Parkway, six miles north of Orick, in the thick of prime old growth redwoods.
All distribute free guides and maps to walk-in visitors. To view or print them at home, including foreign language versions, go here.
Although known for its trees, Redwood National and State Parks’ 70 miles of the California Coastal Trail offer serious explorers an entirely different experience, with tide pools, hidden coves and sweeping coast panoramas. More.
To sleep under the big trees in a primitive spot, the best option is the Redwood Creek Trail. Camping is allowed, in certain seasons, along the banks of the creek, which nourishes some of the tallest known trees. Permits are necessary for all back country camping and are available at park visitor centers.
Bicyclists are welcomed on 55 miles of trails in Redwood National and State Parks. Popular trails include the Cal-Barrel Road, Lost Man Creek Trail and Elk Meadow Day Use Area, which has a series of connecting bike paths. For road cycling, the parks often close the Newton Drury Scenic Parkway, an 11-mile redwood stretch of old Highway 101, closed to motorized traffic on the first Saturday of the month. For the park’s bike map and brochure, go here.
There are no developed campgrounds in Redwood National Park, but Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park has two, one in the big trees and one near the ocean, Elk Meadow and Gold Bluffs Beach, which can be reserved here. Private accommodations nearby include cabins and campgrounds, boutique hotels and oceanfront home rentals. More here.
All visitor centers provide easy access wheelchair users. And the Revelation Trail, next to the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park visitor center, which features some of the finest tree giants, is designed specifically for guests with disabilities, including the blind.
There is no admission charge to Redwood National and State Parks. It’s always free. That’s something to smile about. There is a small day-use fee, however, to visit Golf Bluffs Beach and Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
Food and Supplies
The town of Orick, near the center of Redwood National Park, has several small cafes, a small market, lodging, gas and other conveniences.
Farther south, between 20 and 30 miles, Trinidad, McKinleyville and Arcata offer more city amenities like supermarkets, coffee shops, hotel chains and many restaurants and cafes. More on dining options here.
Redwood National and State Parks have more than 150 miles of trails for hikers and backpackers, including the Pacific Coast Trail, 55 miles for mountain bikes, and 40 miles for horses and other animals. Did you know you can also bring your pack llamas, burros and goats to the parks? You can!
Dogs are not allowed on any park trails or at ranger-led programs, but there are a few places that leashed dogs are permitted. And there are much more pet friendly venues nearby to the south. One park exception: If you want to take your leashed pet in old growth redwoods, you can on Cal-Barrel Road, a three-mile, well-graded gravel and dirt drive off the Newton Drury Parkway.
Guidelines for pets in the parks. Bag the poop. Always use a leash, no longer than 6 feet. Pets are okay in developed campgrounds like Elk Prairie and Gold Bluffs, on beaches like Freshwater and Gold Bluff and at picnic areas and roads. Trained service dogs are allowed in all park facilities and trails unless otherwise noted. Nearby pet friendly locations south of the parks include Moonstone Beach, Clam Beach and the Arcata Community Forest. More on pet friendly hikes and lodging here.
Fun and free children’s activities abound in the Redwood Coast Parks. Here are the three most popular. First, any time of year, the Junior Ranger Program in Redwood National & State Parks lets kids earn official badges.
Stop at the Thomas Kuchel or Prairie Creek Visitor Center and request a free Redwood Junior Ranger Activity Book. It’s available in several languages. Or download and print a copy at home. Children can do the projects while exploring the parks. When completed, return the booklet to one of the visitor centers and pick up a badge.
Second, from June to September, children between 7 and 12 years old are invited to join rangers on specially guided programs, including outdoor games, handicrafts, nature hikes and wildlife watching. After the activity, which usually last about an hour, they get a badge. Check at one of the visitor centers for the current schedule.
Third, for more adventure, numerous Redwood EdVenture Quests, science scavenger hunts throughout Humboldt County, offer kids a chance to earn cool patches. Two in Redwood National and State Parks include one in Prairie Creek Foothill Trail and one on the Trillium Falls Trail. Check at one of the visitors centers or check out Slick the Banana Slug for more details.