Best Hikes, Itinerary and Planning Guide
Redwood National Park
Crater Lake National Park was at the top of Kristin’s bucket list for a long time. We started planning a visit, and decided to include Redwood National Park, since it’s relatively close. And we ended up enjoying Redwood more in many ways. Redwood is unique because it’s not just a national park – it also includes three California State Parks: Del Norte Coast, Jedediah Smith, and Prairie Creek. Managed collectively, they’re known as “Redwood National and State Parks.”
The primary mission of the park is to protect old-growth temperate rainforest comprised of coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens). As with other parks named after one particular species, there’s so much more to see. Most of the redwood trees were logged in the past, but the park contains various “groves” which highlight remaining old-growth trees.
Our Top 5 in Redwood National & State Parks
- Backpacking Redwood Creek & Tall Trees – We saw large trees and wildlife, and camped on the bank of Redwood Creek. Hiking through the creek was a unique experience, which made this our favorite hike in the park. Also, banana slugs.
- James Irvine & Miner’s Ridge Trails with Fern Canyon – Our first real experience with large redwood trees, this trail has it all: beaches, forests, and Fern Canyon. It’s a longer hike, but worth it.
- Lyons Ranch Trail – For something different in Redwood N&SP, Lyons Ranch delivered on experiencing how homesteaders lived in the area. The wide open prairies are gorgeous and we enjoyed exploring historic structures.
- Kayaking the Smith River – This guided river kayaking experience allowed us to interact with rangers and exercise our arms (for a change). We navigated class I-II rapids, took in the beautiful scenery, and ate lunch on a rocky beach.
- Damnation Creek Trail – A roadside trailhead leads through redwood forest to a secluded beach. And you’ll understand the name on your return route (but it’s really not that bad).
Things we wish we did (“Things to do next time”)
- Prairie Creek Campground & Mill Creek Campground – The two car campgrounds we didn’t stay at.
- Designated Backcountry Campgrounds – There are seven backcountry campsites in the park; we only had time to backpack in the Redwood Creek area, which has dispersed camping. I’m sure there are some other great backpacking trips!
- Dolason Prairie Trail – Located along Bald Hills Road, this long day hike was high on our priority list, but we didn’t have time. Its old-growth redwoods, history, views, and open prairies are meant to reflect the original vision for Redwood National Park. We got a taste with Lyons Ranch Trail, but would have liked to see more.
- Mill Creek Trail & Grove of Titans – The Grove of Titans is an area that recently became well-known for featuring some of the largest and oldest coastal redwoods. Since it’s off-trail, many unauthorized social trails have caused environmental damage. This is one of the reasons we didn’t visit. The park is hoping to construct elevated boardwalks around the area, so we hope to visit in the future.
- And many more…
On our trip to Redwood National Park, we visited several places that didn’t get a full post, but are worth mentioning.
- Lady Bird Johnson Grove – After finishing our Redwood Creek backpacking trip, we had some time. We stopped at Lady Bird Johnson Grove, hoping to learn about forest ecology and the history of the park. The lot is small, and we took the last available parking spot. The 1.1 mile loop has a printed educational guide available for $1. We heard one visitor complain to her friend that she hadn’t been told that the trail was a whole mile long, which made us laugh.
- Stout Grove – After checking out Boy Scout Tree Trail, we headed further down the road to Stout Grove. We had read that sunlight streams through the trees in the late afternoon. The trails around the grove are well-maintained, and you’ll probably enjoy it if its your first hike in the park. By the end of our visit, it felt a bit samey, and we didn’t see the sunlight penetrating the tree canopy. There are good photo ops, and a lot of bang for your buck if you’re short on time or prefer flat terrain.
Our Redwood N&SP Tips
- Bring water shoes and trekking poles if you’re planning to backpack Redwood Creek.
- Check out some of the stops in the park that are right along the road, like DeMartin Picnic Area or Lagoon Creek.
- Check out ranger programs, like kayaking (some are free).
- If you want to see Roosevelt Elk, we recommend going to Elk Meadow or Gold Bluffs Beach. We also saw a herd near the turnoff from US 101 onto Bald Hills Road.
High temperatures in the winter average in the low 50s, while the average high temperature in the summer reaches the mid-60s. We visited in July for the warmest temperatures and the least rainfall. Not surprisingly, summer is the most popular time to visit Redwood.
As stated above, July through August is the busiest time to visit Redwood. If you can swing it, visit in June or September for cooler temperatures and fewer people. That said, we were there in July and never experienced any issues with crowds. The park is large enough that it disperses everyone well.
Redwood held steady with annual visitation in the past two decades. While many parks have seen a dramatic increase in visitors recently, Redwood hasn’t. In fact, more guests went to Redwood in the 1980s than in the 2000s.
We started our exploration of the park in the south, and worked our way north. Our planned itinerary worked out well, but there are countless ways to plan your trip.
|1||Arrive in Redwood N&SP. Do short hike.||Gold Bluffs Campground|
|2||Hike in Prairie Creek SP||Gold Bluffs Campground|
|3||Backpack in Redwood Creek, Day 1||Backpacking Campsite|
|4||Backpack in Redwood Creek Day 2||Jedediah Smith Campground|
|5||Smith River Kayaking||Jedediah Smith Campground|
|6||Hike in Del Norte SP||Lighthouse Inn|
|7||Hike in Jedediah Smith SP||Lighthouse Inn|
|8||Drive to Crater Lake|
- South Districts (Redwood NP & Prairie Creek)
- North Districts (Jedediah Smith & Del Norte Coast)
- Redwood Accommodations & Restaurants
- North Redwood National and State Parks Map (Redwood Hikes Press)
- South Redwood National and State Parks Map (Redwood Hikes Press)
- Redwood National and State Parks Map (National Geographic Trails Illustrated)
- National Park Service Maps