Photo Courtesy of Petr Brož
Redwood National Park and adjoining state parks Del Norte Coast Redwoods, Jedediah Smith, and Prairie Creek Redwoods cover 133,000 acres in California. The parks preserve 45% of the living coast redwood trees. The area is best known for the giant trees and awe-inspiring views, but that’s not all it …has to offer. A seven-hour drive from San Francisco, the parks are a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve.
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After a tiring day of hiking, boating, or horseback riding, it’s time to get a good night’s rest. But just because you're sleeping, doesn't mean you have to stop enjoying nature. Most visitors opt to spend the night under the treetops—especially since the park doesn’t have any lodging. Along with a number of primitive backcountry sites, there are four main developed campgrounds. Three are in the forests and one is along the coast, allowing you to pick your place to pitch a tent. Regional and privately run campgrounds also offer sites for RVs, tents, and even a few cabins. Enjoy the sounds of birds—and hopefully no bears—as the breeze kisses you goodnight.
There are 200 miles of trails that weave through the trees and canyons in the parks. Hike around Stout Grove or Lady Bird Johnson Grove, head down the breathtaking Tall Trees Trail, or walk along the floor of the famously lush Fern Canyon—an inspiration for the movie Jurassic Park. Take plenty of photos as you walk between the rock walls covered in thick ferns. While the giant redwoods are the most well-known attractions in the park, paths like the Coastal Trail traverse beaches and rivers as well. Because of the dampness and shade under the trees, many of these trails are accessible only by quaint bridges and wooden walkways—forcing them to close at times during the wet winter months.
Thousands of visitors walk through the redwoods during the summer, but winter can be a great time to avoid the crowds. Temperate weather year-round means the park can be visited any time, but winter is the wet season, so pack your rain gear. Don’t forget to look up between the raindrops; the giant tree canopy should keep you relatively dry. Watch the winter whale migration from Klamath River Overlook as the gray whales head south in November and December. Other December events include the lighting of the world’s tallest living Christmas tree, and memorable candlelight walks through the trees.
The cool weather of summer's dry season attracts the majority of travelers, with nearly five times as many people visiting in July as in December. Hike the network of trails as fog rolls in and admire the massive redwoods. Swimming and boating are best in the summer months when the water is warmer. Head out to Miners Ridge Trail and along Fern Canyon before hitting the beach to kayak the lagoons. Swim at popular local swimming holes in the Mad River before checking out the herds of Roosevelt elk. Calves are typically born in May and June. Tired yet? Relax in one of the historic towns, such as Orick, Ferndale, or Klamath, which host a variety of events and parades in the summer.
Northern California weather is mild with wet winters and cool summers. Pack appropriate gear if you plan to hike any of the soggier trails or want to head into the backcountry. Most visitors drive the five or six hours from San Francisco, though the airport in Arcata is just 30 minutes from the park. Reservations are required for camping, with a few exceptions, and can be made online. The Redwood National Park is free, but the adjacent state parks charge an $8 day fee. Start at the Kuchel Visitor Center—the biggest of the park’s visitor centers—to get maps, information, and any warnings about closures. The park may be your playground, but it’s also home to wild animals: mountain lions, bears, and elk.
Kelly O’Mara is a reporter in the Bay Area. She lives on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco and sees lots of tourists. Her work has appeared in VICE, espnW, Outside, Paste, and on KQED, San Francisco’s NPR station. She also travels around the world primarily to race triathlon.