Redwood National Park (and state parks) is kind of a strange place to plan a visit. The park is separated into different sections and you’ll experience a mix of both NPS sites and privately owned redwood forest areas. There are lots of things to do in Redwood National Park, but it takes a little planning and patience to work it all in. There’s where we get to be helpful!
Overall, visiting Redwood National and State Parks should be planned either as a camping trip or as a stop on the road trip between Oregon and California. It’s not the most convenient centralized National Park to visit. Unlike Yellowstone or Zion National Park, the Redwoods are a bit scattered so getting to the different parts is something to plan. It’s kind of like visiting Acadia National Park or Olympic NP. Read on and you’ll see.
And if you have any additional suggestions or questions, please feel free to leave a comment or send us a note. We’re always happy to share more, including others’ tips and ideas for making a visit to Redwood National Park awesome!
Difference Between Redwoods and Sequoias
Both trees are super big, true story. They’re very different though. Sequoias are the largest trees on earth by volume, meaning that they are super tall AND really huge around. It takes, like, a gazillion blue whales to equal the weight of a giant Sequoia tree. Okay, that was an exaggeration.
Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world. At the Giant Forest Museum in Sequoia National Park there is a great display comparing the two trees. OMG, Redwoods are sooooo tall. Oliver, our oldest, would say “They’re so tall, you don’t even know.” Their branches and needles are very different too, both in pattern and texture. And then their cones aren’t at all alike, with Sequoia cones being larger and harder.
The most noticeable difference is the bark. Both Redwoods and Sequoias live for thousands of years, and as they grow they experience forest fires… and live to tell about them. When you see either type of tree you’ll notice countless fire scars; they’re really something to behold. The bark is very different when you compare them though, with the Sequoia being much softer and vibrant red, while the Redwood is a darker red and can be up to two feet thick. Seriously cool to analyze. Moving on…
Things to Do in Redwood National and State Parks
As you approach Redwood National Park you’ll see that there are also several state parks and private property portions of the overall Redwoods experience. There are lots of things to do to keep you busy or you can make an easy stop or two as you continue your drive up the coast. Depending on where you’re staying and how much time you have, here are three days worth of things to do in the Redwoods.
Redwood National Park Visitors Centers
First off: don’t forget to bring your National Parks Passport. You knew we were going to remind you. Secondly: they have a Junior Ranger program at Redwood National Park that is pretty cool. We opted not to complete it on this trip because it was more complex than other Junior Ranger programs we’ve done and, well, somebody didn’t have the patience to complete it with his daddy and papa.
The Kuchel Visitors Center is a pretty cool one. It’s got lots of great displays teaching about the Redwoods, the ecosystem and the wildlife you’ll find on California’s North Coast. Also, it’s totally on the beach. Walking directly out from the Visitors Center you get to stroll directly into the Pacific Ocean.
Well, you don’t have to get in, but you can explore the beach and check out the awesome Redwood driftwood that lines the shore. There are also some great informational displays that share local legends about the beaches and forests. Kids love informational displays!! It’s worth reading the stories aloud so you can see their little minds spinning and thinking.
Reminder: the beach is part of Redwood National Park. That means that it’s not a beach for combing and collecting. Leave only footprints and take only photographs… (take a look at our tips for smart souvenirs).
Tip: use the restroom here AND use their filtered water station. The water stations in National Parks aim to reduce the number of plastic bottles that get produced continually and end up in rivers and oceans. Help reduce that amount by refilling your water bottle.
There are fiver visitor centers in total, but not all of them are as comprehensive at the Kuchel Visitor Center. Each one offers maps and rangers to chat with, but not all have extensive exhibits or ranger-led activities. If you would like to visit the others:
- Crescent City Information Center – downtown, near the Battery Point Lighthouse
- Hiouchi Visitor Center – near the Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park area (which also has a small center)
- Prairie Creek Visitor Center – near the Atlas Grove, a good stop with kids since there are trails nearby
Hiking in Redwood National Park
I love hiking in the Redwoods. It’s not as strenuous as a lot of other National Parks, but it’s epically beautiful. Whether you want to get a backcountry permit to do the Tall Trees Trail or you just want to visit one of the beautiful and easily accessed groves, taking a hike through the forest is on of the best things to do in Redwoods National Park.
Lady Bird Johnson Grove in Redwood National Park
There are many hiking trails in Redwood National Park, and in the State Parks too, but we only did one, and that was through the Lady Bird Johnson Grove. Like the Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park or the Giant Forest in Sequoia, the Lady Bird Johnson Grove is a special place with exceptional examples of Redwood trees.
Tip: get the trail guide at the start of the path, as the features and trees as you go have numbers and the trail guide helps to teach about the environment you’re exploring.
Tall Trees Grove Loop
No, you don’t have to get a permit for this trail and no, it’s not the crazy one, but actually a wonderful loop that’s kid friendly. Located between Klamath and Eureka, the Tall Trees Grove is about 3.5 miles and takes about 2 hours to hike. The drive to the trailhead is gorgeous and windy, so enjoy the journey as much as the trees on the trail. Trailhead start here.
Jedidiah Smith River Trail
I love this trail and we’ve done it several times. You get the river, the Stout Grove and just a beautiful Redwood National Park (and this is a State Park portion) experience. This particular trail is wonderful in the late afternoon as the light starts to stream in from the west. You’ll love golden hour in the Stout Grove! Trailhead start here.
More Hiking in Redwood National and State Parks
There are so many more trails to do, and a lot of great hikes to beaches too. Here are a few more suggestions, and each is a bit different. If you’re spending several days in the Redwoods and want to get in plenty of hiking, pick one of two of these to add to your California Coast road trip or California National Parks road trip itineraries.
- Grove of Titans
- Enderts Beach Trail – from Coastal Trail
- Leiffer – Ellsworth Grove Trail / Simpson Reed Trail – start here!
- Cathedral Trees Trail – from Prairie Creek Visitor Center
Roadside Attractions in the Redwoods
While I tend to enjoy getting into nature with the kids much more than doing the kitschy stuff you’ll find associated with America’s roadside attractions, there are some pretty cool, fun stops to make as you drive through Redwood National and State Parks. You should plan on stopping at at least one of these truly unusual spots in the Redwoods.
Driving Through the Redwood Trees
Before you get to Eureka, California (if you’re coming from the south), you’ll get to see something totally weird: a drive-thru tree. Leggett, California is home to one of the many trees in Northern California that are so big they have tunnels going through them and are still living, health trees. Totally strange but really fun to experience with kids. Check out the Drive Thru Tree Park.
Trees of Mystery – Private Park
Further north, beyond the Kuchel Visitors Center and the Lady Bird Johnson Grove lie the Trees of Mystery. Here, you can pay to wander through a Redwood forest and then ride a gondola through the tree tops. It’s for sure an unusual view of the giant trees, but it will cost you for the experience ($25 for adults and $13 for kids). I think the coolest element of the Trees of Mystery is the ewok-style boardwalks and suspension bridges.
Paul Bunyan Folklore
Cute story: Oliver got his words mixed up or just didn’t understand us and he kept referring to the legendary characters as “Babe the Yak and Paul the Blue Onion.” He will never stop being adorable. Anyways, be sure to stop at the huge carved Paul and Babe off the highways, and then as you make other stops at the Vortex, the Trees of Mystery and the other Redwood National Park areas, watch for Paul Bunyan folklore and memorabilia. His story is one that’s unique to the American West and really fits into the Redwoods culture and history.
Need to Know about Visiting Redwoods National Park
Oh, and a big FYI about the Redwood Highway: it’s the windiest, most tiring road you’ll drive in all of California. The road between Bodega Bay and Eureka is pretty intense, as is the Pacific Highway through the Big Sur Coast, but the Redwood Highway is just ridiculous. Every quarter mile or less is another jackknife turn, slowly taking you up through the coastal mountains. Seriously, it’ll drain you and make you want a nap.
Tip: remember that windy roads make kids have to pee… and adults too. Luckily the Redwood Highway isn’t crazy busy, because chances are you’re going to have to pull over and become one with nature for a few moments.
Besides the huge trees here, there are wonderful paths through the shrubs and winding in and out of hollow trees. There are rhododendrons blooming in the forest and oxalis or sorel covering little gnome houses.
Making Redwood National Park Fun for Kids
Oh yeah, gnomes! We used the idea of gnomes and hunting for them as a way to keep the kids excited and engaged. The trail through the Lady Bird Johnson Grove is a loop, but it’s a long loop. Making a game out of finding gnomes and following the guide is a sure way to keep kids interesting and moving through the amazing forest that is Redwood National Park.
We grew up in a great period in film history, where there were movies like the Land Before Time, Ferngully and, from even before we were born, The Gnome-Mobile . On our way to California’s North Coast and the Redwoods, the boys got to watch The Gnome Mobile in the car and they loved it!! If you’re not familiar, the movie takes place in a Redwood forest, and we were visiting Redwood National Park, so it was a perfect fit.
If you haven’t seen The Gnome Mobile, go find it and watch it. You’ll see how even back in the 60s when it was made, the theme was saving the forest and teaching the kids to appreciate it. Hopefully that’s what our little guys are taking from all of our adventures… and hopefully they’ll get to find a gnome someday.
Just a week before jaunting into Redwood National Park we had explored Sequoia National Park. It was all part of our epic Mountain National Parks road trip. After seeing the hugeungous trees in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, we thought we might not be thrilled about visiting Redwoods National Park, but we were very happy to be there!
Funny story: on our hike, we met a lady who asked us all to pose with one of the giant trees to show scale. Yeah, we were quite tiny in comparison.
Yes, we’ve seen some huge trees. A lot of them. Yes, we have the Hoh Rain Forest at home in Washington and we love hiking there too, but visiting Redwood National Park was a very special stop for us. Strolling through the groves of ancient giants and looking for gnomes with the boys was so much fun and we got to make some great memories. Each time we visit a National Park or even just go explore nature at home, we’re helping the kids learn to appreciate the world around them.
If you have any additional ideas or questions about things to do at Redwood National Park and State Parks, please leave a comment or send us a note. We would love to share even more ideas to make a visit to the beautiful place even better!
Cheryl and Lisa
Sunday 26th of June 2016
It looks like you guys had a great trip to the Redwood National Park! I love it - Babe the Yak and Paul the Blue Onion! Continued safe travels!
Friday 17th of June 2016
The Redwood National Park has been on my bucket list for years. Some day I'll wind up there...hopefully.
Thursday 16th of June 2016
Leave only footprints and take only photographs. Thank you for writing that! I've never heard of the Gnome Mobile lol. But now I want to watch it. One of my best friends is OBSESSED with gnomes (weird, I know). She is going to flip when I send this to her.
Monday 13th of June 2016
Game of Gnomes...interesting...I wonder why I did not try that. Damn. Now she is all grown up!
Sunday 12th of June 2016
A drive through tree--wow! Am curious to see it as well as many of the national parks you have written about..hope I get to make my first trip to the US next year:)