Tucked away in the Northwestern part of California is a park of towering trees, lush green forest floors, and coastal views. Redwoods National Park is often visited in conjunction with its adjacent State Parks, including Jedidiah Smith, Del Norte, and Prairie Creek. Compared to the heavily trafficked California Parks like Yosemite or Sequoia, Redwoods National and State Parks are a bit quieter but still incredibly scenic and worth the visit.
Location: Northwestern California
Getting There: Redwoods National and State Parks lies on Highway 101, just below the border to Oregon near the Pacific Ocean. It is about 5.5 hours from San Francisco, 6 hours from Sacramento, and 6.5 from Portland, Oregon.
If you’re driving up from the Bay Area region of California, I highly recommend taking a detour through Avenue of the Giants on Highway 101.
Best Time To Visit Redwoods National Park
Due to it’s coastal proximity, Redwoods National Park is usually a temperate climate and is not a stranger to fog or rain. During the summer, the park will likely be more crowded, but you have the best chance of catching it on a sunny day. However, if you are willing to visit in the off-season after September, the misty cool weather adds a moody element to the Redwoods that are just as beautiful.
Tall Trees Grove Loop Trail: This is a 3.3 mile loop that will take you through a gorgeous grove of towering Redwoods. Its well known for its cut-out passageways through the fallen Redwood logs. This loop is heavily trafficked and is currently available to hike through PERMIT RESERVATION only online, and they are not available at the ranger stations. You will need to book this at least two days in advance, and up to four weeks in advance, but they may sell out. There is a limit of 50 visitors per day and you need a gate access code, given in the permit, to access the trailhead. For more information click HERE
Fern Canyon: This 1.1 mile loop will transport you to the setting of Jurassic Park (like actually- part of Jurassic Park 2 was filmed here). The trail to this loop is mostly flat and goes straight into a canyon that is full to the brim of ferns. Its quite the sight, and one that you absolutely should not miss.
Lady Bird Johnson Grove: This short-but-sweet 1.3 mile loop is a great pit stop on your journey. The trail is mostly flat, is kid-friendly, and has a hiker’s bridge to get over to the trail.
Elk Reserve: There are a few spots to see elk in Redwoods National Park, the primary one being this stop in Prarie Creek Redwoods SP on the side of the road. To get here, you’ll turn on Davison Road on the left side of Highway 101 going North. If the herds aren’t here, you can also try the Gold Beach Bluffs Campground area, near Fern Canyon, or head on up to Crescent City- chances are, you’ll see some on the way.
Stout Memorial Grove Trail: This grove is near Jedidiah Smith State Park and is worth the trip! It’s only .7 miles and has some great views of the Redwoods in a very tranquil setting.
Drive Through Jedidiah Smith: One of our favorite things was driving the backroads along Howland Hill Road for great views of the Redwoods. This road also passes through the trailheads for both the Boy Scout Tree Trail (and Fern Falls) and Stout Grove.
Best Photography Spots in Redwoods National Park
Photographing Redwoods National and State Parks can be tricky due to the low light and changing weather conditions, but I think that is something that makes this Park special!
I am extremely fond of shooting Redwoods and tall trees during golden hour when the light on the canopy is not harsh, and will be a bit softer on the contrast of your photo. If the weather is foggy or cloudy, that is also the perfect opportunity to shoot a more moody scene! Get creative with your compositions and embrace the coastal weather!
I recommend bringing a tripod with you to make sure your shots come out crystal clear if you are shooting in low light. If you are planning on shooting anything with a person in it, think about bright clothing so they stand out in the forest colors.
Native History of the Redwoods National and State Park Region
When travelling to new places, it’s important to understand it’s history- how it was developed and who inhabited the land before it became what it is today.
“Many Native American’s still reside in the park region to this day; however, their ancestors grazed and hunted on these lands as long as 3000 years ago according to archeological evidence discovered in Redwoods; The Tolowa, Yurok, Chilula, Wiyot, and Karok tribes.
It’s thought that around 1828 that Jedediah Smith was the first European explorer to thoroughly investigate the lands of Redwood. However, once gold was discovered along the Trinity River, a second gold rush swept the region in 1850. Conflicts with the natives and gold chasers ensued leading to massacres and forcible removal of many natives. Once gold was discovered along northwestern California’s Trinity River in 1850, outsiders moved into the area in overwhelming numbers. The initial contact with native peoples was gruesome.
The newcomers pushed the American Indians off their land, hunted them down, scorned, raped, and enslaved them. Resistance – and many of the American Indians did resist – was often met with massacres. Militia units composed of unemployed miners and homesteaders set forth to rid the countryside of “hostile” Indians, attacking villages and, in many documented cases, slaughtering men, women, and even infants. Upon their return, these killers were treated as heroes, and paid by the state government for their work.
Treaties that normally allotted American Indians reservations were never ratified in this part of California. Although treaties were signed, the California delegation lobbied against them on the grounds that they left too much land in Indian hands. Reservations were thus never established by treaty, but rather by administrative decree.
To this day, the displacement of many tribes, the lack of treaty guarantees, and the absence of federal recognition of their sovereignty continue to cloud the legal rights of many American Indians.” (nps.gov)
Facts about Redwoods National Park
➣ “On October 2, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill creating Redwood National Park. In 1994 the National Park Service and the California State Park System agreed to administer the parks jointly, creating the unique (and confusing) mix of state and federal lands that make up Redwood National & State Parks.” nationalparked.com
➣ Redwoods National and State Parks were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.
➣ Threatened and endangered species found in Redwood National Park include Chinook salmon, Steller’s sea lion, northern spotted owl, tidewater goby, and the bald eagle.
➣ This National Park has 37 miles of coastline on the Pacific Ocean
Camping In Redwoods National Park
My all time-favorite campground, for its proximity to hikes and overall beauty, is Jedidiah Smith Campground. This campground is by reservation only from April to October, and can be booked online at reservecalifornia.com. Durng the quieter months, this campground is FCFS.
There are several options in the area for private Campgrounds as well.
For dispersed camping, there are not a ton of options because most of the land in the National and State Parks areas are not run by BLM or the National Forest managements. If you have an RV or Van, there are a few Casinos, like Lucky 7 on the northern border or Elk Valley near Jedediah Smith, that you can park at. Check out other free campsite options HERE.
Backpacking In Redwoods National Park
Looking for some backcountry treks? There are 7 designated backcountry camping areas in Redwoods National and State Parks and over 200 miles of trails! Here are a few you should check out in the area:
Permits are available online up to 160 days in advance but no later than 24 hours prior to your planned camping date.
California Coastal Trail: The CCT is a 70% finished trail that goes along, you guessed it, the entire coast of California from Mexico to Oregon. There are a few sections of the CCT that go along this area of the Redwoods and would make a perfect section hike, like the Demartin Section (10mi).
Redwood Creek Trail: 15.7 mile out and back trail with 1,128 elevation gain
I also recommend calling the Ranger Station for backpacking recommendations that would work for you and what you are looking for in a trip! They will be able to recommend the best backcountry campsites, whether you want to be in the middle of the forest or along the coast.
Don’t Forget To Pack…
Rain Jacket: I love Rain Jackets that are a tad longer so that I can sit wherever I want without worrying that I am going to have a giant puddle on my backside. I have a Patagonia Torrentshell City Coat and absolutely love it. It has lasted way longer than some of my other rain jackets and feel like a really high quality material, but it isnt as expensive as other brands that use Goretex like Arcteryx. The REI Co-Op always has good sales on rain jackets- like this one from Columbia, the Norwalk Mountain Jacket.
Hiking Boots: I prefer hiking in boots here in the Redwoods to keep my feet warm and dry if the trails are wet, muddy or cold. Some of my favorite shoes are by Altra and Danner. Check out the boot version of the Altra Lone Peaks, the Lone Peak Hiker Boot or the Danner Mountain 600 Hiking Boots. For something more casual, I love the Blundstone 550s for hanging out around camp, shorter mile long hikes, or venturing into the city.
Camera Sling Bag: Because so many of the hikes in the Redwoods are fairly short, I opted for an easy-to-access sling bag to hold my camera equipment and my necessities (like my wallet, phone and keys). I have been using the Peak Design Everyday Sling V2 bag for about a year now and love it. I have the 6L and it holds my full frame, wide angle lens and zoom lens perfectly. They also make a 10L bag if you need something a bit bigger.
Insulated Bottle: Temperatures in the Redwoods fluctuate a ton througout the day, even in the summer. Expect chilly nights and mornings. I used my Yeti Rambler Vacuum Bottle for hot drinks and water during our stay and it works like a champ. No leaking, and it’s the best insulation I have ever used.
Have you been to the Redwoods State or National Parks yet? Leave your favorite part of your trip down below in the comments! And if you’re planning an upcoming stay, have a great trip!
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