The ultimate guide to the best things to do while visiting the majestic old-growth redwoods in Redwood National Park.
Redwood National Park in California is one of the state’s most underrated national parks.
Located in the far north of the state, the six-hour drive from San Francisco is not as appealing as the three it takes to reach Yosemite.
But those who make the trip to Redwood National Park are rewarded with pristine hiking trails, trees that soar like skyscrapers over 300 feet into the air, unspoiled beaches, and refreshing rivers.
There is so much on offer at Redwood National Park, including swimming, hiking, biking, wildlife spotting, and horseback riding. And the best part is that it’s all among trees that measure their life span in millennia.
If you’re looking for a Redwood National Park itinerary, these are the best things to do in Redwood National Park for a day, a week, or a month.
Whatever time you have to spare this summer, spend some of it in the redwoods for an unforgettable vacation.
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My Experience at Redwood National Park
I first visited this park as part of a Northern California and Oregon road trip in 2017 and was blown away by the sheer scale of the redwood trees (aka Sequoia sempervirens) – both in height and age.
I live in the Bay Area and make frequent trips to the redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains, so I thought I knew what to expect, but I was wrong.
The ancient, enormous redwoods here are like nothing else I’ve seen and something everyone should experience at least once in their life.
Looking for local tips and accommodation options? Check out our guide to Redwood National Park for everything you should know before you go.
America the Beautiful Pass
Skip the day-use fees at the individual parks that make up Redwood National Park by buying an America the Beautiful Pass. As a bonus, it also gives you free entry to all national parks across the country for a year.
Map of Things to do in Redwood National Park
An Introduction to Redwood National Park
Redwood National Park is unique among U.S. national parks. As awareness of the old-growth redwood forest grew in the 20th century, so did the battle to save them.
Three state parks were created in 1910: Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.
They were joined in 1968 by the creation of Redwood National Park. With the park borders so close, it made sense to jointly administer the preserves.
All four parks are collectively known as Redwood National and State Parks, and, as mentioned above, you can enjoy them all with one America the Beautiful Pass.
I would recommend driving to Redwood National and State Parks. Although you could take the Greyhound Bus to Arcata, there aren’t many public transit options within the parks themselves.
If you can’t drive, take a tour instead. This three-day group tour departing from the San Francisco Bay Area includes accommodation, transport, park fees and guides.
Redwood National Park
Redwood National Park is the first of the parks you’ll come across if you’re driving up from the south along Highway 101.
Redwood National Park attractions include one of the most popular trails, Lady Bird Johnson Grove.
Lady Bird Johnson Grove is an easy loop through an impressive old-growth forest. It has interpretive signs to help you understand the history and ecology of the region.
Check out the Thomas Kuchel Visitor Center too, which has some great exhibitions, tips on places to visit in Redwood National Park, plus a bookshop.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Next up is Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. If you’re just passing through the area, this is the park I’d recommend visiting the most.
Here, you can walk beneath ancient redwoods, follow the stream through the emerald walls of Fern Canyon, and picnic on Gold Bluffs Beach.
You can also go for a drive on a scenic parkway and spot beautiful Roosevelt elk in a peaceful meadow.
Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
Located just north of Klamath is Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, which has one of the biggest and best campsites in the parks.
This park makes a great base for exploring Prairie Creek State Park and Redwood National Park to the south, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park to the north.
Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park’s most popular hike is the Damnation Creek Trail. It takes adventurous walkers down a steep path through dense forest to the fog-soaked coast.
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Although I recommend Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park if you’re short on time, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is actually my favorite.
It’s the least unspoiled of all the parks and is a window into California’s ancient past.
Don’t miss the newly-opened Grove of Titans Trail, which takes you into the heart of one of the biggest and best redwood groves in the region.
See the Redwood Groves
This is what you’re here for! These are the must-visit coastal redwood groves in Redwood National Park, and one of the best things to do in Redwood National and State Parks.
Lady Bird Johnson Grove
Lady Bird Johnson Grove, located 1,000 feet above sea level in Redwood National Park, is perfect for a short hike among tall trees.
It’s an easy, one-mile loop with good views of the trees. During May and early June, you might spot colorful rhododendrons along the route.
Stout Grove Trail & Stout Memorial Grove
Located in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Stout Grove isn’t famous for its trees’ height, or age. This strand of redwoods is best known for its beauty.
If you’ve ever seen a stunning photograph of light beams streaming through redwoods to the lush, fern-carpeted forest floor, it was likely snapped at Stout Grove.
Tall Trees Grove
Before the Libbey Tree lost its crown (literally and metaphorically) the world’s tallest tree grew right here at Tall Trees Grove.
Although one of the best things to see in Redwood National Park, Tall Trees Grove is hard to reach.
Only 50 permits a day are handed out to adventurers seeking this special spot via the Tall Trees Trail, home to some of the tallest trees in the world. You can try and snag a permit here.
Grove of Titans
A 1,300-foot long elevated walkway takes you right to the heart of this grove of giant trees, located within Jedediah Smith State Park.
Interpretive signs dotted along the Grove of Titans Trail were developed in collaboration with the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation to illustrate the indigenous history of the area.
Big Tree Wayside
Located off the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, the Big Tree is one of the largest redwoods in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
Ideal for anyone who wants to see a huge redwood just a few steps from the car, this 21-foot diameter tree is a sight to behold and stretch your neck up for.
If you have more time, I’d highly recommend doing the three-mile Big Tree Loop to see the impressive redwood groves that surround Big Tree Wayside.
Tackle the Most Popular Hikes
If you’re visiting Redwood National and State Parks, you should plan to do at least a few hikes to get the full experience of walking amongst the redwoods. These are some of my favorite trails.
James Irvine Trail
If you’re looking for a challenge, the 10.4-mile out-and-back James Irvine Trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is a day-long adventure through the forest to Fern Canyon.
And as a bonus, since you’re not parking at the trailhead, you won’t need a permit to enter the emerald-green gorge.
Or, to make it a slightly longer hike that’s a loop, you can add on the Miner’s Ridge Trail and a walk along the beach. This version of the James Irvine Loop hike gives you more variety and is only 1.7 miles longer.
Boy Scout Tree Trail
Take the scenic Howland Hill Road to the Boy Scout Tree trailhead for a moderately challenging 5.3-mile return trip to see the magnificent Boy Scout Tree.
Located in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, the Boy Scout Tree trail showcases some of the most pristine coastal redwood forests you’ll ever encounter.
Trillium Falls Trail
The 2.8-mile Trillium Falls Trail is an easy hike through old-growth redwoods in Redwood National Park to a cascading waterfall.
This path is easily accessible from the highway and is perfect if you don’t have a lot of time or you’re looking for a shorter walk.
Big Tree Loop
Join two popular Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park trails together to form the three-mile Big Trees Loop.
It takes you past towering redwoods and through some beautiful parts of the forest along the Cathedral Trail and Prairie Creek Trail.
Fern Canyon Trail
The Fern Canyon Trail runs through a spectacular gorge festooned with ferns in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
It’s so popular now that the national park service is limiting summer visitors with a permit system for the hike.
Fern Canyon is one of the gems of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and at one-mile long, it can be hiked by most abilities.
Camp Among the Redwoods
The only way to stay overnight in the parks is to camp. Luckily, you have a lot of options for campsites in Redwood National and State Parks.
Bed down for the night among the ferns and the redwoods at Mill Creek Campground in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park.
Fall asleep to the sound of the waves on Gold Bluffs Beach Campground in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Or, sleep under the stars at Elk Meadow Campground, also in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
If you don’t have a tent or a trailer, book a rustic cabin instead. Wherever you go, I strongly recommend booking a site as soon as you can, especially for summer travel dates.
Poke Around in a Tidepool
Seek out sea stars, anemones, crabs, and other oceanic critters in the tide pools at Redwood National Park’s beautiful beaches. Time your expedition for low tide when there will be more to see.
The best places to find tidepools are at Endert’s Beach, Damnation Creek, and False Klamath Cove.
Kayak, Swim, or Fish in the Smith River
During the summer, park rangers offer visitors an amazing experience: a free guided kayak tour of the Smith River.
Departing from the Hiouchi Visitor Center in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, rangers will point out wildlife and explain the geology that created this unique region throughout the three-hour paddle.
Tours are offered when river conditions allow, and some years the program is canceled if water levels are too low. Children can participate but must be at least ten years old and able to swim in moving water.
If you want to rent your own boat, Redwood Rides, based in Crescent City, will outfit your group with all the equipment you need for a day on the river.
Fishing is another popular activity on the Smith River, which is full of salmon and trout.
Regulations vary depending on the season and local conditions, so check with one of the visitor centers for guidance on what and how much you can responsibly catch.
Otherwise, the easiest way to enjoy the river is to simply jump in and enjoy a freshwater swim.
I’d only recommend this in the summer when the water levels are lower and it’s safer to swim. But taking a refreshing forest dip is the best way to end a day of hiking.
Go Horseback Riding
Taking a ride on horseback through the redwoods is a fun way to appreciate the beautiful scenery.
There are several equestrian trails throughout Redwood National Park and three designated backcountry campgrounds suitable for horses: Little Bald Hills Camp, Elam Camp, and 44 Camp.
Guided horseback tours for all abilities are available from Redwood Creek Buckarettes in Orick.
Mountain Bike Through the Forest
Biking is not usually allowed in national parks, as hikers are given priority.
However, the old logging roads that criss-cross the forests in Redwood National Park create ideal mountain biking routes.
The main bike hub is in Elk Meadow Day Use Area in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
Most of the trails start and end here. If you need to rent gear, Redwood Adventures in Orick will provide you with a bike and a helmet.
Free Camp Along a River
Leave it all behind on a wilderness adventure in Redwood National Park by pitching a tent outside the campgrounds along a pristine creek in the heart of the forest.
Pick your own spot along the gravel bar as far from other people as you like.
Redwood Creek Trailhead is the nearest parking area, so you’ll have to hike 1.5 miles to this dispersed camping area.
Be sure to bring bear-proof food storage and, of course, take all of your trash with you.
Drive a Scenic Route
Driving through the redwoods, windows down and cameras out, is a fun way to experience the forest.
There are several scenic routes in the parks, from easy to adventurous, but these are a few of the best.
Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway
The Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway is an alternate route through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, running parallel to Highway 101.
The paved, ten-mile road has a visitor center at the southern end and provides access to several trailheads.
Howland Hill Road
Want to get up close to the redwoods and not be afraid of a little dust?
Head up Howland Hill Road, an unpaved, ten-mile drive into the heart of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park’s giant redwood trees.
Be aware, this old stagecoach route is very narrow and not suitable for RVs or trailers.
Bald Hills Road
If the gloom of the forest is getting to you, head up Bald Hills Road in Redwood National Park to higher elevations and you’ll find open prairies, sweeping vistas, and sunshine.
This drive is especially scenic in springtime when wildflowers bloom in the meadows.
Take a nine-mile trip along the coast for stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. Pause at a turnout and look out for whales, sea lions, and pelicans from the bluffs.
Keep a sharp eye out for the World War II radar station disguised as a farmhouse along the way. To drive this route, take Klamath Beach Road and follow signs for the Coastal Loop.
Learn About the Redwoods at a Visitor Center
Redwood National and State Parks has five visitor centers.
Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center, located about one mile south of Orick in Redwood National Park is the biggest.
This is where you’ll find exhibitions about coastal redwoods and a bookshop where you can pick up an interesting read for your trip.
Located at the southern end of the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, Prairie Creek Visitor Center is also a great place to get maps, permits, and information from the rangers on duty.
Further north in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, you’ll find the Jedediah Smith Campground Visitor Center and the Hiouchi Visitor Center.
Finally, the Crescent City Information Center at 1111 Second Street in Crescent City is located just outside the parks.
Explore Fern Canyon
Immerse yourself in nature on a one-mile trek along a stream that trickles by living walls of lush, emerald-green ferns.
Word has spread about the magical experience of Fern Canyon and the park service is now limiting summer visitors with a permit system.
This short hike in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is one of the top things to do in Redwood National and State Parks, so be sure to secure your free permit online in advance of your visit.
Become a Junior Ranger
The Junior Ranger program is an incredibly effective way to hook kids into enjoying national and California state parks.
Pick up a booklet from one of the visitor centers and let your kids fill in the pages as you move through the parks.
Once they’ve completed their work, turn the booklet into a park ranger and your child will be sworn in as a Junior Ranger and receive a badge.
The booklets are full of fun activities and the promise of a badge (they are very shiny) helps keep kids motivated.
Although they work best for ages seven and up, younger kids can also earn their badges by drawing pictures.
Hike or Bike the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway
During the busy summer months, the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway is reserved for motorized traffic.
But on the first Saturday of the month between October and May, the road is closed to cars and opened to walkers and cyclists.
Leashed dogs are also welcome to join the fun along the ten-mile paved byway on these dates, so it’s a nice opportunity to take your pup along too.
Take in the Views from Scenic Outlooks
Pause to take it all in at one of Redwood National and State Parks’ scenic vista points.
Some of these spots are great for panoramic coastal views, whale watching, and wildlife viewing from afar. Others are great for a bird’s eye view over the redwoods.
Crescent Beach Overlook
Watch whales, pelicans, and sea lions from the high vantage point of Crescent Beach Overlook three miles south of Crescent City.
If it’s not foggy, you’ll see miles of beach, crashing surf, and off-shore sea stacks. You’ll find parking for this spot at nearby Endert’s Beach Road.
Redwood Creek Overlook
Enjoy a spectacular sunset over thousands of acres of old-growth redwood forests from Redwood Creek Overlook, one of the pullouts on Bald Hills Road.
Although the fog can hinder your view, some wisps of white clinging to the trees enhances the jaw-dropping vista.
Klamath River Overlook
This overlook on the Coastal Trail offers sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and Klamath River.
The Klamath River Overlook is a great place to spot birds and other wildlife. Seals can often be found sunbathing on the sand below, while grey whales spout in the distance. Access the spot from Requa Road, off Highway 101.
If you have more time, check out another stunning coastal view just a 20-minute drive south at High Bluff Overlook.
A dense forest canopy obscures the sky in many areas of the park, but there are also beautiful open meadows in Redwood National and State Parks.
Make a camping reservation for Elk Prairie Campground or Gold Bluffs Beach Campground, and enjoy one of the darkest skies in California. Spot constellations, planets, and perhaps even a shooting star.
Spot the Roosevelt Elk
Roosevelt elk are the largest species of elk in North America and you can see a whole herd graze at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
The elk were headed for extinction before conservation efforts were made in the early 20th century, led by President Theodore Roosevelt.
The project was a success, and the Olympic elk were renamed Roosevelt elk in the president’s honor.
Discover Some Popular Filming Locations
Coastal redwood forests make a stunning and mysterious backdrop for movies.
Most notably, Star Wars fans might be able to recognize Endor, the moon-home of the Ewoks from Return of the Jedi.
The iconic scenes were shot on lumber-company land near the parks, which has since been felled.
Although you may not be able to follow in Luke’s footsteps exactly, hiking in Redwood National Park still has an otherworldly feel.
And another famous franchise was filmed here: the sequel to Jurassic Park, The Lost World. The forest scenes were set in these redwoods, with one particularly gory sequence in Fern Canyon.
The redwood fossil record dates back to the Jurassic period, helping create that prehistoric vibe.
Lastly, just outside the parks is Ferndale, which is so idyllic that producers set the disaster movie Outbreak there.
However, locals weren’t too happy about the script and had the town name changed to Cedar Creek in the film.
Do a Multi-Day Hike Along the Coastal Trail
Although best known for its redwoods, Redwood National and State Parks has 70 miles of coastal trail running through the parks.
Cutting across beaches, forests, and streams, the Coastal Trail is perfect for a multi-day hiking adventure.
Backcountry camping (permit required) is located at Nickel Creek, Flint Ridge Camp, and Gold Bluffs Beach.
Track Down a Secret World War II Radar Station
After the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, North America quickly constructed a West Coast early warning system of radar stations spanning from Mexico to Vancouver.
One of these stations remains in Redwood National Park, disguised as an ordinary barn and farmhouse. You can visit Station B-71 from Coastal Drive to the west of Klamath.
Watch a Dance Demonstration
In July, locals from the Tolowa community perform a renewal dance, which parks visitors are welcome to attend.
The dance demonstration is performed at the Jedediah Smith Campground’s day-use area in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.
Check the Redwood National and State Park’s events page for future dates.
Seek Out Wildflowers
Spring is wildflower season in California when the emerald-green forest floor is enlivened with flashes of pink and blue.
During May and into June, rhododendrons bloom on the Damnation Creek Trail in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park and Lady Bird Johnson Grove in Redwood National Park.
Or, drive up Bald Hills Road to find clusters of violet lupines brightening the meadows in Redwood National Park during April.
There are many other beautiful flowers blooming at this time of year as well, including sweet wood strawberries, redwood sorrel, and Douglas iris under the tall trees.
Learn about Logging and Restoration History of the Parks
The national parks service bought thousands of acres from logging companies over the years and has a lot of restoration work ahead.
Not only did loggers take trees, but they also damaged the forest with roads, diverted streams, and caused erosion on slopes.
Learn about the park’s logging past and how conservationists are shaping the future at Redwood National and State Parks.
Hike the Ah-Pah Trail, an old logging road that has been converted into an interpretive trail found in Prairie Creek State Park.
Or check out the Lost Man Creek Trailhead in Redwood National Park, which allows visitors to walk through restored habitats.
Alternatively, volunteer on one of the parks’ volunteer event days to help rehabilitate these amazing forests.
Find a Banana Slug
Take a break from looking up at the towering redwoods and get a closer look at the forest floor, you may just spot a giant, bright yellow creature hiding among the ferns.
Banana slugs are found in coastal rainforests from Alaska to California. Their cheerful and unusual color makes them fun to spot. Kids especially love to find these critters along the trails.
Picnic on the Beach
Redwood National and State Parks have several beautiful beaches where you can pack a picnic and relax by the ocean.
The sandy stretches are connected by the Coastal Trail, a 70-mile footpath running the length of the parks.
Endert’s Beach, False Klamath Cove, and Gold Bluffs Beach are all gorgeous beaches, perfect for a picnic.
Pick up snacks from nearby Shoreline Deli & Market in Orick and enjoy your al fresco lunch.
Go on a Ranger-Led Nature Walk
Head straight to a visitor center when you arrive to find out when ranger events are taking place.
National parks offer a variety of interesting events and talks, from nature walks to campfire chats or stargazing. These events are always interesting, family-friendly, and very informative.
Plus, rangers can help point you toward anything that is a must-see in Redwood National Park.
It’s a good opportunity to ask questions and get tips for the best things to do in Redwood National Park and beyond. Best of all, they’re free!
Best Things to do Near Redwood National Park
Visit a Kitsch Redwood Roadside Attraction (Trees of Mystery)
I love a good roadside attraction and this area of the California Coast is full of them.
My favorite is the Trees of Mystery, located in Klamath. You can’t miss the giant Paul Bunyan sculpture waving at passers-by on Highway 101.
Aside from the mythical giant lumberjack, there is a redwood canopy trail, a gondola ride that takes you above the trees, and a museum full of local indigenous artifacts.
There are also some short, family-friendly trails around the property with interpretive signs.
Discover the Lost Coast
Highway 101 hugs the California coastline most of the way through the northern part of the state. However, engineers were unable to penetrate the rugged Kings Range region, so the road takes a detour inland.
As a result, there is a whole region of undeveloped, unspoiled coastline to explore, known as the Lost Coast.
Take the scenic, occasionally unpaved, backroads out to Mattole Beach and camp for a few days to get away from it all. Bring plenty of food and water, as the nearest store is several hour’s drive away.
The Lost Coast Trail is also one of California’s most popular backpacking trails if you’re up for a hiking adventure.
See the Bigfoot Museum
Looking for cool and quirky things to do around Redwood National Park? One nearby attraction that fits the bill is the Willow Creek China Flat Museum, better known as the Bigfoot museum.
Snap a picture with the giant, carved Bigfoot sculpture outside before heading in to marvel at the many Bigfoot artifacts.
Drive the Avenue of the Giants
One of the most popular and easiest things to do in Humboldt County is to drive the scenic route known as the Avenue of the Giants.
The 31-mile drive runs parallel to Highway 101 and offers drivers a closer look at the enormous trees. Along the way, you’ll find trailheads, camping grounds, and the occasional restaurant.
See the Victorian Town of Ferndale
Ferndale is a small town in a very remote corner of California.
It has retained a lot of its beautiful Victorian architecture and has a thriving arts scene, frequently staging concerts and festivals.
Ferndale is both picture-perfect and fun, making it the ideal spot for a romantic weekend or nearby base for exploring the redwoods.
Discover a Yurok Plank House at Sue-meg State Park
Sue-meg State Park has recreated a Yurok village, complete with plank houses that were once found in villages across the region.
Don’t miss this state park if you’re interested in what life was like here before Euro-Americans arrived. There’s also a campground, visitor center, and native plants garden.
Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree
Back in the early 20th century, when it seemed like a good idea to carve out huge holes in giant redwoods, there were several drive-thru trees in California.
Over the years, storms have toppled most of these tourist attractions, but only three remain today: the Shrine Tree, the Chandelier Tree, and the Tour Through Tree.
Of all these, the Chandelier Tree, with its dangling branches that inspired the name, is my favorite.
The still-living tree is located in Leggett, in a privately-owned park with a duck pond and sculptures. Make sure at least one of your party is outside the car to take the photograph!
Eureka, located about 45 minutes south of Redwood National and State Parks, has a delightful old town district to visit.
The old town has 150 Victorian-era buildings on a beautiful waterfront setting and is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Take a guided bike tour for a fun afternoon of exploration.
Hike the Humboldt Redwoods
There are several state parks outside of Redwood National Park that are worth visiting for their old-growth coastal redwood groves.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park, about an hour south of Redwood National and State Parks, boasts plenty of attractions beyond the famed Avenue of the Giants.
Check out one hundred miles of trails through Humboldt Redwoods State Park. You also won’t want to miss the fallen 362-foot Dyerville Giant and the Kellogg Travel Log.
The Charles Kellogg Travel Log is homemade from a redwood log that crossed the country four times as the world’s first motor home.
Sarah McDonald is a travel writer based in the Bay Area. She writes for the national parenting website Red Tricycle and on her own family travel blog, Tiny Trailblazers. She loves exploring California’s outdoors and has a weakness for a national park gift shop.
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