Megan Elizabeth (Senior Wilderness Expert)
May 5, 2019
The Interliner's Guide to Redwood National and State Parks

You might be wondering why we're joining the national and state parks together for this guide and that's because in 1994, the National Park Service and the California Department of Parks and Recreation joined forces to protect the "Gentle Giants" of Northern California. Thanks to their efforts, you can enjoy most of what the park has to offer for free. That's right. Free. On behalf of all National Park lovers, give a ranger a high five when you see them in the park. 

When to Visit

This park and the roads through it are open year round. Note that some on-site facilities may be closed in the winter season between November and May. 

Like most National Parks, the peak season occurs in the summer because of the mild temperatures, which average in the low 70’s for this region of California. Fog can be expected year round at this park because of its proximity to the coast. From October through April you can expect regular rain showers, but don’t let that deter you from visiting during that time of year. Inclement weather means fewer crowds and more dramatic photographs.

Admission Fees

This National Park is absolutely free to visit, with one exception. Access to Fern Canyon or the Gold Bluffs Beach Campground costs $8.00.

What to Pack

If you’re unfamiliar with what to pack for the wilderness or you need a refresher, definitely check out my other article, What to Pack for an Outdoor Adventure. Be aware that even if you come in the summer, be prepared with rain gear.  In addition to the items on that list, here are a few other suggested items to bring along on your trip: 

  • CAMERA. Make sure to bring a spare battery or a charging case for your mobile devices if that will be your primary source for photographs. If you’re bringing a “real” camera, make sure to bring a spare battery and extra memory cards. Cellphone coverage within the parks is limited, so I recommend using Airplane Mode within the park. 
  • RAIN JACKET. I'm not talking about some flimsy jacket that advertises it's rainproof, I'm talking about a jacket that is definitely, 100% rainproof because soggy adventures are not as fun. Trust me. I've had stellar luck with Columbia's rain jackets. Despite being caught in a downpour at Redwood National Park and also while visiting the rainy coasts of Juneau, Alaska, I remained bone dry. SHOP MEN or SHOP WOMEN and thank me later. 

ACV - HUMBOLDT COUNTY AIRPORT

  • Located 33 miles south of park
  • Airlines: United  
  • Rental Cars: Alamo, Hertz, National 

CEC- CRESCENT CITY AIRPORT 

  • Located 7 miles north of park
  • Airlines: Contour Airlines - Note that you can book a ticket with Contour Airlines to connect to CEC through SFO or OAK to take advantage of this airport's close proximity to the park.
  • Rental Cars: Express Auto Rental, Hertz

MFR - ROGUE VALLEY INTERNATIONAL-MEDFORD AIRPORT

  • Located 100 miles north of park
  • Airlines: Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, United
  • Rental Cars: Alamo, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, National

SMF - SACRAMENTO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

  • Located 288 miles south of park
  • Airlines: AeroMexico, Air Canada, Alaska, American, Contour, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, Sun Country, United, Volaris
  • Rental Cars
    • On Terminal: Advantage, Alama, Avis, Budget, Dollar Rent a Car, Enterprise, E-Z Rent a Car, Hertz, National, Payless, Thrifty, Zipcar
    • Off Terminal: Airport Van Rental, Advance Rent a Car

SFO - SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

  • Located 339 miles south of the park (don't scoff - the drive north is on California's famous Highway 1 with killer views that make the drive "fly" by.)
  • Airlines: Aer Lingus, AeroMexico, Air Canada, Air China, Air France, Air India, Air Italy, Air New Zealand, Alaska, American, ANA, Asiana, Avianca, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Copa Airlines, Delta, Emirates, EVA Air, Fiji Airways, Finnair, Frenchbee, Frontier, Hawaiian Airlines, Hong Kong Airlines, Iberia, Icelandair, Interjet, Japan Airlines, JetBlue, KLM, Korean Air, Level, Lufthansa, Norwegian, Philippine Airlines, Qantas, SAS, Singapore Airlines, Southwest, Sun Country, Swiss International Air Lines, Thomas Cook, Turkish Airlines, United, Virgin Atlantic, WestJet, XL Airways France
  • Rental Cars
    • Off Terminal (free shuttle to Rental Car Center): Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Fox, Hertz, National, Thrifty
    • Off Airport: Advantage, Airport Van Rental, EZ Rent-a-Car, Payless, NU, Silverware, Sixt, Travelcar 

Hotels/Motels

The area around Redwood National and State Parks have no shortage of great places to stay. Have you downloaded the ID90 Travel app to save at least 20% on your hotel bookings? If this is your first time booking a hotel through the app, you can save an additional $10 off your first booking by signing up through that link. You like free money, right? Here’s a list of hotels that are closest to the park and offer an ID90 Travel discount:

  • America’s Best Value Inn
  • Best Western
  • Best Western Plus
  • Blue Lake Casino & Hotel
  • Clarion Hotel
  • Comfort Inn
  • Days Inn
  • Eureka Inn
  • Hampton Inn
  • Holiday Inn Express
  • Laguna Inn
  • Motel 6
  • Quality Inn 
  • Ramada 
  • Red Lion 
  • Rodeway Inn 
  • Super 8 
  • Travelodge

Camping in the Park

Camping with Amenities. Within the parks are four established campgrounds: Jedediah Smith, Mill Creek, Elk Prairie and Gold Bluffs Beach. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance, with a recommendation to reserve within 48 hours of your arrival. Note that the peak summer season sells out quickly. Reservations can be made online or by calling 1-800-444-7275. Visit the NPS website for additional information about these campsite locations.

Backcountry Camping. If you’re a seasoned wilderness wanderr, take advantage of the eight backcountry campsites within the RSNP system. Permits are required but they are absolutely free and can be reserved 24 hours in advance. They are divided on a first-come-first-serve basis. Check the NPS website for where to pick a permit, backcountry trip planner, maps, mileage charts, and campsite conditions.

Whether you have one day or five to spend among these splendid trees and rocky coastlines, you'll find an abundance of activities to suit your fancy. 

Scenic Drives

  • Avenue of the Giants: 31 miles one way, paved
  • Bald Hills Road: 17 miles one way, mostly paved
  • Cal-Barrel Road: 1.5 miles one way, unpaved
  • Coastal Drive Loop: 9 miles total, mostly paved
  • Davison Road: 7 miles one way, mostly unpaved
  • Enderts Beach Road: 2.25 miles one way, paved
  • Howland Hill Road: 10 miles one way, mostly unpaved
  • Klamath River Overlook
  • Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway: 10 miles one way, paved
  • Sequa Road: 2.25 miles on way; paved, steep, and narrow

If you only have time for one or two roads to drive, or you only want to see the best of the parks, I recommend driving along the routes that are in bold-type above. 

Ranger-Led Kayak Tours

Dependent upon river conditions, you can enjoy a free Smith River Kayak Tour. Yes, you read that right, a free kayak tour. Donations are kindly accepted to help maintain equipment, so do bring cash and thank your guides.

  • Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday at 12 noon at Hiouchi Visitor Center for orientation 
  • Tours operate on a first-come-first-serve basis
  • After orientation, drive yourself to the drop-in area and pay the $8 day-use fee, or just hop on the shuttle for $2 instead

Hiking 

Within the parks are over 200 miles of hiking trails that will leave you breathless. Imagine walking in lush, thick groves with the world's tallest trees looming over you. This place feels like an enchanted forest, no matter which hike you choose. The NPS website has every trail listed with descriptions, difficulty, and distances. For the purposes of this article, I'm going to tell you about my personal favorites, in no particular order, that I think you'll love too. 

1. Boy Scout Tree Trail, 5.5 miles roundtrip. This trail comes highly rated due to its pristine and varying forest environments that feels ultra secluded. Do yourself a favor and start early due to minimal parking at the trailhead. You'll walk through just about every redwood environment on this trail, from lowland to upland redwoods.

2. Big Tree Loop, 3.2 mile loop. This trail gives you an idea of the different environments within the redwoods forests and has easy access to the trailhead with plenty of parking. The only drawback to this hike is the likelihood of hearing traffic as you make your way around the trees. 

3. Fern Canyon, 1.1 mile loop. Getting to the trailhead is a real bear, but if you're a Hollywood geek like me, you'll be pleased to know that scenes for Jurassic Park II: The Lost World were filmed here. The canyon is 50 feet deep with wild ferns growing along the wall. The road to the trailhead is mostly dirt and gravel with lots of potholes. Be gentle with your rental car and avoid this hike if there have been heavy rains. 

4. Lady Bird Johnson Grove Hike, 1.3 mile loop. This trail is excellent for families with small children and even the adults will enjoy the journey. You'll be immersed and mesmerized by the wildflowers and redwoods along the trail here. 

5. Coastal Trail, 70 miles one way. Don't worry, this hike is broken up into small jaunts along the coast so you can get a taste for the rich environment of the redwoods. The Crescent Beach section is 3.5 miles and relatively flat, making it perfect for families or folks who want to save their energy for other hikes. 

6. Trillium Falls, 2.5 mile loop. Make this your must-see hike in the park. The first time I visited RNSP, I almost missed out on this enchanted forest due to rain. Trust me, rain or shine, visit the falls. The trail is easy to follow and mostly flat, so you have no excuses not to go.

Biking

RNSP has six bike-approved trails. Redwood Rides is a local adventure outfitter that can provide you with a guided biking tour through the region if that's more your style. If you prefer to go your own way, you can rent a bike and check out these trails:

  1. Little Bald Hills Trail, 9.8 miles
  2. Coastal Trail (Last Chance Section), 6 miles
  3. Ossagon Trail Loop, 19 miles
  4. Coastal Trail (Gold Bluffs Beach Sction), 3 miles
  5. Davison Trail, 13 miles
  6. Lost Man Creek Trail, 11 miles

Tidepools

You don't have to leave shore to experience marine wildlife up close. From mussels to starfish, here are three popular tide pool locations where you can get a closer look for yourself:  

  1. Endert's Beach - take the Coastal Trail trailhead and follow the signs to Nickel Creek Campground, where you'll notice a small pocket beach. That's the spot!
  2. Damnation Creek - take the Damnation Creek Trail for 1.5 miles and voila! 
  3. False Klamath Cove - there are tidepools on the north and south sides of this cove. You can park at the Lagoon Creek Picnic Area and hike about 0.25 miles to the beach or you can hike another two miles to the picnic area for access to more tidepools. 

Have you been to the redwoods? We want to know! Drop a comment below to share about your experience and recommendations! 

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