When planning a trip to California, many people wonder where they can see the Redwood trees that the state is known for - the tallest trees in the world! There are several great places for experiencing the wonder of these magnificent trees, and this post will give you the information that you need to complete your travel planning.
There are multiple places where travelers can experience the towering Redwoods when visiting California, but we believe there are five places, in particular, that should be considered when planning the itinerary. They are:
- Redwood National and State Park
- Big Basin Redwoods State Park
- Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
- Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve
- Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.
- Muir Woods near San Francisco
Each of these offers a stunning Redwood experience, and there are individual reasons why each is a good option. However, one of the key factors in choosing which one is right for you will probably depend on the location of your travel. California is a very big state, and it stretches for 840 miles along the Pacific Ocean. Choosing the best place for you to see the Redwoods will likely depend on which section of California you most want to visit.
1. Redwood National and State Parks
At the top of the state near the Oregon border lies the 131,983 acres that make up the Redwood National and State Parks. Travelers will find visiting the park is easiest when flying into Crescent City, CA or Medford, OR. The drive to the park from San Francisco is around six hours.
Public transportation to the park is offered via the Redwood Coast Transit service, and you will find routes to the park from Crescent City, Gasquet, and Arcata among other nearby communities. You will find that the National portion of the park does not charge any entrance fees which makes it a budget-friendly option. Campers will still need to reserve campsites, however.
There are plenty of things to do within the park including scenic drives, hiking trails, ranger-led programs, and bicycling opportunities. In addition to the giant trees, visitors to the park will have the opportunity to see plenty of wildlife while traveling through the park. Animals commonly spotted include elk, seals, seabirds, and whales.
Location: 1111 Second Street, Crescent City, CA Hours: Hours vary by season Admission: National Park section is free; State Park section charges a daily fee
You can find out all the details about the parks here.
2. Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve
Heading south down the coast of California, you will reach the Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve which is about 32 miles south of Mendocino, CA. The reserve contains 2,743 acres of land which contains old-growth Redwood groves. In fact, it contains one of the tallest trees in the state clocking in at 367.5 feet tall.
This park is one of the most remote places in the state for viewing the giant trees, and getting there can be a little more difficult. There is a hard-packed gravel road accessible from the nearby town of Comptche, but there is also a paved road for those coming west from Ukiah.
Montgomery Woods contains a mature Redwood forest as well as Douglas-fir groves. Other vegetation that can be found in the park include oaks, ferns, and huckleberries. There are also a lot of frogs and newts living within the preserve.
The reserve contains a two-mile loop that takes a few hours to hike in its entirety, but you will want to bring your sturdy hiking boots because it can get muddy after a rain. There is also a picnic area near the parking lot. Camping is not permitted in the Natural Reserve, and there is no visitor's center. Pets are not permitted on the trails.
Location: 15825 Orr Springs Road, Ukiah, CA Hours: Sunrise to Sunset Admission: Free
Learn more about the Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve here.
3. Big Basin Redwoods State Park
The oldest state park in California, Big Basin Redwoods State Park contains trees that are more than 50 feet in diameter, and some of the trees are nearly as tall as the Statue of Liberty. A visit to the park will show you trees that have stood for more than 1800 years.
In addition to the amazing trees, there are other things to see as well such as waterfalls, canyons, and expansive views of the pacific. There are animals that call the park home which can make for good wildlife viewing. Specifically, you should be able to find raccoons, bobcats, deer, and California woodpeckers.
During the summer months, there is a Junior Ranger program that was created to help educate kids aged 7 to 12. The program is run by the park rangers, and kids will receive badges for completing activities. For those that don't have time for the guided program, there is a Redwood Junior Ranger Activity Booklet which can be picked up for free at the information center.
The nearest city is Santa Cruz which is about 25 miles northwest of the park, but San Francisco is only about 65 miles away. It may be important to note that all roads leading into the park are quite curvy and should be driven with caution. The park is very busy on the weekends, during the summer, and on holidays. The parking lot is prone to filling up during these times which is why it is recommended that you try to visit during the week.
Location: 21600 Big Basin Way, Boulder Creek, CA Hours: 6 am to Sunset Admission: Parking fees apply
You can find all the details about this park here.
4. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Located less than 20 miles from Big Basin, the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is famous for its 40-acre grove of old-growth trees. Travelers come from across the globe to experience the many activities available and catch a glimpse at the 277 foot tall Redwood which is the tallest in the park.
Park activities include hiking, horseback riding, swimming, camping, and picnicking. There is also the unique experience of stepping inside one of the trees which is large enough to fit an entire family. The most popular place for swimming in the park is called the Garden of Eden which is a large pooled area of the San Lorenzo River. It is good to note that there are no lifeguards stationed at the swimming hole.
There are 107 campsites available for park visitors. However, it is recommended that you make an advanced reservation if you are planning to visit between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The campgrounds are closed in the winter months.
Another popular experience for those visitors to the park is the Roaring Camp Railroad. This is a tourist operation that offers trips through parts of the park on authentic steam locomotives from the late 1800s.
There are four very different ecosystems thriving within the park confines which means the wildlife viewing is quite expansive. Visitors often see white-crowned sparrows soaring over the grasslands, banana slugs slithering along the pathways, and black-tail deer looking for a place to graze.
Location: 101 N Big Trees Park Road, Felton, CA Hours: Sunrise to Sunset Admission: Parking fees apply
All of the details regarding the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park can be found here.
5. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Continuing south, you will find Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park which is about 37 miles away from Carmel along the Big Sur coastline. the park contains Redwood trees, panoramic views of the Pacific, and an 80-foot waterfall that cascades down granite cliffs then plunges into the ocean.
Take the Ewoldsen Trail to hike through a lush canyon full of Redwoods, and there are other trails throughout the park that will give you views of trees, scenery, and the waterfall. There are areas here that can get treacherous during certain parts of the year, and there are often trails closed or areas that are out of bounds. It is important to adhere to these rules because failure to do so can lead to loss of life or serious injury.
When visiting the park, many people will fly into the Monterey Regional Airport. However, travel time from San Francisco is around 3.5 hours, and travel time from Los Angeles is about 5.5 hours.
Travelers to the park will find that there is plenty of wildlife and plant varieties to be explored. Including the Redwoods, other trees that can be found include mixed evergreens, arroyo willows, and blue gum eucalyptus. There are also four seabird colonies active within the park, and the endangered Smith's blue butterfly calls the area home. If you should visit, you may come across bald eagles, California Condors, and sea otters.
Location: 52801 California State Route 1, Big Sur, CA Hours: 8 am to Sunset Admission: $10 entrance fee
You can learn more about the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park here.
6. Muir Woods near San Francisco
Muir woods is such a popular place for redwoods that we simply had to include it in this list. However, I can't say that it's a personal recommendation. Not because the trees are lacking in awesomeness but simply because it's too crowded during summer and over weekends.
In fact, you can't simply drive up to Muir Woods over the weekend. You have to take a shuttle to get there. I was going to say that those shuttles can get very busy too, so you should be prepared to wait your turn. As it turns out, you can't even do that anymore. Reservations are now required for the shuttles. That's probably not a bad thing, considering the long waiting time there used to be. However, this means you have to plan this visit way ahead of time. IMHO, it's much easier to just rent a car and visit one of the other locations mentioned here.
Read more here about visiting Muir Woods and booking your shuttle ride
Where are the tallest Redwoods?
If you are looking for the tallest Redwood, then you will want to make your way to the Redwood National & State Parks, while the record-holder for the tallest tree is undisclosed. You will find a visit to Big Tree worthwhile. You will find this monster on the Newton Drury Scenic Parkway not too far from the Prairie Creek Visitor Center. It is estimated that it has been around for 1500 years, and the circumference of Big Tree is 68 feet.
You can also head a little north of Big Tree and find Corkscrew Tree. This one actually has four tree trunks intertwined in a corkscrew pattern that is fascinating to people of all ages. You will also want to spend some time in the old-growth forest near the Orick visitor center while you are exploring the Redwood National & State Parks. Tall Tree, the previous record-holder, can be found in this grove.
Where are the nearest Redwood groves to San Francisco?
If you are planning to spend the majority of your trip in the San Francisco area, there are several places where you can experience the Redwoods in addition to the ones listed above (Big Basin, Montgomery Woods, and Henry Cowell.) Here are a few more spots near San Francisco that would be good to explore:
- Samuel P. Taylor Park: There are 600 acres of old-growth Redwood forest to see here, take the Pioneer Tree Trail for a good view.
- Portola Redwoods State Park: This park contains 2,800 acres of Redwood forests just outside of Silicon Valley, and there are 18 miles worth of trails to explore.
Where are the nearest redwood groves to Los Angeles?
For those staying in Los Angeles, you will have to make quite a drive if you wish to see some Redwood trees during your vacation. The closest park would be Sequoia National Park, however, the trees here are Sequoias and not Redwoods.
Sequoias and Redwoods are in the same family, but they are not the same kind of tree. Redwoods grow closer to the Pacific, and Sequoias tend to grow closer to the Sierra Nevadas. The foliage of the plants is different as well. Sequoias more closely resemble a juniper with scale-like foliage, and the Redwoods more closely resemble a hemlock.
The Giant Sequoia is considered the largest tree due to the immense size of its trunk. However, the Redwood is the world's tallest tree. Sequoias have a reddish-brown bark, and Redwoods have a richer brown colored bark.
If you truly want to see Redwoods while in L.A., you will need to head to either Henry Cowell or closer to Big Sur.
Where are the nearest redwood groves to San Diego?
San Diego is in the southernmost part of the state, and therefore, the surrounding areas are more arid and desert-like. The closest park for viewing big trees is the Sequoia National Forest, but again, these are Giant Sequoias and not Redwoods.
You can find Redwoods on the Big Sur side of the Los Padres National Forest. Either way, you are looking at a drive of at least six hours. Most people opt for a visit to Joshua Tree when in the San Diego area instead of making the trek up to the more northern areas of the state.
When traveling to California, it is always a good idea to keep the size of the state in mind. There are nearly 800 miles in between the northern and southern borders.
Visiting the Redwoods
As you can see, there are plenty of great areas in California where you can experience the Redwood trees. These five are our top picks because of their varied locations and offerings. Whether you simply want to stand in awe of these giant trees or partake in a plethora of outdoor activities, you will find that one of these five parks has exactly the experience you are looking for.