See the World’s Biggest Trees in Redwood National and State Parks
Hike through coastal redwoods, explore tide pools and find campgrounds with our complete guide to this mythical park.
A small, few-hundred-mile stretch of California’s northern coast is the only place in the world where the perfect combination of cool, coastal air, elevation and longitude collide to allow the coastal redwood to grow…and grow and grow and grow. This incredible forest is home to the tallest trees in the world, a population that has dwindled in the last few hundred years as 96% of the original old growth coastal redwoods have already been logged. What remains is a precious ecosystem. Jointly protected, it’s known as Redwood National and State Parks, encompassing 200 square miles of forests filled with ancient giants, rolling prairies, wild rivers and beautiful, rugged coastline. You’ll find trails winding through giant trees that will quickly find their place amongst your favorite hikes in the world, lookouts and beaches where you can spot migrating whales and campgrounds tucked deep in the woods. It’s a magical and relatively uncrowded gem where you’ll experience the natural world like never before.
Located along California’s far northern coast, this park is fairly remote compared to the rest of the state. Made up of several different areas of land, the park stretches from Trinidad to north of Crescent City, separated by private and Yurok tribal lands. Looking at Google Maps, it can be hard to tell what’s in the park and what’s not. Download the park map ahead of time to your phone (www.nps.gov/redw/planyourvisit/maps.htm) or stop by one of the four visitor or information centers to pick up a paper copy. The closest large cities are Redding, California, a three and a half hour drive and Medford, Oregon, three hours away. Most visitors fly into San Francisco International Airport or Portland International Airport and road trip to the park, though the town of Arcata, just south of the park, is home to the small Humboldt County Airport which has a few United flights each day from bigger cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Denver.
How Much Does it Cost to See Redwood National Park and Do I Need a Reservation?
You won’t need an advanced reservation to visit Redwood National and State Parks and some parts of this unit are free to enter. Redwood National Park, located south of Orick and east of Hwy. 101, is free to visit. Several of the state parks charge a $10 day use fee including Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast and Prairie Creek Redwoods state parks. If you have an America the Beautiful interagency annual pass, or a California State Parks pass, this will get you into those areas.
What’s the Best Time of Year to See Redwood National Park?
Redwood’s temperatures remain fairly stable year round. You can expect cool, wet weather pretty much all year long. Highs range from the low 50s to mid 60s and lows rarely drop below 40℉. Fall through spring, the park receives the majority of its precipitation which can total 80 inches in a year. Expect rain in these months and come prepared with warm and waterproof layers, along with waterproof hiking boots with a good tread to keep your grip on slippery trails.
Summer months see less rain, but persistent fog occurs on the coast, keeping everything damp. The farther inland you go, the drier and sunnier the weather will be. Summer also sees the most visitors, though you’ll still experience a fraction of the crowds of inland parks like Yosemite or Sequoia.
How Many Days Should you Spend in Redwood?
Visitors should plan at least two days in Redwood National Park. Because the park is off the beaten track, getting to it alone takes quite a bit of time and once you’re there, you’ll find so much to explore from towering trees to abundant wildlife to sweeping views. Here’s the best way to spend a weekend in the park:
Best Hikes in Redwood National and State Parks
If you’re looking for an easy hike with lots of redwoods, head to Prairie Creek State Park in the south-central part of the unit. The 2.5-mile Karl Knapp Trail (formerly known as the Prairie Creek Trail and still labeled as such on some maps and signs) is ADA accessible and wanders from the Prairie Creek Visitor center through some of the biggest redwoods in the park. In the fall, you might see Coho salmon swimming upstream in the creek, on their way from the ocean to their spawning grounds. Arrive early in the summer months as parking can be a challenge.
Another short and easy hike to a magnificent grove of redwoods is located in the north part of the unit in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The trail to the Grove of Titans, named for their mighty height, girth and interesting shaped branches, had an elevated boardwalk added to it in 2022 to protect the trees’ roots. Parking is on Howland Hill Road (a narrow, unpaved road that shouldn’t be attempted in large vehicles) and can be difficult in the summer. The trail is a 1.5-mile loop.
Parking can be a challenge at many trailheads in Redwood, especially in an RV, but the easy hike to Trillium Falls has tons of parking for vehicles of any size at Elk Meadow. Hike through an old growth redwood forest and keep your eye out for the trail’s namesake trillium flowers, which are white, three-petaled blossoms. You’ll come to a small waterfall with a footbridge across the stream, perfect for viewing at 0.5 miles. Turnaround here for an easy 1-mile hike, or make it a 2.6-mile loop with significant elevation gain–you’ll climb 1,000 feet along the short trek.
You won’t find redwoods in Fern Canyon, but you will feel like you’ve been transported to Jurassic Park as you stroll through walls of incredible ferns. Find the trailhead at Gold Bluffs Beach. Note that you’ll need to make a free parking reservation online May 15 through September 15 (www.nps.gov/redw/planyourvisit/ferncanyonpermits.htm). Wear sturdy, waterproof shoes or sandals with good grip as you’re going to get your feet wet, even in the summer months when footbridges are installed. The trail follows the bed of Home Creek, which has created a small canyon with walls covered in ferns. You might have to climb over log jams along the way and the creekbed can be slippery and uneven. Trekking poles are useful to help you keep your balance. It’s a quarter of a mile to see the ferns, but you can also do a 1-mile loop. Keep your eye out for the area’s resident elk. If you didn’t snag a parking permit, or want a longer hike, you can park at the Prairie Creek Visitor Center and hike to the canyon. That trek is 11 miles roundtrip.
One of the most sought after hikes in Redwood National Park is Tall Trees Trail. This strenuous, 9-mile roundtrip hike brings visitors to a well-protected grove with excellent growing conditions that has allowed the redwoods that live here to exceed 350 feet. Because of the grove’s popularity, a free permit is required to hike to it. Only 50 are issued per day and can be reserved online 24 hours in advance (www.nps.gov/redw/planyourvisit/talltreespermits.htm).
Go for a Scenic Drive in Redwood
Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway is one of the only places in the world where you can drive through a grove of old growth coastal redwoods. Take exit 765 or 753 of Hwy. 101 to access this gorgeous road. There’s numerous pull-outs, but don’t miss Big Trees where you can take a quick, two-minute walk to a beautiful grove of redwoods, one of which is estimated to be more than 1,500 years old. The quick detour is wheelchair accessible. You can add on various short walks from the viewpoint, just follow the signs that point to other “big trees.”
For stunning views of the rugged Pacific coastline, take Coastal Drive. This narrow road, which is one-way in places, isn’t suitable for RVs or trailers, but if you’re traveling in a passenger vehicle it’s well worth the detour. Stop along the many overlooks to spot gray whales, sea lions and sea birds. From Klamath drive a mile south on Hwy 101 and take the Klamath Beach Road exit, then follow signs to Coastal Drive. The 9-mile scenic loop starts here.
Redwood National Park is known for its forests, but it’s home to rolling prairies that are breathtaking in their own right. Find the 17-mile Bald Hills Road just north of Orick where you’ll drive through redwood forests (Tall Trees Grove Trailhead is along this road) on your way to sweeping prairies that come alive with wildflowers in the spring. Stop at Redwood Creek Overlook where you’ll see the Pacific Ocean in the distance. The road is mostly unpaved and is windy and narrow. RVs and trailers aren’t recommended.
See Ocean Life at Redwood National and State Parks
Find tidepools teeming with life along Enderts Beach. The rugged trail is approximately 1-mile roundtrip and follows a band of cliffs down to a small beach. The tidepools are on the north end. Check tide charts ahead of time to learn when the tide will be out and the pools accessible. Wear sturdy shoes with a good grip to protect your feet on the sharp rocks and always keep an eye on the ocean to avoid getting hit by a rogue wave. Look for crabs, anemone, seastars, snails and more.
To spot bigger marine wildlife, head to Klamath River Overlook. It’s well worth the steep, quarter-mile trek to the lower overlook for sweeping views of the Klamath River meeting the ocean. Keep your eyes out for migrating gray whales, which can usually be spotted in December and May and humpback whales which are usually spotted August through October. Killer whales and harbor porpoises are also occasionally seen off the shores of the park.
If you want to get out on the water, join a ranger-led kayak tour of the Smith River during the summer. It’s the largest free-flowing river in California. Local outfitters like Redwood Rides also provide kayak tours.
Is the Tallest Tree in the World in Redwood National Park?
Redwood National Park has been home to many of the tallest trees in the world over the years, including the current champion known as Hyperion. Guinness World Records gave it the official title in 2006 and re-measured it in 2019 where it came in at 380 feet, 9.7 inches tall. This tree could be as old as 800 years and sits on a hillside that lost 96% of its old growth redwoods to logging.
Since getting its title in 2006, Hyperion has seen a surge in visitors trying to access the tree even though no trails lead to it and the journey deep into the park’s backcountry is full of dangerous bushwacking. Off-trail visitors have damaged surrounding vegetation, left trash and human waste in the area and have posed a risk to the tree’s shallow roots by compacting the soil. The area surrounding the tree is closed to the public and rule breakers face a $5,000 fine and six months in jail. If that wasn’t enough to deter you, the view of the tree itself isn’t that impressive. With a comparatively small trunk and an obstructed view of the tree’s top, you’ll find much more impressive looking specimens on marked trails throughout the park.
Remember to always stay on the trail in Redwood National and State Parks. This is the only place in the world where these old growth redwood forests exist and walking off trail damages the shallow tree roots and the rest of the complex ecosystem the trees for their continued existence.
Which Park is Better: Redwood or Sequoia?
If you’re looking to see really big trees, many of California’s national parks provide, including both Redwood and, to the southeast near Fresno, Sequoia. Redwood National Park is home to coastal redwoods and includes the tallest trees in the world topping out at 380 feet. As the name suggests, Sequoia National Park is home to giant sequoias. While these trees are shorter in stature, measuring approximately 100 less feet than their coastal cousins, Sequoia is home to several of the largest trees by trunk volume in the world.
Both parks are impressive and worth a visit. At Redwood, you’ll find fewer crowds and access to the coast. At Sequoia, you’ll find mountains and easy access to nearby Kings Canyon and Yosemite national parks.
Where to Stay When Visiting Redwood National Park
There are no hotels or lodges inside the park, but there are four developed campgrounds. Jedediah Smith and Mill Creek are in the north of the park and Elk Prairie and Gold Bluffs are in the south. RVs and trailers aren’t recommended. These campgrounds are popular and advanced reservations, which can be made on ReserveCalifornia.com, are recommended.
If you can’t find a reservation at the four campgrounds inside the park, there’s many county and state parks nearby that also have campgrounds, in addition to private options.
For those looking to stay in a hotel, the towns of Eureka, Aracat, Klamath and Crescent City are all a short drive from the park with a number of lodging options, including chain hotels. Cabin and vacation rentals are easy to find up and down the coast.