Redwood National Park
Redwood National Park was the third stop along our Pacific Northwest road trip. Here’s a link, if you’d like to read about the rest of our road trip.
I had no idea when I first started planning our road trip that ‘the Redwoods’ was actually comprised of several different state and national parks. Three California state parks: Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park plus Redwood National Park comprise the Redwood National and State Park System.
I don’t know why Humboldt Redwoods State Park, to the south, with it’s incredible ‘Avenue of the Giants’ is excluded from the system, but it should not be missed! Hwy 101 takes you to all the parks in this area.
All of the parks are completely free to enjoy, though you will find day use fees for certain areas, along with fees for all of the campgrounds.
Avenue of the Giants
We began our trek through Redwood National Park in Garberville, at the southern end of the Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. We wanted to see the most we could in our limited 3 days in Redwood National Park.
My first recommendation is to get off the freeway (the 101) and drive the actual Avenue of the Giants. It’s a little slower, but you’ll see so much more!
Me second recommendation it to leave plenty of unscheduled time, so you can stop anyplace that strikes your fancy. We stopped impetuously when we saw a particularly huge, fallen tree in the forest that my kiddos wanted to play on, and it turned out to be one of our most memorable experiences!
We climbed onto the huge tree trunk, and used it to cross a shallow ravine that took us deeper into the woods, where we found a concrete culvert under a road. My 17-year-old son challenged all the other kids to walk through it. It was only maybe 40′ from one side to the other, and they could see the sunlight on the other side. It looked pretty dry, and they all grabbed hands to walk through together.
Halfway through the culvert, the kids could feel things moving around them, so my son flipped on his phone flashlight, and they realized the entire culvert, floor, walls and ceiling, was thick with crawling spiders. They all ran back the way they came, screaming and brushing spiders off one another. And they reminisce about it all the time!
Isn’t it funny that some of our most memorable experiences are NOT the ones on which we spent a whole ton of money or time, but rather the unplanned, sometimes even icky things that happen?
We stopped at Founder’s Grove and hiked to Founder’s Tree. There was a large group of artists painting in the grove, and they were fun to watch for awhile.
The girth of these trees is incredible, and so many of them had fallen, leaving their massive roots exposed, that they created a fun maze in the forest. We played a nearly impossible game of hide and seek.
The old highway joins back up with the freeway north of Pepperwood, almost at Scotia. There are good signs so you can’t miss it.
Our next stop was Fern Canyon and Gold Bluffs beach, which are a part of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, north of Humboldt and Redwood National Park.
I’m giving you explicit directions, because if your GPS is like ours, it won’t work here. From Highway 101, 2.5 miles north of Orick, turn west onto Davison Road. Follow the road through Elk Meadow and onto a dirt road (motorhomes and trailers will get stuck on this road).
Follow this spectacular scenic drive for 6 miles until you reach the Gold Bluffs Beach kiosk. Pay the $8.00 day use fee (cash or check only). California State Park and National Park Service passes are accepted.
Continue following the road along the beach for another 3 miles (fording through several small streams) until the parking lot at the end. From the Fern Canyon carpark north of Gold Bluffs Beach Campground, proceed north on California Coastal Trail to the turnoff for Fern Canyon. The trailhead to Fern Canyon is there, about 1/4 mile from the actual start of the canyon.
Hang a right and make your way up the center of the lush, green canyon. Fern Canyon with its 50 to 80 foot walls covered by luxuriant ferns and mosses, dripping with moisture is the natural wonder that Steven Spielberg chose as a location for Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World. And I’m not surprised!
There are multiple hikes through this area, and all of them are incredible! Just be prepared to get your feet a little wet, because the trail criss-crosses this creek, back and forth, for a good while before the hike heads upward.
Keep your eyes peeled for banana slugs. My kiddos were fascinated by them!
Gold Bluffs Beach
The beach next to the carpark is pretty incredible itself. We were all tired after our hike, but those roaring waves called to us, and we couldn’t bypass the beach. It’s a really long beach, with a huge amount of shallow ocean to play in. The water was cold, despite it being August. But we played in it anyway.
There seemed to be a strong undertow, so I stayed right with my kiddos, and we didn’t swim out far, but we couldn’t resist getting in up to our necks. While playing, we noticed a sea lion poke his head up out of a wave to watch us!
We tried to get some pictures, but our phones were a ways back up the beach (out of the way of the waves) with our shoes. By the time we got our phones, the sea lion was gone. Until we put our phones back and another sea lion poked his head out to watch us. It was kind of funny!
In the end, we realized that there were several seals playing in the surf just beyond where we were playing, and we did get a few photos of them. We enjoyed watching them play, and they seemed to enjoy watching us play.
We ended up playing on the beach until sunset, because we were having so much fun. If you visit Fern Canyon, be sure to make time for Gold Bluffs Beach! And look for the sea lions!
You can see a couple of playful sea lions in the wave in the bottom left photo below. These are some of the group who seemed to want to play with us.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Get off Highway 101 again, and take the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, and enjoy a ten mile ride along one of the most beautiful roads in all of the Redwood National Park. It’s a winding road that runs through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, between the towns of Klamath and Orick.
The ‘Big Tree’ is located along the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. With a circumference of about 68 feet, this is one of the largest trees in Redwood National Park. The tree is just off the road, so it’s an easy walk along a path to visit the tree.
The boardwalk built around the ‘Big Tree’ invites your kids to get up close and personal with it. We’d already been in the Redwoods for a day and a half when we encountered the ‘Big Tree’, and it was at that point that my wild 11-year-old finally noticed the immensity of the trees.
Klamath Tour Thru Tree
There are three drive-thru Redwood trees along the Avenue of the Giants, but none of them is large enough for a Suburban to drive through. I read that a Suburban would fit through the drive thru tree in Klamath with an inch on either side, so we decided to test it out. The entrance booth was closed when we arrived, but they had a little deposit box for the $8 fee.
And we actually fit (though we had to fold our mirrors in). It really wasn’t that exciting, but now we can say we drove our Suburban through a Redwood tree.
I must admit, I cringe at the thought of damaging such an incredible tree. But you can’t miss the photo op when you’re so close, right? Since there was nobody else there, we pulled around and went through again!
Also near Klamath are the ‘Trees of Mystery’. This attraction features a trail through old-growth forests and a gondola ride through the tree canopies. My kiddos thought the gigantic Paul Bunyan and Babe statues, near the entrance to ‘Trees of Mystery’ were amazing.
There is also a museum adjacent to the gift shop, and a forest-themed restaurant located across the street, but we didn’t stop at those.
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
This is the northern-most of the California state parks, just East of Crescent City. It seemed much less touristy and less crowded than either Humboldt Redwoods State Park or Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
The huge forest in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park just swallows sound, so you can silently reflect and appreciate how ancient your surroundings are. Four of the world’s seven largest coast redwoods, the Del Norte Titan, the Lost Monarch, El Viejo del Norte and the Howland Hill Giant, are in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.
Honestly, though, from the ground it’s hard to tell which trees are the tallest. You’ll be humbled by the size of all of the trees, and awed at the sheer grandeur of the immense undergrowth.
In my opinion, the best hikes begin off Howland Hill Road, one of the most beautiful, scenic drives you’ve ever encountered. The popular Boy Scout Tree Trail is a couple of miles East on Howland Hill Road, and the short, easy Stout Grove hike (with the largest tree in the Redwoods — the Stout tree) is a couple miles further east.
The Simpson-Reed trail, west of Hiouchi Information Center off Hwy 199 on Walker Road, is easier to access and just as impressive as Stout Grove, but it’s a little higher and gives you a different view of the Redwood forest.
The Smith river flows through this park, and is used for kayaking and even swimming in parts.
More Kid-Friendly Activities at Redwood National Park:
- Hiking, playing on the beach, and swimming
- Your kids might enjoy earning a junior park ranger badge by completing activities to earn points. They can then turn their booklet into any forest ranger and be presented with a badge.
- Driving through a tree will delight your kiddos and fortunately there are plenty of drive-thru trees to choose from: the Klamath Tour Thru Tree, the Shrine Drive-Thru Tree at Meyers Flat, and the Chandelier Tree at Leggett.
- Kayak on a lagoon or a river. There are several rental outfits in the area.
- River rafting
- Horseback riding
- Bike riding. You can rent bikes and go on your own, or join a tour through the Redwoods.
- Go Fishing
- The Humboldt State University Marine Laboratory offers tours for people of all ages to explore the local ocean and beach ecosystems. They also offer lab tours of their seven aquaria, two touch tanks, and various other displays.
We absolutely loved our time at Redwood National Park. The ancient trees, the quiet and the solitude gave us an opportunity to connect with each other.
Three days was the perfect amount of time to spend in the Redwoods for our family with little kids. If we had stayed in a beautiful little town, I would have liked to spend another day exploring the town.
But we just stayed at the cheapest motels we could find along the interstate. We only stayed 1 night in each place, because we wanted to head North as we explored.
My sister and her family also visited the Redwoods last summer, right before we did, but they stayed in Ferndale, a quaint, Victorian town just north of the Avenue of the Giants. They stayed for a week and enjoyed all the fun amenities that Ferndale had to offer.
Redwood National Park was the 3rd stop on our Pacific Northwest road trip. Next up, we head to the Columbia River Gorge. Here’s a link, if you’d like to read about the rest of it.
Have you had a chance to experience Redwood National Park? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.
Pin these helpful tips for your trip to Redwood National Park!