We spent a week or so exploring the redwood parks along the Northern California coast, and they changed me. I’ve never been around trees this large, and I tell you they genuinely touched my soul. There is not another place like this in the world, which is why it is so important to me to share these best hikes in Redwood National Park and State Parks.
Before we dive in, let’s define the area covered here. The Redwood National Park blends and bleeds into three State Parks, and they all work together in the area: Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Prairie Creek State Park, and Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. Your National Park Pass will grant you entrance into all the state parks, too.
The oldest growth redwood groves are actually in the state parks and not the NPS. The ranger we spoke with said it’s because the state parks were the first to preserve the trees from logging. The NPS came a whopping 50 years later. In fact, only 5% of the world’s old-growth redwood forest remain – and nearly half of that (40,000 acres) is in Redwood National and State Parks
The tallest groves are in Humbolt State Park south of the area covered in this article, but the trees are not as big because it gets too hot. The biggest trees are along the coast in the Redwood National and State Parks…trees between 2,000 and 3,000 years old!
Despite the tallest groves being elsewhere, the tallest tree -in the whole world- is along the coast. It’s named Hyperion and it 380 ft. You need a permit to hike to see it, so it’s not covered here…but it’s cool to know you are close to him.
Distance: 1.0 miles
Elevation Change: 360 feet
This first hike isn’t within the redwoods, but it shouldn’t be overlooked (See what I did there? Ha!) When we visited, the view from the parking lot was dim – we couldn’t even see the water because of the fog. We decided to do the walk anyway, and we were rewarded greatly as we headed toward the water. It was perfectly clear – the fog was floating above us.
While you’re down at the overlook, you can see where to Klamath River dumps into the Pacific Ocean. If you’re lucky and visiting the right time of year, you might also see whales feeding off the coast.
The hike back up is fairly steep; be prepared. It’s well worth the effort, though.
NEWTON B DRURY SCENIC PARKWAY
Distance: 10.0 miles
Elevation Change: N/A
This second hike is not a true hike, but a scenic drive – though it is short enough to hike (or bike) if you wanted to. If you do nothing else, please be sure to drive the Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway – driving through a tunnel of towering trees gets you in the right mindset for a day of exploring the trails.
While you drive, take note of the scenic pull-offs. We stopped at several of them…many offer a chance to see roadside gems like the large hollow tree the boys are standing in above. Other pull offs are trailheads for hikes in the area.
Distance: .9 miles
Elevation Change: 52 feet
Simpson-Reed was our favorite hike in the Jedediah State Park trail system. The canopy is so dense that the day grows darker as you enter the hike. We even threw on jackets for this redwoods hike — in the middle of summer.
Look for the redwood arching over the trail, with both ends of the trunk system rooted into the ground. I also recommend taking the sort Peterson Memorial Spur… we had to do it since it’s our middle name. ha. But the largest trees we spotted were here (in girth) making fun “join hands around the tree trunk” photos.
STOUT MEMORIAL GROVE
Distance: .7 miles
Elevation Change: 32 feet
While it’s short, it’s a true gem because of the first-generation old growth trees here, and the walk up to the Smith River.
The trail is named for the Stout Tree, which you’ll see as you head toward the river. There is a platform built around the root system of the tree so that the soil doesn’t get further compacted. You can climb the platform for a photo with it, though — the largest tree in this grove.
Fun fact: The Ewok scenes in Star Wars Episode 6 were filmed here. Someone recommended listening to the Star Wars Soundtrack as you drive Howland Hill Rd to get to the trailhead (a necessary gravel road that is a pretty scenic drive even if you don’t do the hike). What a good idea!
BOY SCOUT TREE TRAIL
Distance: 7.1 miles
Elevation Change: 938 feet
Boy Scout Tree Trail is one of the showcase hikes of old-growth redwoods…truly one of the best trails in the world for tree lovers. While AllTrails rates it moderate, that’s probably because of the tree roots on the trail…not because it’s difficult. Personally, I’d call this one easy.
We only walked the first 1.5 miles of the trail because we were in a time crunch, but word on the street is that this is the prettiest section. If you love hiking for hiking’s sake then do the whole thing…if you’re tapped for time then make it a 3-mile round trip and see the best parts!
FERN CANYON LOOP
Distance: 1.1 miles
Elevation Change: 118 feet
Fern Canyon is – hands down – my favorite hiking trail in Redwoods National and State Parks. It’s also probably the most popular trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, so remember the early bird gets the best chance to commune with the trees.
It is short, but sweet…and if you love it as much as I did you might even want to walk it twice. Gentle flowing water, a canyon lined with five-finger ferns…I felt like I was in a dream. Every turn…every nook…it was more beautiful than the next.
Many people follow the river to the end of the trail, and then turn back, but the trail is actually a balloon. I encourage you to climb the stairs and make the trek back through the redwoods (following the AllTrails route.)
That trail in the woods, by the way, is also the John Irvine Trail which is another way to explore Fern Canyon (as opposed to driving to the Fern Canyon lot) and we cover it below.
BIG TREE, CATHEDRAL TREES, AND PRAIRIE CREEK TRAILS
Distance: 3.0 miles
Elevation Change: 209 feet
Start your hike in the Big Tree parking lot, where you can grab a photo with Big Tree. Nope, it’s not the biggest tree in the park but it was lucky enough to claim the name and worthy of a photo op.
From there, keep walking along the trail toward the road…cross it…and begin the Prairie Creek section. Shortly after crossing the creek you’ll find two tree tunnels, one right after the other. Our boys loved this trail because of the tunnels…can you see Elliot perched up on the tree above me in the photo?
You can turn back here if you’d like, but continuing on then you can enjoy a taste of the Cathedral Trees Loop also.
TALL TREES GROVE
Distance: 4.5 miles
Elevation Change: 1,600 feet
NOTE: This hike requires a permit at least 2 days before you hike. The permit is free and available online, but is necessary to limit the number of hikers on the trail to 50 during the plague.
I’ll admit that this is the one trail we wanted to do but were not able to because of the permit issue and the 48 hour time delay – by the time I learned we needed it, it was too late. Here’s what I know from my research:
The most difficult part of the trail is the first 1.5 miles, where you drop 800 feet in elevation. You should also plan about 4-5 hours for the hike.
The hike has become famous among the redwood lovers in the world, primarily because the proximity to water and protection from winds means that the trees grow up to 350 ft tall in this area – the beautiful behemoths!
LADY BIRD JOHNSON GROVE
Distance: 1.3 miles
Elevation Change: 75 feet
If you’re staying in Crescent City then this one might be too far south for a day trip hike. If you, like us, are driving up from Southern California then you might want to stop here for a short hike on your way to settling in at your hotel in Crescent City.
It’s a short and sweet hike with bridges and tall redwoods, easy for everyone in the family. What’s interesting about this hike is that it includes a second-generation grove of Douglas fir trees at the beginning, planted after loggers took the redwoods. In the back of the hike are first-generation redwoods.
It’s very unusual to have a first-gen and second-gen forest right next to one another. You can feel the immense difference in shade, color, temperature, etc as you make the walk from one to the other along this short route.
JAMES IRVINE TRAIL
Distance: 10.4 miles
Elevation Change: 1,404 feet
Yes, it sounds like a long one, but it’s relatively easy and a fast, fun hike. The route linked to above is one we recommend for seeing Fern Canyon, if you’ve got the time. If you’re short on time, then do NOT miss Fern Canyon via the trail above.
TRILLIUM FALLS TRAIL
Distance: 2.6 miles
Elevation Change: 433 feet
Don’t expect an Oregon-sized waterfall…this is a small one, but the hike is worth it nonetheless. Bridges, streams, and towering trees combine for a spectacular short hike. I’m not sure why AllTrails rates in Moderate; I think it was pretty easy.
If you head clockwise on the loop you save the waterfall for the end of the hike, which makes it a nice “reward” for a hike well done!
COASTAL TRAIL AND YUROK LOOP
Distance: 2.3 miles
Elevation Change: 147 feet
You won’t find many people on this hike, which makes it really nice. False Klamath Rock is a fantastic beach to visit during low tide if you’re looking for tide pools, so be sure to detour from the AllTrails map and head to the beach.
While you’re exploring the beach, take note of the huge driftwood logs – many of them are redwoods. We brought our SpikeBall kit and some sandwiches on this hike, and it was a great place for a picnic.
NOT IN THE PARKS…STILL WORTH A STOP
TOUR THRU TREE
Distance: .5 miles
Elevation Change: 150 feet
Is this a cheesy tourist stop? Yes. Should you still visit? Also yes.
It was $4 for all four of us to enter. Our dually was too large to be able to drive thru the tree, so we parked it down below and walked the quarter-mile to the tree. We met another family whose van couldn’t make it, so we took turn taking family photos for each other.
It takes about 10 minutes from start to finish, and across the street is a hole-in-the-wall restaurant with a fantastic burger! Get there before 3pm.
BATTERY POINT LIGHTHOUSE
Distance: .5 miles
Elevation Change: 65 feet
While it is not within the redwoods, a short hike to Battery Point Lighthouse is a must. The lighthouse sits on an island and can only be reached at low tide. The benefit of that timing is that you can also explore the tide pools on your way to the lighthouse.
As you walk toward the lighthouse, be sure to climb among the rocks on the left side, where yo’ll find colorful starfish, anemones, hermit crabs and urchin.
Note: All hiking distances are round trip.
BEST HIKES IN REDWOODS NATIONAL PARK – ON A MAP
WHERE TO STAY
If you’re flying in, the most affordable option is probably San Francisco. From there you’ll need to drive about a 5-6 hours to the area. We recommend staying in Crescent City. We stayed at a HipCamp here while in our RV, but we’ve got hotel and vacation rental ideas for you on the map below.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO CALIFORNIA:
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