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All About Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park

When most people thing of Redwood National Park, they think of the iconic redwood trees, some of the tallest trees on earth.

But did you know that in addition to these massive trees, the park also protects vast prairies, oak woodlands, rushing river-ways, and nearly 40-miles of some of California’s finest coastline?

Nestled up along the coast of northern California, the redwood region is actually a complex of several state and national parks. The combined coverage area of the state and national park land is around 139,000 and features old-growth temperate rainforests.

Interestingly, the iconic redwood tree that attracts half of a million visitors per year is actually a type of sequoia. This gargantuan tree species only grows in a few places on earth, including Great Britain, Hawaii, Italy, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa.

The tree needs a moist marine climate to thrive and most of them are over 1500 years old!

The distinctive feature of the redwood sequoia is its unusually smooth trunk and its dense vegetation at the very top. For this reason, taking a stroll through many of the old-growth forests in Redwood National Park often turns out to seem like something from a fairy tale.

RV adventurers aiming to experience all of the national park will surely need to have this one on the list. The park is perfect for camping, hiking, picnicking, and swimming on the Pacific coast for an immaculate and fun-filled vacation.

The History of Redwood National and State Parks

The history of the redwood forest is probably best known for the heavy logging that took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The old-growth forest that once covered two million acres was reduced to just a few hundred thousand acres.

Prior to Jedidiah Smith discovering the inland region of the forest in 1828, no other explorer of European descent is known to have investigated inward from the coast. Indigenous groups such as the Yurok, Tulowa, Karok, Chilula, and Wiyot called the redwood area home for thousands of years.

The discovery of gold in the region in 1850 brought an influx of miners seeking to get rich from the precious metal. After failing to find much outside of the Trinity River area, desperate miners staying along the coast instead turned to logging. 

These logging operations created massive conflicts with the native groups in the area, who recognized the trees as living beings and guardians standing over the sacred space of the forest.

As the indigenous groups were forcibly removed from their homeland, the logging operations began to quicken at an alarming rate. By 1910, the extensive logging led conservationists and community members to take notice. They began seeking ways to preserve the remaining trees, which they recognized for their unique natural beauty.

After intense debates and lobbying, Congress passed a bill onto President Lyndon B. Johnson on October 2nd, 1968. The bill was promptly signed, creating Redwood National Park in an effort to preserve what was remaining of the old-growth forest.

On September 5th, 1980, the United Nations also designed Redwood National and State Parks a World Heritage Site.

Movie scenes from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Outbreak were all filmed in and around the Redwood National Park forest region.

Getting to Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood National and State Parks are nestled up in the northwest corner of California along the coast on US-101. There are also numerous other highways and scenic drives which provide access to different areas throughout the park.

There are no formal entrance stations to the national park, therefore, Redwood National Park is absolutely free to visit!

For this reason, it’s entirely possible to drive through the parks without realizing that you’re surrounded by some of the tallest trees in the entire world. The parklands are roughly 50 miles long, stretching from Crescent City, California to Orick, California.

There are five information centers in the park. Two are located on US-199, one in Crescent City, another on Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, and one more in Orick, California on US-101.

If you’ll be visiting from the south, it’s best to stick to US-101 and follow it up. The parks’ southern boundary is located about 40 miles north of Eureka, and 312 miles north of San Francisco. 

From the north, follow US-101 along the Oregon Coast. The parks’ northern border is located 26 miles south of Brookings, Oregon. 

From Reno, Nevada, follow US-395 N to CA-44 W. Once you reach Redding, California, take CA-299 W to CA-96 E. In Hoopa, California, turn left off of CA-96 E onto Pine Creek Road. From there, you should be able to follow the rustic French Camp Road into the parklands.

If you plan on seeing some of the state parks, such as Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast, and Prairie Creek, there is a small day-use fee at the developed campground entrance stations. However, these three California State Parks will also honor the federal “America the Beautiful” series of passes for discounted prices. 

RV Camping near Redwood National Park

There are a whole host of RV campgrounds within the redwoods area. However, none of the national or state parks in Redwood have direct RV hookups. 

Each campground has miles of varied hiking trails, and seasonal ranger-led programs.

Situated on the wild and scenic Smith River, the Jedediah Smith Campground has 86 year-round sites available for reservation. The maximum RV length is 25. You’ll find basic facilities here like hot showers, a dump station, picnic tables, fire pits, and a visitor center.

The Mill Creek Campground is beneath towering maples, alders, and young coast redwoods, open from May 18th to September 30th. There are 145 sites available for reservation and you’ll also find basic campground facilities. The maximum RV length here is 28 feet.

In the Elk Prairie campground, you’ll have the chance to witness grazing Roosevelt elk and black-tailed deer. This campground is situated among ancient coast redwoods and has 75 sites available for reservation. The maximum rig length is 27 feet and the campground is open year-round.

Gold Bluffs Beach Campground is positioned on the pristine Pacific coastline, allowing RV campers easy access to the beach. There are 26 sites available for reservation with a 24-foot limit on RVs. This campground is also typically open year-round.

If you’re interested in staying outside of the state park campgrounds, there are also several options available. Alternative RV campgrounds can be excellent because they each have full hookups and are generally designed to give RV campers a greater ease of access.

Herd of elk outside Elk Country RV Park in Orrick, California
Herd of elk outside the Elk Country RV Park

Some of the alternative campgrounds to choose from include: Elk Country RV Resort and Campground, Redwood Coast Cabins and RV Resort, Redwood Meadows RV Resort, Ancient Redwoods RV Park, Emerald Forest Cabins and RV, Giant Redwoods RV and Camp, Azalea Glen RV Park Campground, Sounds of the Sea RV Park and Cabins, and Mad River Rapids RV Park.

Attractions at Redwood National Park

Redwood National and State Parks have an abundance of incredible sights and adventures to take. 

There are several popular trails which take hikers into exceptional forest scenery throughout the park. Although these trails may tend to get busier in the summer months, they remain relatively sparse from people the further along you hike.

One of the best trails to stroll along is the Tall Trees Trail, but be prepared, this four-mile round trip backcountry hike can be somewhat strenuous. This hike is not recommended for the faint of heart, or people short on time. There is a 800-foot elevation change which will lead you down to the peaceful alluvial floodplain of Redwood Creek.

A great alternative to the Tall Trees Trail is the Prairie creek-Foothill Trail Loop. The trailhead is easier to get to, it has redwoods just as tall, and the hike is relatively flat. This 2.5 mile trail is fully ADA accessible and it meanders along a babbling creek for most of the hike.

Other great trail systems to look into are the James Irvine Trail, the Miner’s Ridge Trail, and the Carruthers Cove Trail. However, there are dozens of trails spanning the park, so it’s best to take some time to research one that will accommodate your preferred style of hiking.

One of the great things about the Redwood Parks area is that much of it borders the Pacific Coast. For this reason, there are a number of fantastic locations for finding some relaxation time on the beach.

The most popular location to access the ocean is at Gold Bluffs Beach. Campers who decide to stay in the Gold Bluffs Beach Campground will have unrivaled access to the beach, however, it is possible to park nearby to hike to the beachfront. The great thing about this location is that there is plenty of sand to spread out on, so you shouldn’t feel crowded at all if you decide to bring a picnic and go swimming for the day.

Alternatively, a less popular and more secluded beach location can be found at Carruthers Cove. There are a few ways to access this beachfront location, but they all require a short hike. One of the best hikes out to the beach is along the 0.8-mile Carruthers Cove Trail.

Finally, one of the coolest locations in the area is Fern Canyon in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. The narrow canyon walls here are completely covered with emerald green ferns and fuzzy mosses dripping with dense forest moisture. The shallow stream coursing through the area has carved out the canyon to depth of 50 to 80 feet.

When to Visit Redwood National Park

The best time to visit California’s iconic redwood forest largely depends on the weather and the crowds.

For most of the year, the redwood forest has a mild climate and extreme temperatures are rare, due to the moderating influence of the Pacific coast. Winters are generally mild and summers stay fairly cool.

The winter months are usually much wetter and clammier, creating a unique kind of moisture which enlivens the forest. In the summer months, the air is much drier, but temperatures never really climb far beyond 60 degrees.

According to the National Park Service, most of the visitors to the park come in the warmer summer months. The weather during this time is often more ideal for vacation-goers, but there are also park ranger programs and guided nature hikes which take place throughout the summer.

For those seeking a greater level of solitude, it may be more fitting to visit in the spring or fall. Wildlife viewing can be enhanced during these months as well. For example, the elusive gray whale can often be seen passing along the redwood coast in autumn and in late winter during the migrations between Baja California and Alaska.

The bird population also varies widely depending on the climate of the region. While some birds spend the entire year living in the dense old-growth forests, others visit just for the summer for breeding, while others take advantage of the cooler winter temperatures.

In a sense, any time of year can be excellent for visitation. It mostly depends on where your preferences lie.

Redwoods – A Colorful National Park 

Redwood National Park is not your average forest. 

The sparse light cascades down onto the forest floor throughout the day, creating an ever-varying portrait of the ancient landscapes. Although it’s possible to witness the redwoods without leaving your vehicle, truly feeling the magic of the forest can only be found by hiking deep into the trails. 

The iconic redwood trees stretch far overhead, providing shelter for thousands of plant and animal species. These strange and archaic trees are living relics, dating back 100 million years to the Cretaceous Period when dinosaurs existed.

Their present state reveals why they have been so vigorously protected for over a hundred years. There is undeniably something enchanting about these old-growth forests. 

If you plan on hanging around northern California for some time, taking your RV into the redwoods area will be well-worth the trip. 

These incredible trees are something everyone should visit at least once in a lifetime.

How many of the 62 U.S National Parks have you visited?