Explore Redwood National Park [A Must-See Guide with Breathtaking Photos!]

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Redwood National Park is one of our favorite places to visit in the US. We've been to this park twice and plan to return for more.

Visiting this park requires some preparation. With the park spread across several locations, you need to know where you're heading and plan your itinerary ahead of time.

In this post, I'll share my must-see list for this park and practical information on how to get there, what to bring, and where to stay. You'll also get to see photos from our trips to the Redwoods!

This will be a long post, so if you're "window shopping" for fun trips, I hope you'll bookmark it (or pin it!) and come back when you're ready to plan your trip.

Our Redwood National Park Visiting Guide (With Pictures!)

Where is Redwood National Park?

Most may know this national treasure by the name Redwood National Park, in the singular form. However, it's made up of multiple state and national parks spanning a total of 139,000 acres.

The entire complex of Redwood National Park is located in the northern part of California along the Pacific coastline, starting from the north at about 30 minutes south of the California and Oregon border.

Things to do in Redwood National Park

This is a trip that's all about nature. The two themes are -

  • Giant Redwood Sequoia trees
  • The coast

There are other types of forests and plant life to explore, too. For example, you shouldn't miss visiting Fern Canyon (more on that later as we'll list the park highlights).


There are over 200 miles of trails within the National and State Parks. You can expect to encounter everything from beaches and prairies to old-growth redwood forests. Elevations range from sea level to 3,000 feet. The difficulty will vary from easy to strenuous along gravel trails, taking you to canyons and giant trees.

Remember, whenever hiking in national parks, it's best to talk to the rangers before you get on the trail. Phone a day in advance if you don't want to visit the visitors center.

The Rangers will let you know the current trail conditions and warn you if there are flooded sections, mud on the trail, or any other issues.

Check the park website for trail brochures. Most trails will take you to specific tree groves or lookout points. Some focus on specific big trees. This is how we got to the Scout Boy Tree:


A great way to experience this truly unique area is to spend the night in one of the campgrounds within the National and State Parks.

There are several options for camping in both developed and backcountry campsites. I cover these in more detail later.

Redwood National Park Highlights

This park covers a large area and has a variety of habitats to explore, so creating a short bucket list is challenging. I'm going to give it a try, though.

1. Lady Bird Johnson Grove

There are so many Redwood Groves around the park's various areas. Try this one if your time is limited and you can only stop to see one. Located near the Prairie Creek Visitor's Center, this one-mile loop of old-growth Redwoods is perfect.

Just near enough to the coast to be relatively wet and misty, we thought it was absolutely magical with all the huge ferns and other plants between the tall trees. I'm sure we'll be back again someday.

The Lady Bird Johnson Grove trail is also easy to access. Turn from the 101 near Orrick, and a five-minute drive through the Redwood forest gets you to the trailhead.

2. Fern Canyon

Located two miles north of Orick along Hwy 101, the winding Home Creek has formed a 50 to 80-foot deep canyon within Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

Visitors can explore this area along an easy one-mile trail through the dense forest. The near-vertical walls are covered in a variety of Ferns and moss. There may be running water down the canyon walls in wetter months.

Several trails can take you down into the canyon or along the rim to take in the views. The park service installs footbridges over the creek in summer to help keep the trail accessible.

Getting there is more of a challenge, though. 4X4 owners will enjoy the dirt road and small stream fording on the way to the trailhead.

When road conditions are good, you can do this in a regular sedan or a minivan (which is what we did). The streams were a bit scary, but we saw other cars crossing them, so we went for it and were okay.

If you're driving a rental, be aware that your insurance may not cover off-roading like this, so you may prefer to avoid Fern Canyon.

Here's another tip: The pay station to enter the park is in the middle of the entry road. We traveled for 20 minutes off-road before we got there. We drove in two cars and would have only taken one if we knew we had to pay by car.

But at that point, that would have meant going back for 20 minutes on a dirt road, parking one of the cars there, and returning to the park. So we just drove on and paid for both.

Fern Canyon, Redwood National Park

The first section of the trail was easy to hike, but then we got to a point in the canyon where huge fallen trees sort of blocked the trail. You had to traverse these by going under and over huge branches to keep on. Some of us did it - but older members of our parties chose not to.

And if it looks familiar, that's because this was the filming location for the Star Wars forest chase scenes!

3. Howland Hill Road and Stout Grove

Located just outside Crescent City along Hwy 199, Stout Grove offers some of the most beautiful Redwoods.

While not the biggest of trees to see in the Redwood National Parks area, this unique area has developed in such a way that it has become a photographer's wonderland.

The largest tree in the grove even has its own name and viewing platform. The Stout Tree is the centerpiece of the short hiking trail. If you are looking for the perfect picture, visit this area late afternoon to catch the best light.

We loved the drive. Again, this is an unpaved road, which may be relevant for rental car insurance terms. It's not a problem to drive it, though (unlike Fern Canyon).

4. Enderts Beach & Crescent Beach Overlook

Just south of Crescent City, Enderts Beach provides everything you can ask for in a northern California beach.

This beach is known for its tie pools and driftwood. There is also a small canyon where Nickel Creek meets the Pacific Ocean. The best time to visit Enderts Beach is at low tide.

Crescent Beach Overlook is located at the end of Enderts Beach Road, where you can access the California Coastal Trail. The trail is open to both bikers and hikers.

We hiked down to the beach early in the morning. The trail was glorious, with the sun coming through the tree leaves. We got to see so many banana slugs on the way! The beach was beautiful, too, and we had a lovely time there.

5. Klamath River Overlook

The aptly named Klamath River Overlook Picnic Area offers sweeping coastline views just two miles north of Klamath. A picnic area and several trails offer different views, and plenty of outdoor dining options exist. The area features rocky cliffs and access to additional beaches depending on how far you want to hike.

6. Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway

If you want to get off the beaten path, tour Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park using the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. While it’s only 10 miles long, this alternative to US-101 offers access to areas of the park seldom visited.

Hiking in trails along the road
Hiking one of the trails along the road

We drove the entire route and hiked along it. Highly recommended. Be on the lookout for several trails along this route. There is something here for hikers of all skill levels.

7. Trillium Falls Trail

A moderately difficult hike located in Redwood National and State Park, the Trillium Falls Trail offers great views of redwood forests along with a small waterfall. A steel bridge helps you get close to the rock-filled falls.

Trillium Falls and Sword Ferns. Redwood National and State Parks, California

Plenty of wildflowers await for those willing to hike the full 3 miles to the viewing platform on the Prairie Creek Bridge.

Bonus Bucket List Item: Avenue of the Giants

The Avenue of the Giants is a road section alongside the 101 between the towns of Garberville and Fortuna in California, marked as SR 254 on the map. While technically not part of the Redwood National Park, I think this is a must-do on your visit.

The Avenue of the Giants goes through the Humboldt Redwood State Park. At the very least, drive this section of the road. It may not be a designated scenic byway but it's definitely one of the most scenic roads we drove across in the United States.

If you have time, stop at a few groves to get closer to the big trees. This area is a bit drier than the coastal Redwood areas in the National Park, so the forest has less vegetation between the trees, making them stand out. At the very least, take 20 minutes to hike the Founder's Grove.

Drive-thru trees

I was wondering whether to put this as an additional item in the park's highlights, but these trees aren't really in the park, so this is more of a bonus item. And only if you feel like driving through a tree completes your Redwood experience.

Shrine drive-thru tree

This drive-thru tree is a must-see located four miles south of the Humboldt Redwoods State Park in Myers Flat. Along the “Avenue of the Giants,” this attraction includes a 2-story tress house.

Chandelier Tree

50 miles farther south along US-101, this drive-thru tree is located in Leggett. There is also a pond and picnic area within this 200-acre park.

Klamath Tree

Located an hour's drive north of Eureka, this option is just off US-101. A stop here wouldn’t be complete without using the restroom made of redwood.

Houses in Trees

We saw a few along the 101. I don't remember where they were exactly (if anyone reading this knows - please leave me a comment!), but we just pulled off at stops to view them.

How to get to Redwood National Park

You'll have to drive to get to these parks and then drive between them as you visit various areas. This is one national park that doesn't lend itself easily to public transportation.

Driving from San Francisco to Redwood National Park

You can expect a long scenic drive to Redwood National Park along US-101 from San Francisco. The trip can take up to six hours along the coastal highway. Some refer to this 318-mile stretch of highway as a “dream drive” full of its rugged coastline and proximity to the Redwood forests. It's a good road to drive but has some curvy sections.

If you have some extra time, you could drive the section of Highway One between San Francisco and Fort Bragg. We did that on one of our visits. The road is as scenic as the Los Angeles and San Francisco sections.

It's worth the drive, but you have to give yourself at least an extra day as it's slower, and you should take the time to pull over, appreciate the scenery, and explore the towns along the route.

If you only take the 101, driving from San Francisco to the Avenue of the Giants (generally the southern part of the Redwoods) would take approximately 4 hours. To get from San Francisco to Crescent City, where the northern part of the park is, allocate at least 7 hours.

Driving from Portland to Redwood NP

Equally as long as the trip from San Francisco, the journey from Portland to the Redwood National Park area can take about six hours. You'll be driving along the i-5 for most of the way, so it's an easier drive all in all (even if less scenic).

The main problem is that there's so much to see and do along the way! You can easily turn this into a 2-week long road trip, or even three. You can take the volcanic mountain routes in the east on your way in, exploring the Columbia Gorge first, then Bend and Crater Lake. On your way back, you can take the time to visit the gorgeous Oregon Coast area. Or the other way around - it's beautiful in any direction! (I just linked to guides on this site, so check them out if you'll take the longer version of the drive!)

If you have time, consider stopping at Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Located on UA-101 in Reedsport, this area offers a fairly unique landscape of wind-sculpted sand dunes. Plenty of outdoor activities are here to help break up the long road trip.

Getting from Sacramento to Redwood NP

Another 5-and-a-half-hour drive option, the 292 miles between Sacramento and the southern areas of Redwood National Park, offers a tour of northern California’s mountainous terrain. Heading North along I-5 to Redding, you will begin to see the redwood trees this area is known for.

Flying to visit Redwood National Park

If you want to shave some time off the trip to the park areas, there are flights from San Francisco to Arcata, which only take about an hour and a half. There is also another regional airport in nearby Crescent City.

Those flying in from farther away must first stop at a major international airport. Be sure to check for flights connecting in either LA, San Francisco, or Portland for the best deals on airfare.

When's the best time to visit Redwood National Park?

One of the great things about the coastal areas of the West is that you can visit them year-round. It rarely gets below freezing, even during winter time, and it's usually cool - and even cold! - throughout the summer.

The main issue here is rain. It can rain at any time of the year, but is much more likely to rain during winter. The best times to visit would be June through October.

What to bring?

Pack warm clothing, even if you're visiting in July or August. While warmer than winter time, temperatures can easily drop to the 50's and even lower during the night. Out there exploring the beaches, you'd want a good jacket in case it's windy.

A lightweight waterproof jacket with a hood (Amazon link) is easy to carry and can be extremely useful in this area.

Definitely bring good hiking footgear as well. Since it can rain any time of the year, trails could be at least slightly muddy.

How long should it take to visit the park?

The answer depends on what you want to do and how much you have. This is an ideal destination for hiking and camping. You could easily spend 1-2 weeks here for that.

However, if your time is limited, allocate at least 4-5 days for a trip to the Redwood National Park. That's three days to spend exploring the park itself and a day coming in and going back. So, a total of five days is a good length. You could get away with three days, but you'll miss out on many wonderful places you should visit.

Cities near Redwood National Park

Unlike the southern part of California, this region is not densely populated. Little towns and hamlets are along the 101, but larger communities are rare. That's why it's good to know where the "cities" are in the area, in case you need a large shopping center or medical services.

Arcata & Eureka

These two cities are next to one another, so they are mentioned together. They're not large urban centers and have a small-town feel, but between them, they have a population of over 40,000 people. It may not sound like a lot, but this is as large as cities get in Northern California.

The central plaza in Arcata hosts the largest farmers market in Humboldt County, as well as the Main Street Oyster Festival. Boasting a Victorian charm, this bayside city of roughly 17,000 people has plenty to see outside the national parks.

Located 100 miles south of the Oregon border, Eureka, CA, sits along the shores of Humboldt Bay. A bit larger than Arcata, Eureka is the largest coastal city between Portland and San Francisco. There is plenty to check out in this city of 27,000 people including the Old Town Historic District and one of California’s oldest zoos.

Crescent City

It is only 20 miles from the Oregon border. Crescent City is home to the headquarters of Redwood National Park. Named after the shape of this important deep-water port, the area is home to several commercial fishing vessels.

A small town with less than 8,000 people, Crescent City, may be better known for being prone to tsunamis.

They call it the Tsunami Capital of the US. Having faced more than 30 large wave conditions in the last 100 years, there is plenty of seafaring history to experience. Be sure to visit the Battery Point Lighthouse, California’s northernmost lighthouse station.

When we visited Crescent City for the first time back in 2011, the memory of the previous large Tsunami was still fresh. My husband hitchhiked back from a long trek with a local resident of Crescent City who had lost his fishing boat to the mega wave.

We loved staying at Crescent City. The beach was awesome, and the locals were friendly. An excellent base for exploring Redwood National Park's northern part. Don't miss out on the local harbor, where sea lions hang around on the boardwalks, and of course, beachcombing by the ocean!

Redwood National Park Facts

If you made it through, I thought you might find a few interesting facts about the park's history. Also, it's worth mentioning the local wildlife (we love animals, so this is a huge part of the attraction of national parks for my family).

Coastal redwoods vs. giant sequoias

The star of Redwood National Park is the Coastal redwood tree (sequoia sempervirens). They are the tallest trees on earth.

These are different than the Giant sequoia (sequoiadendron giganteum), which is another famous tree found in other California national parks: Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings National Park. Both trees have reddish-colored wood and have the word sequoia in their scientific name.

The difference is this: Giant sequoias are the largest trees on earth by volume. They have massive trunks and are quite tall, but not as tall as the Coastal redwoods in Redwood National Park.

This article focuses on where the tallest trees grow: the Redwood National and State Parks.

Park history

Originally inhabited by Native Americans over 3,000 years ago, a minor gold rush in the 1850s brought settlers to the area known today as Redwood National Parks.

Once the gold ran out, the miners turned to log as a primary source of income until the early 1900s when local citizens began forming conservation groups to preserve the forests, culminating in the first national parks in 1968. Redwood National and States Parks are now designated World Heritage Site as of 1980.


There is no shortage of wildlife to see here. The forests are home to bobcats, mountain lions, and black bears.

You can also find Roosevelt Elk and black-tailed deer in the lowland coastal areas. There's a large herd of these Elks in the Prairie Creek area. We saw them every time we visited, so they're not hard to spot.

Bird watchers love this area as are 280 species recorded within the boundaries of the parks.

Venture out to the beach and check out the tidepools at low tide. You can find all kinds of invertebrates, including anemones and sea stars.

Another prominent feature is the Banana Slug. They can grow up to 7 inches and vary in color from bright yellow to brown, just like a ripening banana.

We saw dozens of these huge invertebrates on the trails. The wetter the area, the more slugs you're going to see.

Where to stay when visiting the Redwoods

With the park covering such a large area, this takes some planning. On our first visit, we took a week to travel from San Francisco to the national park and back. We spent one night on the way up north in Ukiah and another on the way back in Fort Bragg.

In between, we stayed at Crescent City for four nights. We spent three full days there exploring the Jedadiah Smith area of the park and the beaches. The days of getting to and from the Crescent area were dedicated to the southern parts of the park.

On our second trip, we drove from San Francisco to Oregon and stopped en route to see more places. We stayed at the Quality Inn in Arcata and continued the following day.

If you're planning the trip, I suggest making your reservations in advance if you're coming during the high season of July-August or any holiday or long weekend. If you book in advance, prices are much cheaper simply because the most affordable places fill up first.

Cabins & Lodges within the National Park itself

Only eight basic cabins are located in the Redwoods National and State Parks. Four are in Prairie Creek State Park, and the others are in Jedediah Smith State Park.

Cabins can be booked using Reserve California.


There are four developed campgrounds and seven backcountry campsites located throughout the park.

Reservations can be made up to 6 months before your trip, and highly recommended if you are looking for a particular campground. Campsites in California State Parks are booked using Reserve California, which will restrict campers from booking their site 48 hours in advance.

Several state campgrounds were made in the 1940s, and large RVs and travel trailers may not be allowed due to size restrictions. Be sure to check if the campground you are selecting has campsites that can accommodate your rig.

Summertime is peak season for the Redwoods, so do your best to plan, as sites routinely book well in advance. Standard camping fees are $35 per night.

Jedediah Smith Campground

Located 10 miles east of Crescent City, this campground is open year around. Offering 86 campsites for tents and RV’s, there are no services at the individual campsites. There are communal showers and restrooms, as well as a dump station.

Mill Creek Campground

This campground is only open from May through September, just south of Crescent City. There are 145 tent and RV campsites offering communal showers and restrooms. There are no services in the individual campsites; however, they accommodate larger vehicles.

Elk Prairie Campground

This year, the campground is 6 miles north of Orick and offers 75 tent and RV campsites. As usual, there are no services at the individual campsites, but they provide communal showers and restrooms.

Gold Bluffs Beach Campground

Offering access to a secluded beach and proximity to Fern Canyon, this 26-site campground is available to both tent campers and RV’s.

Will you be visiting this national park?

Or perhaps you already visited? I'd love to hear from you! Leave me a comment with any questions or feedback, even just to let me know you've made it through this long post *wink*.

Our Redwood National Park Visiting Guide (With Pictures!)

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