The Best Things to Do in Redwood National Park

The Redwood National and State Parks cover 139,000 acres, which can be a lot of ground to cover. Hit up these highlights to find the tallest trees, greenest groves, and best beaches.

Fern Canyon, California 95555, USA
The name lets you know what you’re in for, but it doesn’t capture the scope of the canyon or the sheer number of ferns. Shooting up from a creek, the canyon walls are 50 feet high in places and completely covered in ferns and mosses, some of which are species that have been on Earth for hundreds of millions of years. And if it feels like you’re walking through Jurassic Park, that’s not just the prehistoric foliage: Part of The Lost World: Jurassic Park was shot here. Fern Canyon has also been home to a number of other dinosaur specials made for the BBC and IMAX. Compounding the whole otherworldly vibe, you might even spot a giant salamander! Fern Canyon is located in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, which adjoins the two other state parks and the Redwood National Park. It can only be this green with lots of water, so expect to get wet, though there are footbridges in the summer. You can hike in-and-back, or do a full loop up and out of the canyon.
US-101 & Redwood Hwy, US-101, Orick, CA 95555, USA
There’s tons to see in Redwood National Park and the three surrounding state parks, so it’s a good idea to orient yourself at a visitor center. The main one is the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center in Orick, which is particularly convenient if you’re coming from the south. It’s open every day except New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas; it hosts exhibitions, talks, and interpretive programs, and you can get your backcountry permits here, or pick up a junior-ranger activity book for the kids to collect stamps in. Start some of your hiking right at the center, or join one of the ranger-led hikes. From its prime location, Kuchel Visitor Center also offers access to the beach and the nearby lagoons.
Tall Trees Access Rd, McKinleyville, CA 95519, USA
Seeing the redwoods is all about spending time with tall trees, so naturally, then, stopping in at Tall Trees Grove makes sense. The giants here are over 100 meters high, or as tall as a 35-story building. The grove used to be home to the tallest tree in the world, but since its top fell off back in 1994, it’s now only the 34th-tallest—which is still plenty impressive. (The new tallest tree is actually in an undisclosed location nearby.) The trail runs 3.5 miles around, with about a mile to get to the grove and a small loop through it when you arrive. You’ll view all sorts of enormous, too-tall-to-capture-in-photos trees; you can even walk through one. You do need a permit for the trail, the narrow access road, and the small parking lot. They’re free and available at the visitor centers, but are also limited. Get a map there as well, since GPS can send you slightly off track.
Bald Hills Rd, Orick, CA 95555, USA
All the redwood trees in the parks can start to blend together, making it hard for any one area to stand out. But Lady Bird Johnson Grove will. There’s a reason Johnson gave her name to this patch of enchanting tall trees and rolling fog. What makes the grove unique is that you drive uphill to get to the trailhead. Most of the groves in the park are in lowland areas, but the elevation at this one means you often find yourself among the clouds as the mist bounds in around the trees. The trail loop is about 1.5 miles and fairly flat. It’s especially appealing for kids, who want to be a part of the nature experience but aren’t always ready for more-strenuous hikes. Once you pass the dedication plaque, you’ll be fairly secluded among the vegetation—even though this grove actually isn’t far from the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center.
Enderts Beach Rd, California, USA
This beach is remote, but worth the trip—especially at low tide when the tide pools are full of sea stars, sea urchins, and green anemones. It’s about a mile on foot from the Coastal Trail trailhead, past Nickel Creek campground, to the sandy and empty beach. Where you go from there or how long you spend walking around the tide pools is up to you. Winter landslides can temporarily close trail access to the Nickel Creek campsite and to the beach from the campsite. The park’s visitor center has the most updated information as well as tide schedules. There are also occasional ranger-led tide-pool walks.
Klamath, CA 95548, USA
Redwood National Park is best known for its redwoods, obviously, but there’s also a long coastline right there. The Klamath River Overlook—where the river meets the Pacific—gives you a spectacular vantage point over the water and is a prime spot to watch for whales. There’s a resident pod that hangs out near the overlook, but you can also see migrating whales during November and December, as well as in March and April. You’ll have to bring binoculars and keep your eyes peeled for their spouting; if the weather’s clear, you can sometimes see them feeding just a few hundred yards from shore. Rangers will often lead whale-watching programs during peak months, so check for information and schedules.
235 Lighthouse Way, Crescent City, CA 95531, USA
Battery Point was one of the first lighthouses on the California coast, and today its unique island spot makes for a historical visit that doesn’t have to be boring. The Del Norte County Historical Society operates the lighthouse and its accompanying museum—open daily during the summer, but strictly on weekends from October to March. Notably, the lighthouse is accessible to the public only during low tide. Guests have to make their way across the land bridge, which can quickly go underwater when the tide comes in. Once on the small rocky island you can check out the lighthouse keeper’s home, which has been memorialized as a museum with vintage odds and ends from the days when the lighthouse was operational. Many people also come out simply to admire the natural beauty.
Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway
A 10-mile drive in Prairie Creek State Park, this scenic parkway brings you through a tunnel of majestic redwoods. See if you can spot elk from the car window. Conveniently, the parkway starts near the Prairie Creek Visitor Center, and you pass a number of trailheads as you drive—including the Big Tree, known for being 68 feet around and 1,500 years old. The paved road is perfect for a quick driving tour and is open from sunrise to sunset. In the spring and summer, the park often closes to motorized traffic on the first Saturday of the month to allow entrants to walk and bike through the scenery.
15336 US-101, Trinidad, CA 95570, USA
It’s not one of the Redwood National and State Parks, but Humboldt Lagoons is a local favorite. One of the largest lagoon systems in the United States, this state park houses three of them: Freshwater, Stone, and Big Lagoon (from north to south). Freshwater is the most remote and least developed, whereas Big Lagoon even offers camping sites and kayak rentals. Because there are marshlands, wetlands, coastal sands, and scrub bushes, various kinds of wildlife can make their homes in or around these shallow waters. Keep an eye out while hiking, swimming, and boating and you may spot birds like grebe, heron, and osprey, or fish like salmon and trout. (Out in the ocean you can sometimes get a glimpse of harbor seals, harbor porpoises, sea lions, and even whales.) Since the water is protected from the sea and fairly calm, it’s a popular spot for families and kayakers.
15500 US-101, Klamath, CA 95548, USA
Yes, there’s a hint of the American-road-trip cheese factor, but for a family on the stretch of road from Northern California to Oregon on Highway 101, this stop would be a home run. It’s 36 miles south of the Oregon border, amid the miles of coastal redwood forests; Paul and Babe appear just at the right time for a restroom break and a chance to stretch your legs on some of the interpretive trails. Fight your skepticism and give it a chance. The park has been owned by the same family for the last 67 years and their genuine intent is to protect these magnificent trees and educate their visitors (with huge helpings of humor in the process). There is a good selection of trails, walks, and experiences to choose from while you’re there. If all you’re looking for is a quick photo op with Paul and Babe and a free public bathroom, then this is your spot as well. Have those cameras ready: Paul is just over 49 feet tall and his ox Babe is 35 feet.
67402 Drive Thru Tree Rd, Leggett, CA 95585, USA
So you want to drive through a tree? Well, you’ve got options. (At least for now. Since no new drive-through trees will be created any time soon, for obvious environmental reasons, the existing ones are maybe the last of their kind.) There are actually three trees in the vicinity of Redwood National and State Parks whose trunks are wide enough to accommodate a car. The Chandelier Tree, at the Drive-Thru Tree Park, may be the most well-known and most frequently photographed; pay your $5 and get behind the wheel. The Tour Thru Tree, near Klamath, is the other tree with a human-constructed tunnel. The only organically occurring drive-through tree in the area is the Shrine Tree in Myers Flat, on Avenue of the Giants. The opening in this tree was primarily nature-created—though at this point it’s held together with some human help. Shrine also has a fallen tree with a drive-up ramp, a stump you can walk through, and a couple of playhouses carved from redwoods.
38949 CA-299, Willow Creek, CA 95573, USA
This isn’t technically a Bigfoot museum, but it is dedicated to the history of the area, namely eastern Humboldt County and western Trinity County. It just so happens that the region is known as “Bigfoot Country,” so it’s understandable the Sasquatch exhibition has become the main attraction at this roadside stop. The display has casts, photos, maps, and other research pertaining to tracking down the mysterious creature. There’s so much research it’s actually contained in a separate study center building. It’s also updated regularly—as new materials come in.... We’re not saying he’s out there, but if he is anywhere, it would be here.
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
National Parks