THIS ADVENTURE GUIDE COVERS EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT EXPLORING, ADVENTURING AND CAMPING IN REDWOOD NATIONAL PARK IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA.
This sizable national park in the far reaches of Northern California is actually a complex of one national park, Redwood National Park, and three state parks: Del Norte Coast Redwoods, Jedediah Smith Redwoods, and Prairie Creek Redwoods. All four are cooperatively managed by the National Park Service and the California State Parks system.
The combined Redwood National and State Parks (or RNSP) preserves nearly 139,000 acres of stunning natural landscapes, including old-growth forests that are home to 45% of all remaining coastal redwood old-growth forests (totally nearly 39,000 acres). Coastal redwood trees are the tallest and one of the most massive tree species on Earth. They are also usually considered to be some of the oldest (some are more than 1,000 years old).
In addition to the redwood forests, the four parks preserve other indigenous flora and fauna, including the Chinook salmon, northern spotted owl, Steller's sea lion, and Roosevelt elk, many different cultural resources, large portions of rivers and streams, and over 35 miles of pristine Northern California coastline.
Redwood National and State Parks, or just Redwood National Park, is one of the best places (and sadly one of the last remaining places) to explore the massive and beautiful coastal redwood trees. And luckily, the park is home to numerous trails and adventures to help the adventurous traveler get out and explore them up close.
This adventure guide covers everything you need to know about Redwood National Park; including, how to get there, the best time to visit, where to stay, what to bring, what to see, and what trails to explore. So if you are planning a trip up to Northern California, then make sure to check out our in-depth Redwood National Park Guide below.
\\ Fast Facts About Redwood National and State Parks
YEAR ESTABLISHED: the national park was established in 1968, but it was combined with the three state parks in 1994.
LOCATION: in the Del Norte and Humboldt Counties in Northern California, USA
SIZE: 138,999 total acres
NUMBER OF ANNUAL VISITORS: 435,879 in 2021
COST TO ENTER REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS: free! Though you will have to pay to stay at the campgrounds (which is $35 a night).
IS REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS PET FRIENDLY: not really. You cannot bring dogs on any of the major hiking trails, but they are allowed on roads like Newton B. Drury Scenic Byway, especially when it is closed to cars.
BEST FOR: hiking, photography
REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS HISTORY
In the 1850s, old-growth redwood forests covered more than 2 million acres of the California coast. The northern portion of that area was originally inhabited by Native American groups (including the Yurok, Tolowa, and Karuk tribes) who had called the region home for thousands of years. Prior to Euro-American contact, Native Americans had adapted well to the abundant environment. This included using all resources available in a sustainable way: fallen redwoods for houses and boats, local wildlife for food, and the wide array of plants for medicine. Similarly, the local groups were spiritually connected to the forest. As one historian put it, "their lives were enmeshed in the very character and fabric of the trees."
The Native groups lived in harmony with the trees until they were eventually forced out of their land by gold seekers and timber harvesters, which started to arrive in the mid-18th century. The outsiders needed the forest's raw materials for their homes and commerce (logging followed the expansion of America, for companies were always struggling to keep up with the furious pace of progress). Soon enough, timber harvesting quickly became the top manufacturing industry in the American West.
For the most part, the felled redwoods were shipped out to both the southern region of California, where the population was quickly increasing due to the gold rush, and to rapidly growing metropolises like San Francisco. While in the beginning the logging was mostly done with hand tools, which was very tedious and took a lot of time, by the 1920s and 30s, advancements in technology (namely the development of chainsaws and tracked bulldozers) led to a massive increase in the rate of logging of redwood trees. Eventually, acres of ancient redwoods would be cut down in just a few days.
Luckily, a small group of people took notice and started lobbying to protect the remaining redwood groves. Founded in 1918, the Save the Redwoods League started working hard to preserve the few remaining old-growth redwoods. Their hard work resulted in the establishment of Prairie Creek Redwoods, Del Norte Coast Redwoods, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Parks (among others, including Humboldt Redwoods State Park, home to the famous Avenue of the Giants) in the early 1920s.
Redwood National Park was eventually created in 1968 - though by this time, nearly 95% of the original redwood trees had already been logged. The National Park Service and the California Department of Parks and Recreation combined Redwood National Park with the three abutting Redwood State Parks in 1994 for "the purpose of cooperative forest management and stabilization of forests and watersheds as a single unit." Today, the rare ecosystem and cultural history found within the parks is a designated World Heritage Site, while the wider area (which includes the whole California Coast Ranges) is an International Biosphere Reserve.
Learn more about the history of the national park here.
REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARK VISITOR CENTERS
There are four visitor centers within Redwood National and State Parks: the Hiouchi Visitor Center, Jedediah Smith Visitor Center, Prairie Creek Visitor Center and the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center. Likewise, there is also an information center in the town of Crescent City.
HIOUCHI VISITOR CENTER
This small visitor is the first one you come across if driving to the park from the north (mainly Oregon). The center is located along Highway 199 and just across the street from the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park Campground. Here you can talk to staff about recommended hikes and drives, check out various exhibits (including ones on the park's preservation history and important people), get your national park passport stamp, and eat lunch at one of the picnic tables.
🕝 HOURS: 9 AM - 5 PM between Spring and Fall, and 9 AM to 4 PM in the Winter (closed major holidays)
📌 LOCATION: Hiouchi, California, across the street from the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park Campground
JEDEDIAH SMITH CAMPGROUND VISITOR CENTER
Located in the middle of the large Jedediah Smith Campground, this visitor center also has a couple of exhibits (mostly on the coast redwoods and local wildlife), restrooms, passport stamps, a small picnic area and nearby hiking trailheads. The visitor center can easily be walked to if you are staying at the campground already.
🕝 HOURS: open from mid-May to Labor Day (early September) from 9 AM to 5 PM
📌 LOCATION: 10 miles east of Crescent City, California in the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park Campground
PRAIRIE CREEK VISITOR CENTER
Located in the heart of the redwoods, this visitor center can be reached off of Highway 101 and is a good place to stop if you are planning to drive the beautiful Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. This visitor center, like the two above, also offers exhibits on the coastal redwood forests, the local wildlife and some of the area's history. Similarly, here you can also peruse a small park bookstore, eat lunch at one of the picnic tables, or head out on one of the nearby hiking trails.
🕝 HOURS: 9 AM - 5 PM between Spring and Fall, and 9 AM to 4 PM in the Winter (closed major holidays); rangers may be present during the summer
📌 LOCATION: off of Highway 101 near the southern end of the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway and next door to the Elk Prairie Campground
THOMAS H. KUCHEL VISITOR CENTER
The final visitor center within Redwood National and State Parks is this visitor center that focuses more on the park's coastal biomes. Inside you can find exhibits on the various watersheds and marine life, peruse a small bookstore, get your park passport stamp, eat at one of the picnic tables, head out on a nearby beach or talk to a ranger about one of the trails close by.
🕝 HOURS: 9 AM - 5 PM between Spring and Fall, and 9 AM to 4 PM in the Winter (closed major holidays)
📌 LOCATION: off of Highway 101 just south of Orick, California; this is the first visitor center you come across if driving to the park from San Francisco.
You also have the opportunity to stop in at the Crescent City Information Center, which is located in downtown Crescent City, California (the closest sizable city to the national park). Just like the four visitor centers above, this center offers a couple of exhibits, a bookstore, a picnic area, and park passport stamps. The information center is open 9 AM to 5 PM in the Spring, Summer and Fall. During the Winter it usually is either closed or has reduced hours.
You can find the exact location of this visitor center here.
REDWOOD NATIONAL PARK MAP
The northern half (left) and southern half (right) maps of Redwood National and State Parks.
\\ When to Visit Redwood National and State Parks
The best time to visit Redwoods National and State Parks is going to be during the late spring and summer months. This includes any time between late April and August.
During this time of year, you can expect warmer temperatures and sunnier skies during the middle of the day (though fog is quite common in the morning). Also, this is when everything is open in the park - including campgrounds, visitor centers and trails/scenic drives. Likewise, between mid-spring and early summer, you have a good chance of spotting beautiful wildflowers in the park, especially bright pink and red rhododendron flowers.
💬 INSIDER TIP: while the summer months have the best weather, they are also the busiest. We highly recommend booking your lodging and getting your permits in advance if planning to visit between May and August.
\\ How to Get to Redwood National and State Parks
DRIVING DIRECTIONS TO REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS
There are no exact "entrances" to the park like you would find in other national parks (remember there is no entrance fee either). Instead, it is more like you enter the national park via one of the three state parks. If you are driving from the south (like from San Francisco or Oakland) then you will first reach the park by entering Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park near the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center. If you are driving in from the north (like from Portland or Eugene in Oregon) then you will first reach the park by entering Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park near the Hiouchi Visitor Center.
FROM SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA TO REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS
It is approximately 312 miles from downtown San Francisco to the southern entrance of Redwoods National and State Parks (the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center). This drive can take anywhere from 5.5 hours to 6 hours depending on traffic.
The entire drive between San Francisco and Redwoods National Park is going to be along Highway 101, which you can easily pick up in San Francisco by the famous Golden Gate Bridge. Along the way, you have the opportunity to stop off in such places as Healdsburg and Geyserville, which are known for their beautiful wineries, and Leggett, which is home to one of the few remaining drive-thru redwood trees.
💬 INSIDER TIP: if you are planning to fly to California and then drive up to Redwoods National and State Parks, then we suggest booking a flight into San Francisco International Airport (SFO). From the airport, it is easy to rent a car and hop on Highway 101. Plus, then you get to drive over the famous Golden Gate Bridge!
FROM PORTLAND, OREGON TO REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS
It is approximately 318 miles from Portland to the northern entrance of Redwoods National and State Parks (near the Hiouchi Visitor Center on Highway 199). This drive can take anywhere from 5.5 hours to 6 hours depending on traffic and road construction.
Most of this drive will be spent on Interstate 5 (until the town of Grants Pass) and Highway 199, which follows the beautiful Smith River. Along the way, you have the opportunity to stop off in such places as Salem and Eugene, Oregon, Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve, and the Smith River Recreation Area.
DISTANCES FROM OTHER NEARBY NATIONAL PARKS
Crater Lake National Park to Redwoods National Park (the Hiouchi Visitor Center) | 3.5 hours // 166 miles (267 kilometers)
Yosemite National Park to Redwoods National Park (from the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center) | just over 9 hours // 495 miles (796 kilometers)
Sequoia National Park to Redwoods National Park (from the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center) | 9.5 hours // 565 miles
Lassen Volcanic National Park to Redwoods National Park (from the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center) | just over 4 hours // 213 miles (342 kilometers)
➳ If you are looking to learn more about the best things to see and do while road tripping to Redwood National and State Parks, then we highly recommend checking out Roadtrippers. This easy to use app shows you all of the best places to eat, sleep, and explore while out on the open road. You can check the site out for yourself here.
✈️ OTHER TRAVEL OPTIONS FOR REACHING REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS
While driving is by far the most straightforward and easiest way to reach this national park, it is not your only option. Below are a few other modes of transportation available to you - though be prepared for a bit more of an adventure and a bit more time spent on the journey.
While we already mentioned that San Francisco, California was the closest major international airport to the national park, it is not your only option. Other nearby airports include the Rogue Valley International Medford Airport, which has flights from Denver, Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas and is only about 2 hours from Redwood National Park (the airport is located in the town of Medford, Oregon); and the Arcata-Eureka Airport, which has flights from Denver, Phoenix, LA and San Francisco and is only a short 40 minutes from the southern entrance of Redwood National Park.
One thing to consider is that, while these airports are quite a bit closer than San Francisco, they will likely be a bit more expensive to fly into. Plus, it will also be harder to rent a car there than at SFO.
BY TRAIN & BUS
If planes and cars aren't your thing, then you are in luck (sort of) for you also have the option to take public ground transportation to the park. To do this, you will need to take an Amtrak train to the town of Klamath Falls, Oregon, which is roughly 180 miles away from the national park, and then take a bus from there up to Crescent City, California. The Amtrak system does run a bus between Klamath Falls and Crescent City. You can learn more about the route - and even more stunning train rides - on the Amtrak website.
GETTING AROUND REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS
Because the park is really made up of a complex of three state parks and one national park, it takes a bit of time to explore all of the different areas. That is why you definitely will want some form of private transportation with you when exploring the park for there is NO national park shuttle.
We recommend either driving up to the national park with your own vehicle (a regular car or a van) or renting one in either San Francisco, Portland or Crescent City.
Just to give you an idea of some of the distances between major points of interest in the national park: it is approximately 55 miles between the Stout Grove Trail and Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail (both very popular short hikes) and 51 miles between the far southern point (the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center) and the Jedediah Smith Campground, which is located in the far north of the park.
💬 INSIDER TIP: having a bike with you on your trip could also be a lot of fun. There are numerous roads that are open to biking; including, the very scenic Howland Hill Road and the Coastal Drive. You can learn more about biking in Redwood National Park here.
\\ What Does it Cost to Enter Redwood National and State Parks
It is totally free to enter Redwood National and State Parks, but you will have to pay day-use fees at the state park established campgrounds. Similarly, if you are planning to drive to Gold Bluffs Beach or Fern Canyon you will have to pay an entrance fee. But, if you have the federal America the Beautiful Annual Pass all fees will be waived (except the nightly cost to stay at the campgrounds).
You can learn more about the park's entrance fee system here.
🎟 PURCHASE YOUR AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL ANNUAL PASS
While you do not have to pay to enter Redwood National Park, if you are thinking of visiting other national parks within the USA then we highly recommend purchasing the America the Beautiful Annual Pass. This pass, which costs $80 and is good for 365 days, gets you into over 2,000 federally protected areas; including, national parks and monuments, national historic parks and national wildlife refuges.
You can learn more about the annual pass and purchase it for yourself here.
\\ Where to Stay in Redwood National and State Parks
Because Redwood National and State Parks is within a short drive of a number of small Northern California towns, you can find a fair amount of lodging options available depending on your budget. From cozy hotels to stunning campgrounds nestled into the redwoods themselves to RV parks within a short walk of the beach, this area has a lot to offer. Below are some of the best places to stay near Redwood National Park.
LODGING NEAR REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS
There are no lodges within the national or state parks. The closest towns with optimal lodging are going to be Klamath, which is located in the middle of the national park between Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park; Crescent City, which is roughly 10 minutes away from Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park; and Eureka, which is around 45 minutes south of the southern entrance to the national park.
Below are a few of the best options when it comes to booking lodging near Redwood National and State Parks.