The best places to see redwoods near San Francisco, from a local who grew up hiking through them.
Walking through a hushed coastal redwood forest in Northern California is perhaps one of the most magical experiences you can have. It’s damp, quiet, peaceful, and you’re surrounded by some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world.
The California redwoods are special to me for several reasons, but most notably they’re special because they give me a strong feeling of being home.
I grew up in Santa Cruz, where weekends were either spent at the beach or hiking through the redwoods at Big Basin or Henry Cowell State Park. Redwood trees were a constant in my life from a young age.
This is all to say that I love the California redwood forests and I’ve been to a lot of them throughout the state. Now that I’m based in the Bay Area, I’m once again surrounded by beautiful redwood forests that are perfect for a day trip from the city.
Because of this, I wanted to share my favorite places to see the redwoods near San Francisco so you can experience a little bit of that redwood tree magic as well. These are a few of my favorite California redwood tree parks that are within a two-hour drive from the city.
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Where to See Redwoods in San Francisco
Although these spots aren’t going to be as impressive as the redwoods near San Francisco, they’re a good alternative if you’re short on time and want to see redwood groves up close without needing to do a full day trip.
Transamerica Redwood Park
You probably wouldn’t expect to find a redwood park in the middle of the Financial District in San Francisco, but alas, the Transamerica Redwood Park is that redwood oasis in the city.
Designed in 1969, this half-acre park is a popular lunch spot for people who work in the Financial District or Union Square. It’s a quiet area full of benches and a fountain dedicated to Mark Twain, who once lived and wrote at this site.
Heroes Grove in Golden Gate Park
As the largest green space in the city with various San Francisco attractions, Golden Gate Park should already be on your list of places to visit in the San Francisco Bay Area. And even more so because the park is home to its own redwood grove, called the Heroes Grove.
Best Places to See the Redwoods Near San Francisco
Muir Woods National Monument
Distance from San Francisco: 30 minutes
Price: Entrance fee – $15/person; parking – $8.50, shuttle – $3.25/person
Named after famous naturalist John Muir, Muir Woods National Monument is by far the most popular place to see redwoods near San Francisco.
At the park, you’ll find redwoods that are anywhere from 600 to 1,200 years old and that get up to 258 feet tall. Muir Woods is also just north of San Francisco and the closest place to the city to fully immerse yourself in a redwood forest.
However, the downside with Muir Woods being so close to the city is that it’s always crowded. In fact, Muir Woods is the most popular redwood park in the world and welcomes over a million visitors every year.
Muir Woods won’t be the best place to visit if you’re looking for a solo and quiet walk amongst the towering redwoods. But if you’ve never been to Muir Woods, it’s worth visiting at least once.
And if you get to Muir Woods as soon as the park opens, you can avoid most of the crowds and still enjoy a somewhat quiet redwood forest.
There are various easy trails that wind through the park. If you’re looking for a quick hike, the Bohemian Grove Trail (2 miles) is a good place to start. Otherwise, other favorites that are a little longer include The Ben Johnson Trail (3.4 miles) and The Sun Trail (4.7 miles).
How to get to Muir Woods National Monument
Because Muir Woods is such a popular place to see the redwoods near San Francisco, it takes some extra planning to visit the park. If you’re driving there, you’ll need to book a timed parking permit ahead of time.
Marin Transit also operates a Muir Woods Shuttle that leaves from various pickup points in the North Bay. Reservations are required for the Muir Woods Shuttle and they also book up fast, especially on weekends and during the summer.
The last option for visiting Muir Woods is to hop on a Muir Woods Tour with a local tour company. However, this is the more expensive option and you usually only get 60-90 minutes at the park.
Another thing to note is cell service is nonexistent in the park, so plan accordingly and don’t expect to be able to call a Lyft to get back to San Francisco.
Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park
Distance from San Francisco: 30 minutes
Price: Day-use parking – $5, pets – $2/dog
Another popular spot to see the redwoods near San Francisco (and much less busy than visiting Muir Woods) is Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park. Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park is located in the East Bay, in Oakland to be exact, and is part of the East Bay Regional Parks District.
The park used to be the site of a huge logging operation in the 1880s, but it’s now where you’ll find the largest group of natural coastal redwoods in the East Bay. These are second-growth redwoods, so only around 100 years old but still beautiful to walk through.
At Redwood Regional Park, it’s easier to experience a hushed walk through the redwoods and even some empty trails, especially if you go early in the day. The 1,830-acre park features miles of trails, but a good one to start with to be fully immersed in the redwoods is The French Trail Loop (6 miles).
Local tip: There’s usually free parking on Skyline Boulevard and Redwood Road, just don’t leave anything valuable in your car because there are sometimes break-ins. Otherwise, you can go for one of the paid parking areas, such as Roberts or Canyon Meadow.
Samuel P. Taylor State Park
Distance from San Francisco: 1 hour
Price: Day-use parking – $8; standard campsites – $35/night
Just north of San Francisco, you’ll find Samuel P. Taylor State Park in Marin County – a lush gorge filled with hundreds of acres of redwood trees and easy to moderate hikes.
At Samuel P. Taylor State Park, you can stroll through the old-growth forest along Lagunitas Creek and take in one of the best views in Marin at the top of Barnabe Peak.
For an easy redwood hike, start with the 3-mile South Creek Trail that takes you along Lagunitas Creek, or the 2.7-mile Pioneer Tree Loop Trail that takes you to a grove of old-growth redwoods.
If you’re looking for a more difficult hike that includes a mix of redwoods and good views, take the 7-mile Devil’s Gulch Trail to the top of Barnabe Peak.
Samuel P. Taylor State Park is an underrated spot that is only made more attractive by the fact that it’s only an hour’s drive from San Francisco and conveniently nestled in the suburbs of Marin.
Butano State Park
Note: Butano State Park is still closed from the CZU Lightning Complex wildfires in 2020. This post will be updated once that changes.
Distance from San Francisco: 1.25 hours
Price: Day use parking – $10, camping – $35/night
Established in 1957 to protect the redwoods from being cut down from local logging operations, Butano State Park is just over an hour from San Francisco and another good place to walk through the redwoods.
At Butano State Park, you can expect to find old-growth redwoods nestled in a peaceful canyon, as well as 40 miles of hiking trails, dozens of campsites, creeks, wetlands, and diverse wildlife.
The best short trail to start out on is the 3-mile Little Butano Creek Trail that takes you to the heart of the redwoods. If you have more time, the 5-mile Jackson Flats Loop and the 9.5-mile Canyon Loop both give you a good amount of redwood forest walks and scenic views.
Portola Redwoods State Park
Distance from San Francisco: 1.25 hours
Price: Day-use parking – $10; camping – $35/night
Just a couple miles north of the popular Big Basin State Park, Portola Redwoods is an overlooked park just south of San Francisco.
Walking through this lush state park, you wouldn’t guess that San Jose and the huge tech companies of Silicon Valley are just a short drive away.
With only 18 miles of hiking trails, Portola Redwoods State Park is a manageable park to hike through if you only have a day or two to spend in the California redwoods. And with over 50 campsites, there are plenty of options for pitching a tent at the park too.
You can expect trails to mostly consist of shady redwood forests (some with trees that are around 1,200 years old), creeks, huckleberries, ferns, and even waterfalls.
If you’re short on time, start with the 0.6-mile Old Tree Trail and the 0.75-mile Sequoia Nature Trail, which are both a good introduction to the Portola redwoods and the natural history of the area.
For a good waterfall hike, tackle the 1.5-mile Iverson Trail to Tiptoe Falls. Or, if you’re looking for a serious all-day hike, the 11.9-mile hike to Peters Creek Grove is one of the best hikes in the Bay Area and where you’ll find some of the most remote redwoods in California.
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Distance from San Francisco: 1.25 hours
Price: Day use parking – $10; camping – $35/night
Located in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is one of the most popular state parks in California that features redwood trees.
And redwood trees aren’t all you’ll find at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. The park is also home to Roaring Camp Railroad, which lets you ride through the redwoods on a historic 1880s steam train.
It’s a great thing to do with kids, but, honestly, I love hopping on a Roaring Camp train ride as an adult as well. There’s no other place in California where you can surround yourself with redwoods via an open-air train ride. It’s a very cool experience.
With its scenic nature and a 40-acre grove of old-growth trees that are around 1,500 years old, this is the park that inspired some of California’s first redwood preservation efforts and was admired by the likes John C. Fremont and President Theodore Roosevelt.
With 30 miles of hiking trails, over 100 campsites, a popular swimming hole called the Garden of Eden, and redwood trees that you can walk inside, there’s a lot of nature to appreciate at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.
While you’re at the park, don’t miss the 0.8-mile Redwood Grove Loop Trail for a good introduction to the history of the area and to step inside the popular Fremont Tree.
If you have more time, the 4-mile Cathedral Redwoods Trail is a good hike to be surrounded by a circle of redwoods and to take a detour to Cable Car Beach. And the 5-mile Observation Deck Trail features expansive views and thick forests of second-growth redwoods, ponderosa pines, and the Santa Cruz sandhills.
Local tip: Keep your eyes peeled for the bright yellow banana slugs that often pop up on the trail after it rains. They’re UC Santa Cruz’s mascot and a beloved part of the redwood forests near Santa Cruz.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Note: Big Basin is still recovering after the CZU Lightning Complex wildfires in 2020 that burned 40% of the park’s redwoods. The park is still closed as of 2021, but I’ll update this post once that changes.
Distance from San Francisco: 1.5 hours
Price: Day use parking – $10; camping – $35/night
Not too far from Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, you’ll find Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Established in 1902 and located in the thick redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains, this is California’s oldest state park.
At Big Basin, you’ll find a 1,800-acre park full of old-growth redwood trees that are anywhere from 1,000 to 1,800 years old, ocean views, waterfalls, and a fascinating history as California’s oldest state park.
One of Big Basin’s most well-known claims to fame is that it’s where you’ll find the “largest continuous strand of ancient coast redwoods south of San Francisco.” And with over 80 miles of trails, there are a lot of options for hiking at Big Basin.
One of the most popular Big Basin hikes is the 4-mile Skyline to the Sea Trail. Another trail that shouldn’t be missed is the 0.6-mile Redwood Loop Trail, which is a good introduction to the park and features some of the biggest trees at Big Basin.
If you’re looking for a more strenuous hike, the 10.5-mile Berry Creek Falls Trail features large coast redwoods, four waterfalls, and a 2,150-foot elevation change.
More Places to See the Redwoods Near San Francisco (More Than Two Hours Away)
Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Distance from San Francisco: 4 hours
Price: Day-use parking – $10; camping – $35
If you’re up for the drive from the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the best places to see the redwoods in California is Humboldt Redwoods State Park. The park spans over 55,000 acres, which is twice the size of San Francisco!
The damp weather and cooler temperatures on this part of the California coast are perfect for an old-growth forest of coastal redwoods. About 1/3 of Humboldt Redwoods State Park (77,000 acres) is made up of old-growth trees and there are over 100 miles of hiking trails.
Since the early 1900s, there have been continuous conservation efforts focused on saving the redwoods in this area. And because of that, this is where you’ll find some of the densest redwood forests in the state, as well as some of the best redwood-lined drives.
If you’re interested in seeing redwoods from the comfort of your car, this is the park where you’ll find California’s most famous redwood drive – the Avenue of the Giants.
A few stops that shouldn’t be missed along the drive include Founder’s Grove and the fallen Dyerville Giant, Williams Grove, Flatiron Tree, and Gould Grove. Make sure to pick up an auto tour brochure at the Humboldt Redwoods Visitor Center so you don’t miss the best features of Avenue of the Giants drive.
One hiking trail that shouldn’t be missed along the drive is the 0.6-mile Rockefeller Loop Trail, which takes you to the largest contiguous old-growth redwood forest in the world.
Other popular hikes in Humboldt Redwoods State Park include the 1.7-mile Drury-Chaney Loop, 2.2-mile Johnson Prairie Trail, and the 10.5-mile Johnson Camp Trail.
Redwoods National and State Parks
Distance from San Francisco: 5.5 hours
Price: Redwood National Park has free admission, but Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast, and Prairie Creek Redwoods state parks are $10 each for day-use parking. Camping is $35/night.
Another popular place to see the redwoods north of San Francisco, Redwoods National and State Parks is where you’ll find the tallest redwood trees in Northern California. Because it’s at least a five-hour drive to get here from San Francisco, this is a great spot for a weekend trip from San Francisco.
Redwoods National Park and State Parks is a group of parks that are along 40 miles of rugged California coastline, just south of the Oregon Border. These parks include Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
And if you’re looking for scenic redwood drives, this is another good area to see the redwoods from your car. A few redwood drives around the parks include Howland Hill Road, Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, Cal-Barrel Road, and Davison Road.
In terms of hiking through a redwood forest, if you’re short on time, don’t miss the 0.5-mile Trillium Falls Trail, the 1.5-mile Lady Bird Johnson Loop Trail, the 1-mile Simpson-Reed Trail, or the 2.5-mile Prairie Creek Foothill Trail Loop
Or, if you have a whole day, the 12-mile James Irvine Trail to Fern Canyon Loop is one of the most beautiful trails in the area and will give you a diverse look at the natural beauty of the parks.
Other Redwood Forests To Visit in California
- Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve
- Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
- Smithe Redwoods State Natural Reserve
- Mailliard Redwoods State Natural Reserve
- Hendy Woods State Park
Travel Tips for Visiting the California Redwoods Near San Francisco
- Bring layers – Redwood forests tend to have microclimates and stay at a cooler temperature. Regardless of the temperature outside, plan for a cool and sometimes foggy hike and bring layers (and a waterproof jacket).
- Wear waterproof shoes – It’s also good to wear waterproof hiking shoes on a redwood hike because trails tend to be damp and even mushy at times.
- Stop by the local visitor center before your hike – This is always a good thing to do before you start your hike through the redwoods. At the visitor center, you can pick up maps and chat with a local ranger about current trail conditions and recommendations. This is especially important if you’re visiting after a winter storm when redwood trees are more likely to fall and potentially block trails.
- Don’t expect cell service – Many of the redwood forests near San Francisco have little to no cell reception. Expect to be off the grid once you arrive. Use physical maps (or download offline Google Maps ahead of time) and plan your route before you arrive. It’s also good to download the specific park maps and info ahead of time if you’re doing a self-guided tour since it gives you all the information you might need during your visit.
- Bring cash – Most of these redwood parks charge a day-use parking fee and the entrance kiosks are not always staffed by rangers 24/7. Instead, you’re usually expected to fill out a parking permit on your own and put your payment in a box near the entrance for the ranger to collect when he drives through. Make sure you have smaller bills (and a pen to fill out a permit) to pay for parking once you arrive at the park.
- If you want to camp, make reservations ahead of time – California state parks are often busy and that’s especially the case with many of these coastal redwood parks. Reserve your campsite as far ahead of time as possible to secure a spot, some of these book up months in advance in the summer.
What to Pack for a Trip to the Redwoods
- Hiking jacket
- Moisture-wicking shirt
- Leggings or hiking pants
- Hiking daypack
- Hiking shoes, hiking boots, or comfortable sneakers
- GPS device (if you’re going into the backcountry)
- Don’t forget your mask.
- Camping gear if you plan to stay overnight – If you’re looking to purchase a tent, read my recommendations for the best six-person tents, pop up tents, as well as the best large family camping tents if you’re camping with more people
Related: Best Gifts for Hikers
How Far are the Redwoods from San Francisco?
There are various redwoods near San Francisco, but the closest ones are Muir Woods in Marin and Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park in Oakland. Both are about a 30-minute drive from the city and are perfect for a self-guided tour of the redwoods.
What is the Best Time of the Year to Visit the Redwoods Near San Francisco?
Because coastal redwoods grow in temperate climates, they can be visited at any time of the year. With that said, since redwood forests tend to be on the cooler side, it’ll be a warmer hike if you visit them in the spring, summer, and fall.
The winter is probably the worst time to visit the redwood forests near San Francisco because trails are damper and there’s a risk of winter storms.
Are Redwoods Only in California?
Old-growth coastal redwoods are native to California and the West Coast of the US in North America. This means the only places you’ll find native and natural redwood forests are in California, Oregon, and Washington.
What is the Difference Between Redwoods and Giant Sequoias?
Redwoods and giant sequoias are both behemoth trees that live for a long time, so what’s the main difference between them? Aren’t they both just huge trees? Not quite.
The main difference is that giant sequoias are the biggest trees in the world (by volume) with thick trunks and redwoods are the tallest trees in the world and tend to be more slender. So they’re both big trees, just in different ways.
Another big difference between the two is that a redwood tree tends to grow along the Pacific Coast and a giant sequoia is more likely to be found in higher elevations, such as the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas and its national parks (Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are a good example).
The tallest tree in the world is a redwood called Hyperion in Redwood National Park at 379 feet tall, and the largest tree in the world is a giant sequoia called General Sherman in Sequoia National Park at 52,500 cubic feet in volume.
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