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Kids love records. And adults love bucket lists. Get check marks for both when seeing the tallest trees in the world as you explore the Redwood National Park. With lots of scenic drives through its redwood groves, it’s a national park trip perfect for any time of year.
Back in the 80s, I first saw the northern California Redwoods in a Star Wars movie. Princess Leia (my favorite heroine) sped through a fern-covered grove of giant trees blasting Stormtroopers as she went. At that moment, I knew I needed to visit. Three kids and a few decades later, I mentioned visiting Redwood National and State Parks to my own Jedi Padawans. They were all in and even mentioned it was also the location of the Jurassic Park 2 movie. Here are the things to do in Redwoods National Park with kids.
Where are the California Redwoods?
For my trip, it started with the statement, let’s visit Redwood National Park. Though I soon learned old growth redwoods can be found in several locations across California. The Redwood National and State Parks are several adjoining parks, including an NPS site and several California State Parks in northern California: Prairie Creek State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.
SheBuysTravel Tip: You can use the same NPS pass to enter the California parks. The Redwood National Park is free to enter.
Top Things to Do Redwood National and State Parks
Redwood National and State Parks offers lots of outdoor fun for families.
Best Scenic Drives
If limited on time, scenic routes offer glimpses of the magnificent redwood forests. Drive down Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, a 10-mile paved road that parallels U.S. Route 101, for some of the best tree viewing and the Big Tree Wayside trailhead. The Enderts Beach Road, a 2-mile road, offers amazing views of the coastline near Crescent Beach along with access to the Coastal Trail.
Other scenic drives include: Coastal Drive, Howland Hill Road and Davidson Road (used to get to the Fern Canyon trail). Howland Hill Drive takes visitors to the Boy Scout Tree Trail and Stout Grove Trail. Many of the roads are not paved (dirt roads) and RVs are not advisable.
Best Hiking Trails
Hiking always tops my list. During our visit, we hiked the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail, a 1-mile loop trail off Bald Hills Road. The path meanders through a fern-covered grove where the dedication of Redwood National Park took place.
For families with younger kids, try the Ah-Pah Interpretive Trail, a .3-mile walk off Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. This trail takes visitors through the rehabilitation process after logging.
Biking in Redwoods
For families, Elk Meadow Day Use area offers several bike trails. Redwood National Park is one of the few parks that offers back-country cycling on rehabilitated logging roads. Check in at the visitor center for a brochure and current conditions.
The Roosevelt Elk herd can be found in the Orick area. They’re easier to spot in the spring and fall, especially during the fall’s elk rut, when the males battle each other in the annual mating ritual.
Tide Pools along the Pacific Ocean
Redwoods National and State Parks are located along the Pacific Ocean. Tide pools offer kids an opportunity to explore a tiny marine world. The best place to find a tide pool is Enderts Beach, .5-mile hike from the Crescent Beach Overlook. Whale watching from the shore is best in November and March during the gray whale migration.
Redwood National & State Parks with Kids
The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about Redwood National Park. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the park rangers present them after completing their booklets.
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The Redwood Junior Ranger booklet is the same for ages four and up. Kids complete the number of activities in the booklet based on their age. A ranger program is not required to earn this Junior Ranger badge though visiting a tide pool or taking a hike in the redwoods is encouraged.
The California State Parks offers a Junior Ranger program for kids visiting the Jedediah Smith Visitor Center or the Prairie Creek Visitor Center.
Picnicking in the Redwoods
Since the Redwoods National Parks doesn’t offer a lodge, pack a picnic. Find tables at the following locations:
- Dolason Prairie
- Stone Lagoon
- Redwood Creek
- Lady Bird Johnson Grove
- Redwood Creek Overlook
- Redwood Creek Trailhead
- Elk Meadow
- Lost Man Creek
- Elk Prairie
- Kuchel Visitor Center
- Prairie Creek Visitor Center
- Gold Bluffs Beach
- High Bluff Overlook
- Klamath River Overlook
- Lagoon Creek Overlook
- Wilson Creek
- Mill Creek
- Crescent Beach
- Crescent Beach Overlook
- Hiouchi Visitor Center
- Jedediah Smith Visitor Center
Camping in Redwood National and State Parks
Find four campgrounds within the parks with over 300 campsites total.
Jedediah Smith Campground in Jedediah Smith State Park
- Reservations accepted from May 1 until October 1
Mill Creek Campground in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
- Seasonal from early May until end of September
- First-come, first-serve
Elk Prairie Campground in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
- Reservations recommended
Gold Bluff Beach Campground in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
- Reservations recommended
Lodging in the Redwood National and State Parks
During my visit in Redwood National and State Parks, I reserved a cabin at the Elk Meadow Cabins ($$-$$$). Located three miles north of Orick, California, Elk Meadow Cabins offers six three-bedroom, two-bath cabins that I would describe as a small house instead of a cabin. These cabins are located a short drive right off U.S. Route 101 in an area that has a resident herd of Roosevelt Elk.
Outfitted with all the necessities a family needs, I found this house a charming place to stay for a couple of days. This area of California is remote. The Elk Meadow Cabins offers an excellent location to base your Redwood National and State Parks excursions.
With homespun charm, the cabin had two bedrooms outfitted with a queen bed each and one bedroom perfect for kids with a pair of twin beds. One bathroom included a tub for the kids and the other bathroom had a shower and stackable washer and dryer. With the washer and dryer, I did several loads of laundry (the chore I can never escape).
The kitchen included all the necessary equipment for cooking for a family, including a dishwasher. During our stay, I opted to grill outside since that’s always a kid-pleaser and easy-to-clean-up for Mom. The grill was located on the back deck along with a table for dining al fresco – just stop at the grocery store before heading out to Redwood National Park.
Our cabin featured cable television and Wi-Fi. But my kids played outside until dark with the other kids they found playing in the grassy area that connected all the cabins. Bring the bikes or kayaks – the cabins feature a small garage for storing your toys. Enjoy a community fire pit or a soak in the jacuzzi during your stay at Elk Meadow Cabins.
Elk Meadow Cabins offer guided tours through Redwood National and State Parks. With half-day or full-day tours, families can choose redwood destinations like tide pools, Redwood Creek or a tall trees tour.
Eureka is south of Redwoods in Humboldt County, along Highway 101. In addition to lodging and dining, it offers a zoo and botanical garden.
Crescent City, California is another town to restock if driving down from Oregon. McKinleyville and Arcata are located just south of Redwood National and State Parks.
Nearby State Parks
Humboldt Redwoods State Park is a California State Park located south of Eureka. It is home to Avenue of the Giants.
History of Redwood National and State Parks
Up until 1800, the Northern California coast was covered in approximately 2 million acres of redwood forests. Then, as the gold rush started to tarnish, logging became the next gold mine. And the redwoods began to disappear.
In 1923, California preserved the remaining redwoods when it created the first of three state parks. Then in 1968, Redwood National Park extended the area of protection to link all the state parks. The park expanded farther in 1978. Finally in 1980, the United Nations designated Redwood National and State Parks a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Three types of redwood trees exist, yet only the Coast Redwood grows in Redwood National and State Parks. With bark that’s 12 inches thick, redwood trees have no known diseases and don’t suffer from insect damage. Here are the three types:
- The Coast Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world and are located along the northern California coast. They are the tallest variety with heights over 370 feet, grown from a seed the size of a tomato.
- The Giant Sequoias are located on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in Central California. They are bulkier with thicker trunks, yet not as tall.
- The Dawn Redwoods were thought to be extinct, yet discovered in 1944 in Central China and found in locations throughout California.
Where’s Redwood National and State Parks
Redwood National and State Parks are located along U.S. Route 101 in Northern California. From the south, Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center, 2 miles west from Orick, California, is 312 miles north of San Francisco. On the north side of the park, the Jedediah Smith Visitor Center in Crescent City, California, is 322 miles south of Portland, Oregon.
Redwood National and State Parks is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. The Redwood National Park is free to enter though Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park; Del Norte Coast Redwood State Park and Prairie Creek Redwood State Park collect day-use fees at their respective campgrounds. The California State Parks will honor the NPS Passes if you carry one.
U.S. Route 101 runs north and south though the Redwood National and State Parks. Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway offers a scenic drive and several unpaved roads offer beach access, though trailers are prohibited.
Tips from a SheBuysTravel:
- When exploring the beach, never turn your back to the ocean. Sneaker waves can occur at any time.
- Rip currents can occur at anytime. Put the kids in life jackets.
- If exploring the tide pools, remember rising tides can cut off access.
- If you feel a strong earthquake, move to higher ground in case of tsunami.
- Ticks carrying Lyme disease have been found in the Redwood National and State Parks.
- Know how to identify Poison Oak.
- Best places to restock: stop at Crescent City, California if driving down from the north and McKinleyville, California, if arriving from the south.
- Give unpredictable Roosevelt Elk space, they weigh 1,000 pounds.