Copyright 2009 - 2014 by Mario Vaden
Recommended parks and places for redwood hiking and exploring
If you are coming to see the redwoods, my suggestion is the north redwood parks of Humboldt and Del Norte counties. With a limit of 2 - 8 days, the redwoods farthest north are the ones to visit. Muir Woods near San Francisco is nice but not in the same league. Even if you have 10 days for a vacation, keep the Humboldt and Del Norte redwoods in your sights for the ultimate in redwoods exploring.
Certainly acquire maps and contact the visitor information centers. See my main redwood page for visitor centers and hiking map sources. Suggestions below are parks & trails followed by comments about taking dogs, plus the best time to visit. Feedback from an expert redwood forest explorer is included.
If you are not restricted to the San Francisco area, keep your sights set on the far noth redwoods: California version of an Alaska Wilderness trip. From San Francisco, its only 220 miles to Humboldt Redwoods. Just a few hours.
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park:
This park is at the north end for California redwood parks. Its west border is almost adjacent to Crescent City, and you can enter the park using Howland Hill Road or Highway 199. Howland Hill Road is an old state road through the midst of the park.
In this park, some of the best places to visit are:
- Stout Grove
- Simpson Reed Discovery Trail
- Boy Scout Redwood Trail
- Howland Hill Road
- Mill Creek Trail
Those are my top picks for starters. On rare occassions in winter, Howland Hill Rd. is closed due to storms. That could isolate you from Boy Scout Tree Trail. Faced with that rare occurance, hike in from Hy. 199 on the Hiouchi Trail to where it meets Mill Creek Trail. At that point, you could also cross over Mill Creek into Stout Grove, too, but the water is higher in winter. Unless you are willing to bare foot up through water up half way up to your knees, carrying footwear. In the wet season, I say its worth packing thongs if you have a hking stick, to try and cross to Stout Grove. But the road is usually open aside from a week or two maintenance grading that happens near late June depending on weather.
Crescent City is a full-service city with lodging, food, clothes, airport, visitor center, dining and more. If you have extra hours, travel east on Hy. 199 along the scenic Smith River for 10 or 20 miles. If you have an extra day to spare, the Oregon coast toward Brookings and Gold Beach is gorgeous. Consider maybe 50 miles of Oregon coastline: among the finest coastal scenery along the west coast.
Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park:
When you leave Crescent City headed south, highway 101 leads up into this park almost immediately. There are several turnouts for parking with excellent views of the Pacific Ocean.
- Damnation Creek Trail - 4 mile round trip. Moderately vigorous. Trail reaches ocean.
To fit the the most in one visit to the redwoods, this is the one trail I will list for this park. There is a huge turnout for it, but the trailhead sign is hard to see, and the highway sign may be missing. The trailhead is supposed to be by mile marker 16. The trailhead turnout is 8 miles south of where Humboldt Rd. and Enderts Beach Rd. meet Highway 101 by Crescent City, so set your odometer there. Basically, head about 8 miles south on 101 from the south end of the long beach at Crescent City.
Typically, Damanation Creek Trail had great Rhododendron blossoms most years. Late May into June. 2010 was a particulary bleak year for Rhody flowers. Other than exceptions, its well decorated with blossoms. The trail is well-reported by many people all through the year for general redwood hiking.
This park, from highway and trail, often has fog among the redwoods with sunrise or sunset shining through the canopy. Best chance for those kind of photos are get up very early or catch it late day when clouds are few but fog is likely. It's hit and miss sometimes.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park:
This is the next major old growth redwood park to the south. It is very close to the town of Orick, California. On the way along Highway 101, there is a Trees of Mystery stop along the way near Klamath, and its probably worth a stop if you like touristy stuff. The American Indian artifact museum is one of the best private collections and there's no charge for that part of it. The gondola does not go through big redwoods. It's basically a ride through small evergreens to hilltop view.
In Prairie Creek, some of the best places to visit are:
- James Irvine Trail: 1 or 2 miles or the full 9 mile loop to the beach. Can combine with Miners Ridge Trail.
- Big Tree across Drury Parkway from the visitor center. Near parking area.
- 1 minute walk in ... a fast shot-in-the-arm giant redwood experience ... truly huge though
- Brown Creek Loop Trail ... very ancient feeling
- Arco Giant Redwood: look for a path / road at the south end of the prairie stretching into forest
- Prairie Creek Trail starting near visitor center: at least 1 or 2 miles and more. Creek and big redwoods
- Fern Canyon ~ see note below
Fern Canyon is nifty. But it's either a 9 mile round trip hike, or you will need to travel around the park on roads to get there. If you are accustomed to destinations like Eagle Creek Trail in Oregon, the Grand Canyon or similar, I'd suggest skipping Fern Canyon if going there means sacrificing spots like Brown Creek Trail or James Irvine Trail. Fern Canyon begins with Red Alder and Sitka Spruce, and unless you hike east deeper into the forest, you will cut down on the Coast Redwood adventure. I consider this canyon more of an add-on to lots of other redwood trail stuff.
So far, I've been able to get fuel in Orick during daytime. And you can get fuel in Klamath. Unless you will be near Prairie Creek or Redwood National Park for more than a day, I would skip lodging in Orick, and stay near Eureka, Fortuna, or maybe Crescent City, which is still only 20 minutes or so away. Eureka is more like 45 minutes. No phone signal in Prairie Creek redwood park. But you can get signal in Orick consistently. Restaurant options are maybe a step above greasy spoon. Last omelette I had there ... rather than the cheese firming upon cool-down, that cheese remained as runny as uncooked egg whites ... no kidding.
Redwood National Park:
This is almost adjacent to the town of Orick, to its east. The main access is Bald Hills Road off Highway 101
Some of the best places to visit are:
- Lady Bird Johnson Grove >>> But Prairie Creek matches this any day except Rhododendron season
- Tall Trees Grove
- Check out the Kuchel Visitor Center at the south side of Orick
- About 5 to 10 extra miles of scenic travel past Lady Bird Johnson Grove if you have time for Bald Hills Rd.
Lady Bird Johnson Grove parking is maybe 5 minutes up Bald Hills Road. It is a pretty easy walk. I don't think that "hike" describes it. An all ages place. Its attractive, and popular in summer.
Tall Trees Grove is a favorite of mine. Its got a lot more going for it than many reviews. Some folks don't realize exactly whats in that grove area. And I don't mean Hyperion or Helios redwoods. Some hikers and writers have underestimated the grove in their reviews. Look at all the species in there including old growth Douglas fir and several hardwoods. The bigleaf maples are huge. It's smooth sailing going down the trail. But a bit vigorous for the 1.3 mile return. In summer, I prefer to get there in morning, to hike back up before the weather warms. If you take children 8 to 10 years, they can probably return under their own steam. If you take a 4 year old, you will pay in sweat carrying them back up. It holds a little bit more of what can be described as wilderness experience.
The drive along Bald Hills Road is hard to convey with words. Its very scenic. There are Prairies on the hills that meet the redwoods. With Lupine and other wildflowers in spring, and Roosevelt Elk much of the year
Humboldt Redwoods and Rockfeller Forest: the Rockefeller Forest and Avenue of the Giants area is expansive and scenic with towering old growth. There are so many trails, parking areas and nearby attractions that you will want to use a visitor center and several online resources to select places to visit. Be sure it remains on your itinerary. See my main redwood page for visitor centers. This has it's own visitor center, and is separate from Redwood National and State Parks visitor centers north of Eureka, which all coordinate together. Here are a few suggestions for starters:
- Founders Tree
- Bull Creek Flats and trails (see my main redwood page hiking trail table for this)
- Bull Creek Flats (Mattole) Rd.
- Mahon Plaque Trail
- Women's Federation Grove
- Avenue of the Giants (old coast highway)
- Grieg, French, Bell grove off Avenue of the Giants ... mind-blowing expanse of sorrel under redwoods
The drive beween Rockefeller Forest and Prairie Creek will provide many sources for supplies, lodging and food in Eureka and Arcata. Both full service cities. If you need something more intricate for camera gear, Eureka is you best option. There is a Costco there also. Fortuna has quite a bit also.
Extra Ideas to add:
- Logging Museum in Scotia
- Tour Thru Redwood in Klamath
- Samoa Cookhouse near Eureka
- Carson Mansion and Carter House Inns in historic old town Eureka. Can't go in the mansion, but look.
- Ferndale if you like Victorian architecture.
Redwood Explorer, Michael Taylor: Favorites
For extra feedback about the redwood parks, I emailed Michael Taylor, an expert redwood explorer. Michael is a co-discoverer of Hyperion, the tallest known redwood, and has been hiking and exploring redwood parks for much of his life. These are his favorite parks as pertains to pure enjoyment. The more I explore, the more I am understanding his #1 choice.
In this order:
1. Humboldt Redwoods State Park ~ especially Rockefeller Forest
2. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park & Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park ~ virtual tie
3. Redwood National Park
4. Montgomerery Woods State Natural Reserve ~ NW of Ukiah taking Highway 101 and Orr Springs Rd.
5. Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park ~ near Carlotta, Ca. ~ closed until 2011
6. Hendy Woods State Park ~ near Boonville, about 18 miles W x SW from Ukiah, CA, as the crow flies
7. Richardson Grove State Park ~ 7 miles south of Garberville, CA ~ closed until 2001
8. Headwaters Forest Reserve ~ near Fortuna, CA
Best Time to Visit the Redwoods
The best time to visit the redwoods, depends on what you want to do, and what weather you can become comfortable in. Personally, I like October to June, when the weather is relatively cool and moist. And from November to April, it begins to feel like you almost have the place to yourself. The ultimate for me, would be winter, like December and January. The founder of redwoodhikes.com responded that winter is the best time. But winter weather variables may be challenging for redwood vacation travelers coming from across the country. For people planning trips from out of state or out of country, June to October will probably provide the most reliable weather conditions.
Spring: around late May into June, the Rhododendrons are blooming. If you are committed to taking Rhody photos, this is the best time in the redwoods for you. Late spring brings fresh fern fronds.
Summer: there are more cars, but not many. Trails are not busy, and don't compare the north redwood trails to Muir Woods in summer. Early summer, you will see some nice lilies in several areas. This is the most reliable season for the most trails to be open with the best access. Seasonal bridges are in place across rivers.
Autumn: some fall color of course. Mosses become more green. Some colorful fungi and mushrooms start emerging from the forest floor and logs.
Winter: provides greater view corridors because you can see farther. Deciduous leaves have fallen, exposing different opportunities for photos. The moss is very green. Some trunks are almost flourescent-like highlights. Some parks have seasonal ponds. Falling water droplets can almost sound musical. Dust has washed from the foliage of evergreens like huckleberry and ferns. There are hundreds of small seasonal brooks and waterfalls. With few visitors, you feel like being in a private park.
Dogs at the Redwoods
Most redwood parks don't allow dogs on trails. But there is enough to keep your dog busy for 3 or 4 days. I don't think that I'd recommend bringing dogs for far north redwood vacations like 7 days long if you plan to be on the trail a lot. Unless your pet does well sleeping 4 hours at a time in a vented car. Which may be feasible if you give them a good walk first then go on your own several hour hike. There are many full shade parking areas if you look around. Veterinary care is available up by Brookings, Oregon, and Crescent City, and Eureka, if you need assistance. One lodging off the top of my head that allows dogs is the Hiouchi Motel.
In Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park use the old Howland Hill stage road as your trail, with some of the best old growth in the park. Its several miles: right through the midst of the park. In summer, it may be dusty from cars. The same park provides you and your dog with Walker Road, off Highway 199. There is also the campground paved loop and day use area. Use several beaches near Jedediah Smith, around Crescent City, and on the way to Klamath. Add Brookings, Oregon, area Harris Beach and Lone Ranch Beach near Jed Smith redwoods. I've seen many people with pets at Lone Ranch Beach.
Then in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, take Cal-Barrel Road all year. Hardly any traffic even in summer. Gate often locked during the rainy season, but just walk right around it. Miles worth of old growth walking. You should be able to take a bicycle on Cal-Barrel Road, even if the gate is closed if you want to ride alongside your dog. Traffic is often light along the paved Drury Parkway, and most of it has plenty of shoulder room and a lot of old growth redwood. Miles of redwoods and virtually no dust. On the west side of the park, use maps to get to the Gold Bluffs Beach area.
For Redwood National Park, there is an old road up at Lost Man Creek. Ask for the directions at the Crescent City, Prairie Creek, or Orick visitor centers. You could also go for a scenic prairie-side walk up on Bald Hills Road that overlooks the redwood forest below. Some of the best redwood viewing from a birds eye vantage pint. Not much of a road shoulder, but after 7 miles, there is not much traffic once you get up on the mountain. The scenery is very nice, overlooking forest, prairie, oaks and a glimpse of the ocean.
Then Humboldt Redwoods State Park near Avenue of the Giants, walk along Bull Creek Flats Road which leads to Mattole Road. Some summer traffic, but okay. Paved with very little dust. And the Avenue of the Giants works if you like. Some sections have plenty of room to the side of the lanes. There is a short driveway down to the Woman's Federation Grove. And likewise a nice paved lane that leads to and passes Founders Grove, off Avenue of the Giants.
Just one of those walking hiking options for each park, would be plenty. The redwoods are huge. And you are going to pass by rivers, beaches and turnouts. If you couple that with meal times and a few stops for supplies, you can have a fine redwood experience.
There are several beaches where you can get your dog out too. Jedediah Smith redwoods and Prairie Creek redwoods both have plenty of shade parking that you can find in case you want to take a short trail hike yourself after walking the pet, and need to leave it in the vehicle with the windows partially open.
Redwood Park Overview
Scroll up for other information
The first part of this page was written with TIME LIMITS in mind: how to squeeze some of the more outstanding sights into a limited number of days. This next part is more about the DIFFERENCES in the parks, and whether one description sounds more appealing to you, your family, your needs. I will be bold text some important aspects. The overview will cover north to south. Contact the parks about closures. This is written assuming all the parks and the campgrounds are open.
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Del Norte Redwoods State Park
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Redwood National Park
Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Regarding how many trails there are, names and lengths, go to redwood hikes.com and scroll down the page. From my main redwood page, you can access some substantial feedback I added about hiking too.
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Location: between Crescent City and Hiouchi in California. 83 miles west of Grants Pass, Oregon (Interstate 5)
Overview: also known as Jed Smith, this redwood park is the northernmost old growth park of major significance. The campground is off highway 199 which passes through the park. An old historic road also crosses the park east to west a bit farther south: the west end enters from Crescent City and the east end enters near some homes near the Smith River.
The close proximity to Crescent City provides many restaurants, lodging and shopping and a park visitor center. Hiouchi on the east side offers a tiny Hamlet style community that basically shuts down near 8pm in the evening, with some lodging and some food.
The park has several hiking trails. In summer, the Smith River slows down, where visitors go to wade and swim. The campground is almost entirely shaded under evergreen forest.
Wheelchairs - visitors using wheelchairs can enjoy the fairly level loop near Simpson Reed Discovery trail. The park visitor center would doubtfully recommend it, but if I were in a wheelchair and had two sturdy family members, I'd ask them to help me wheel up and down the paved slope to Stout Grove, which is nearly level all around the lower loop. The Walker Road off Hy. 199 has minimal traffic too, and with an extra set of eyes and ears, is worth rolling like a stroll. The day use area and much of the campground is smooth enough too.
Del Norte Redwoods State Park
Location: just south and uphill from the beach at the south end of Crescent City, along Hy. 101
Overview: this may be one of the better known parks for Rhododendron photos, because so many people photograph the blossoms from May to June along Hy. 199 or Damnation Creek trail. Among redwood parks, it has very few hiking trails, with Damnation Creek trail being the most popular: but it is a nice trail too, combining redwood forest and a beach destination. There is also a substantial campground down a long paved road.
Close proximity to Crescent City provides an abundance of lodging, food, shopping and a park visitor center.
Due to much of the park being elevated, the opportunities for sun ray and fog photography are very good, especially in the early morning and evening hours. There are plenty of parking turnouts along the highway.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Location: just north of the central Orick, California, community. Take Drury Scenic Parkway off Highway 101. The parkway connects with 101 at the south and north ends. The park is approximately 30 miles south of Crescent City and 50 miles north of Eureka
This park has an abundance of hiking trails. More than most other redwood parks: about 70 miles worth
Klamath a few miles north, and Orick a few miles south, offer some lodging and food, but it is very minimal. There is fuel in Klamath until about midnight.
This park has some camping in an open grassy prairie area, in addition to the wooded area of mixed young forest. The number of trails, road and ocean provide some mountain bike riding options, plus playing or camping along the Gold Bluffs Beach.
Wheelchairs - Ask the parks visitor center about the Foothill trail area near where it intersects Cal-Barrel Road. There is a Rotary International Grove marker near there and the stretch of trail in that area has some nice redwoods. Another connecting trail right there would be obvious too.
I have seen either elk or deer during 80% of my visits to this park. If none are around in sight, the chances of seeing elk a few miles south on 199 are like 98%.
Prairie Creek redwoods is the most lush or rainforest looking to me, and is my favorite northern coast redwood park. Even if you don't have time to hike, it is so easy to quickly turn off 101, cruise the huge old growth, then continue back on 101 again. It's like a miniature Avenue of the Giants, except that the 8 to 10 mile stretch along Drury Scenic Parkway seem as good or better than any single 8 mile stretch at Avenue of the Giants.
Jedediah Smith Redwoods has been described as very photogenic, but Prairie Creek Redwoods seems even better, because it has so many trails and locations available.
Redwood National Park
Location: north side of Orick, CA, turn east off Highway 101 onto Bald Hill Road
Overview: Redwood National Park seems to have more Wilderness feel to it than any of the other redwood parks. The closest town is tiny. The roads are minimal. The most-visited grove is Lady Bird Johnson Grove, but it's almost the only easy redwood destination in the park. In 2010, a new Berry Glen Trail opened between Hy. 101 and Lady Bird Johnson Grove, but it is rather steep and vigorous, with minimal hikers.
This is one park where some overnight campers go, to camp along Redwood Creek. A permit is needed from the visitor center, and a short hike or long hike depending on which trail is used.
One practically famous feature is the Tall redwoods grove along Redwood Creek, about 2.5 miles round trip. It's amazing that more people do not hike that one. But it does take a free permit, 7 paved miles, plus 7 gravel miles after the gate. That may just leave the serious redwood viewers. Only 50 or so permits are available for that trail, but they rarely if ever have that many people hiking down there.
The upper part of the park along the loing paved Bald Hill Rd. has quite a bit of prairie for several miles of it, with wide open views overlooking the coast redwood forest. The ocean can be visible. Elk can be found grazing.
There are no campgrounds to speak of, but there is one horse camp which you can inquire about.
If you are a serious redwood person, and had to choose one hike, either Lady Bird Johnson Grove or the gated Tall Redwoods trail, I'd encourage you to postpone LBJ Grove and get the permit and combination for the other.
Personally, I tend to hike here less often because more time is spent driving in relation to how much hiking gets done, or how soon I can get to a trail.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Location: about 233 miles north of San Francisco and 40 miles south of Eureka, CA.
Overview: being written