Redwoods for the Family

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Redwoods for the Family
Redwood National Park and the surrounding state parks aren’t just for adventurers—they’re also a great place to take the kids. Hit the roads in an RV or bring the littlest ones on easy trail walks.
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    RV Redwoods Road Trip
    Introducing the family to nature on an RV road trip is a great alternative to camping. With so many miles of scenic roadways to cover across the sprawling park, an RV is a practical and fun way to see all the sights. Private hookups, like those at Redwoods RV Resort or Emerald Forest of Trinidad, have large parking spots and all the amenities. Many public campgrounds in the park also have RV sites.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Camping Together
    The family that camps together builds memories together. Let the kids learn how to pitch a tent and roast marshmallows over the fire. Fortunately, Redwood National Park campsites and the nearby private campgrounds are built for families containing all age groups, whether that means sleeping in cabins, RVs, or extra-large tents. Park campsites, like the Gold Bluff Beach Campground or the nearby state-park campsite at Humboldt Lagoons, are well-maintained, with bathrooms, showers, and hosts who can direct you towards kid-friendly trails or even point out a sea lion sunning on the rocks. During summer months, rangers put on fireside shows and organize tours.
    Photo by Julia Kuskin/age fotostock
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    The Redwoods by Car
    Little legs aren’t always cut out for covering miles of trails, but that doesn’t mean the kids have to miss the stunning views and towering trees. Driving the Avenue of the Giants is a great way to experience the majestic redwoods. Many of the best routes are unpaved and closed to RVs, but don’t let that keep you from taking the wheel and checking out Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway (no cars on the first Saturday of the month from February to May), Davison Road, or Cal-Barrel Road. Go slowly and let the fog drift around the car. The kids will also love rolling right through one of the three privately operated drive-through redwood trees; the experience typically costs $5. Just don’t forget to get out every now and then to walk amid nature.
    Photo courtesy of Hillary Hartley/Humboldt County CVB
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    Utilize the Visitor Centers
    Trying to keep track of everything to do in all the parks can make a vacation start to feel like work. Let the experts take care of it instead. The Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center, just south of Orick, is the best place to start your adventure. Invest $2 in a trail map and get tips on current conditions; you'll even find plenty of trailheads directly behind the center. The Hiouchi Visitor Center marks the northern entrance to the park, and the Crescent City Information Center sends travelers in the right direction before they leave town. Most of the centers sponsor junior-ranger programs and have exhibits designed for kids. If you get tired of the great outdoors, head indoors to the Bigfoot Museum in Willow Creek.
    Photo courtesy of Humboldt County CVB
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    See the Giants among Giants
    Impressive old-growth redwood groves are virtually everywhere you look in the park, but if you’re searching for a particularly extraordinary specimen, don’t miss the 304-foot Big Tree north of the Prairie Creek Visitor Center. It’s a giant among giants, with a trunk measuring 21 feet across. The Tall Tree—named the tallest redwood in 1963, though it no longer holds the title—can be found in the Tall Trees Grove, though the hike to get there can take all day. To get a bird’s-eye view, head to the Trees of Mystery site in the middle of the park. For $16, the attraction features a gondola to carry visitors up along the Sky Trail. Afterward, the kids will love the gift shop, restaurant, and 49-foot Paul Bunyan statue.
    Photo courtesy of Humboldt County CVB
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    Kid-Friendly Trails
    While there are hundreds of miles of trails for the hard-core backpacker, there are still more than enough easy routes to satisfy active kids. The Lady Bird Johnson Nature Loop and the Stout Grove Trail are short walks that are ideal for families. If you’re looking for something slightly more (but not too) challenging, try the 2.5-mile Trillium Falls Trail, which leads to one of the only waterfalls in the park. If the kids have a helmet and two wheels, then the mellow Davison Trail from Elk Meadow or the Coastal Trail section from Gold Bluffs Beach are scenic alternatives to biking around the neighborhood.
    Photo by Julia Kuskin/age fotostock
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    Swimming Holes
    Once you work up a sweat, head straight to the water to cool off. Any of the park beaches or Humboldt lagoons provide a nice spot to float or to splash around. Climb the dunes at Little River State Beach before diving into the river. Most of the best swimming can be found in the vast network of waterways throughout the park. Jump into one of the popular local swimming holes in the Trinity River near Willow Creek or in the Mad River off of Hatchery Road. On the far side of the bridge, the water is deep enough that you may even be able to snorkel. In the summer, Freshwater Creek is dammed to create Freshwater Pool. The area features a park, playground, and barbecue pits.
    Photo by Thomas Hallstein/age fotostock
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    Historic Towns
    Eventually the kids are going to get tired of trees and beaches. When they do, it’s time to head to the historic small towns of the area. The village of Ferndale is virtually unchanged since the 1800s, except that it now hosts the Kinetic Grand Championship, where crazy sculpture contraptions race from Arcata to Ferndale over Memorial Day weekend. If you're around another time of year, take the legendary ghost tour in Eureka, or try the heritage tour there. Want to stay in an old-fashioned timber town, right off the Avenue of the Giants? Then hole up in the Scotia Inn or the historic Requa Inn. There’s plenty of either class or kitsch in the region, depending on which is more your cup of tea.
    Photo by Gary Crabbe/age fotostock
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    Park Programs for Junior Rangers
    When you head to one of the visitor centers, pick up a junior-ranger activity book and give the kids a chance to earn their junior-ranger badge by completing the challenges and questions. If you can’t answer all your kids’ queries about the elk or the trees, the park rangers are on hand to help. The rangers also put on tide-pool and nature walks, tree tours, and campfire programs that change throughout the year. The kids will also love going on a quest—a Redwood EdVentures Quest: They'll follow the clues on designated trails and be rewarded with a badge at the end.
    Photo courtesy of Redwood NPS
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    The Taste of Vacation
    Fresh oysters, grass-fed beef, and handcrafted cheeses are must-eats anywhere in Humboldt County, luring foodies from around the country to local spots like Loleta Cheese Factory. If you're looking for a taste of the past, head to Samoa Cookhouse. Back when the area primarily housed lumber camps, cookhouses fed workers in large, family-style lodges. Today, the Samoa Cookhouse is the last surviving example with traditional dining rooms. Let the kids share the huge platters and bowls that get passed around. In the meantime, the adults might want to sample their way through some cocktails at Moonstone Grill or beer at Eel River Brewing Co. It’s said that the water makes the beer, and the water in Northern California is among the freshest. Don’t let the kids have all the fun.
    Photo courtesy of Rawi Nanakul/Mad River Brewing Co.