Outdoors in the Redwoods

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Outdoors in the Redwoods
Visiting the redwoods can be as intense or laid-back as you want it to be. For those looking for adventure, Redwood National Park offers various activities, including hiking, kayaking, camping, and whale-watching.
Photo by George Ostertag/age fotostock
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    Hiking the Trails
    The Tall Trees Trail, Lady Bird Johnson Grove, and Fern Canyon are among the most popular low-key hikes. If you’re looking for something more strenuous, take in the ancient fog-shrouded trees down Mill Creek Horse Trail or along Damnation Creek. For an all-day adventure, head out to Flint Ridge or Little Bald Hills Trail. The 11-mile loop formed by the Miners Ridge and the James Irvine trails passes through Fern Canyon and old-growth redwood groves, and along Gold Bluffs Beach. Bring water and rain gear; it’s almost always wet under the trees. Be sure to check the current trail conditions before you go.
    Photo by George Ostertag/age fotostock
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    Paddling the Parks
    The rivers that sweep under the trees and toward the sea offer a unique way to see the parks. Rent or bring your own kayak, or join a guided tour for an all-day trip. In the fall, Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center also hosts Paddlefest, a free festival centered around water activities and fun. Just getting an oar in the water from a kayak or canoe is lovely in itself, but many of the ocean bays and lagoons also feature stunning views and one-of-a-kind eroded rock faces. To the south, the famous Avenue of the Giants winds parallel to the Eel River, making it a popular spot for boats. On the northern edge of the park, the massive Klamath River runs to the Pacific, but it can be more suited to rafting, unless you’re an expert kayaker. Or, you can take it all in from the Klamath River Overlook.
    Photo courtesy of Humboldt County CVB
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    The Untouched Coast
    Just south of the Redwood National and State Parks is the area known as the Lost Coast because of its lack of development. (Even Highway 101 skips over the region.) But the coast throughout the parks is just as undeveloped and, in many ways, even more remote—though the nearby highway technically makes it easier to visit. Stop at the lagoons in Humboldt Lagoons State Park and then head to Luffenholtz Beach. The tide pools at Endert's Beach aren’t to be missed. Don’t want to get wet? Simply enjoy the view from the Klamath River Overlook. If you make it all the way north to Crescent City, you'll want to see the Battery Point Lighthouse and its distinctive surrounding rock formations.
    Photo by Gary Crabbe/age fotostock
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    Into the Backcountry
    Day hikes are great for short trips, but with over 200 miles of trails and eight backcountry campgrounds, the parks have plenty of space for those looking to go deep into the wild. The Redwood Creek Trail is one of the most popular remote-from-civilization routes. The DeMartin and Flint Ridge sections of the Coastal Trail also offer views of the Pacific and the redwoods. Visitors can also bike or ride horses down many of the paths. Camping overnight is only allowed at designated backcountry sites, so plan ahead. Permits for backcountry camping are free, but experience is advisable, and proper food storage and waste disposal are essential. Before you go—especially during the summer—call the park to see if there are any fire restrictions or closures.
    Photo courtesy of Redwood NPS
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    The View from Horseback
    When hiking gets tiring, there’s still plenty more to see from horseback. Many of the parks' backcountry sites are accessible by horse; load up packs and ride into the wilderness. For those who aren’t as experienced (or who don’t have their own steed), a number of stables, such as Redwood Creek Buckarettes, lead organized trips for beginners and advanced equestrians. Short rides, without the camping, are also a fun way to cover a considerable amount of ground. Three main horse trails run along prairies and ridgelines: Little Bald Hills Trail, Mill Creek Horse Trail, and Orick Horse Trail. Crescent Beach, Gold Bluff, and Freshwater Beach also allow horses to walk along the sand.
    Photo courtesy of Redwood Creek Buckarettes
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    Pitch a Tent
    It’s hard to visit Redwood National and State Parks and not feel the urge to pitch a tent. Campground services include water, toilets, and picnic areas; many even have RV hookups. The four main park campgrounds cost $35 per night per site and host fireside ranger shows for kids (and adults). The one at Gold Bluffs Beach may be the most popular, with its smell of the ocean on the air. Where you camp, though, will depend on what you’re looking for. Just outside the big parks, smaller regional areas like Van Duzen County Park and Clam Beach County Park are lesser-known but still breathtaking spots to spend the night. Even Humboldt Lagoons State Park has a campsite. Many sites can be driven to, but those within the national park require that you hike or ride in.
    Photo by Cody Duncan/age fotostock
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    Watch for Whales
    Off the coast of the park, gray whales pass by as they migrate first to warmer climates and then back to Arctic waters. The best time to see the majestic animals is during either November and December or March and April. Outside those months, there’s also a pod that lives all year round near the mouth of the Klamath River and can be seen from the Klamath River Overlook there, if you’re lucky. To spot them in the blue water, stand on shore and look for the blow as it shoots up. Or, join an organized boat trip to catch a peek at them up close.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Animals in the Wild
    Whales aren’t the only wild creatures in and around the parks. The tide pools and lagoons are filled with starfish, while a range of birds make their homes among the rocks and trees. Mountain lions and bears are common throughout the area, too, but the best-known of the animals in the park are the herds of Roosevelt elk. Although these beasts were hunted almost to extinction, there are now, thanks to conservation efforts, thousands of them. The best places to get a glimpse are Elk Prairie and Elk Meadow in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. With their massive antlers, elk are the second-largest animal in the deer family; they can be aggressive while mating, meaning you should always be careful while in their natural habitat.
    Photo courtesy of Redwood NPS
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    Boating the Redwoods
    Thoughts of the redwoods conjure up images of giant trees and camping in the fog, and those are must-have experiences while visiting. What most travelers here don’t realize, though, is that there’s also an entire network of waterways in and around the area, making boating and rafting one of the parks' most popular activities. Kayaking can be a rewarding good time, but if you’re looking for another way to explore, try a raft or fishing boat. Adventure companies such as Redwoods and Rivers lead raft outings down the Klamath, Trinity, and Eel rivers, which can be as thrilling as they are wet. If you don't want to be so active, opt for a lazy drift boat or do a solo launch from one of the many local ramps for a full-day or half-day fishing trip.
    Photo courtesy of Redwoods & Rivers
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    The Park by Bike
    Whether you want to mountain bike or cycle on the road, there are plenty of two-wheeled adventures in the parks for avid riders. One of the more unusual characteristics of Redwood is that many of their hiking trails are shared with bikers or equestrians. Ride the Coastal Trail or the Ossagon Trail Loop and camp in the backcountry (but do check maps beforehand). If you want to hit the road instead, there are Saturday-morning group outings or classic local routes to try. The Tour of the Unknown Coast is a popular 100-mile ride each May that travels from Ferndale along the coast and down Avenue of the Giants. The Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway is another great biking option—especially on the first Saturday of the month during spring and summer, when the scenic thoroughfare is closed to cars.
    Photo by Kyle Sparks/age fotostock