Redwood National and State Parks must be the most underutilized and often forgotten about national park in California. It’s a bit too far from major cities, the weather can be unpredictable, and there aren’t many places to stay nearby. For all of these reasons I recommend you go immediately. There’s something unsettling to me when I visit a major national park on a weekend; it’s a bit like Disney meets the outdoors and it all seems wrong. Sure, once you get on a longer trail or off the touist circuit it’s totally fine. But still, having to go through the hordes when you’ve come all this way to get away from it feels so wrong to me. We visited Redwood National and State Parks over 4th of July weekend fully expecting it to be busy, but we came away feeling like we found a hidden treasure. It’s an amazing set of parks and makes for a great long weekend road trip.
The main draw of the park, of course, is the redwood trees but I found the ferns and other life in the underbrush to be the hightlight. The density of the growth is impressive especially when compared to the more arid parts of California. Thriving in the wet enviroment, mosses, fungi, and bugs of all sorts help regenerate the soil that these impressive trees need to grow so tall. We often remarked how we couldn’t believe we were in California. The air was chilly and damp at a time when the rest of California is bone dry and beginning to brown.
Our favorite hikes were the Lady Bird Johnson Grove trail and some trails at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park that we strung together for a big loop. There is an abundance of options so pick what suits you. If you’re up for a moderate hike from the vistor’s center at Prairie Creek Fern Canyon is not to be missed.
During our visit we kept looking for salamanders, particularly the coastal giant salamander, but had no luck in finding any. We did come across a herd of elk, though. The largest type, the Roosevelt elk, live in the area and aren’t very difficult to spot if you’re looking. We ate lunch and watched them at Elk Meadow. Their size is quite impressive but don’t get too close as during certain times of year they can be aggressive.
We did not make it up to Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park but we’re looking forward to it next time! If you’re looking to go that far north I suggest a slightly longer trip. If you’ve been and have any recommendations, let us know. In writing this I’ve actually started planning a second trip up that way. There’s just so much we missed out on the first time around so a fall trip is definitely in order.
If you’re coming from the South as we were I’d also recommend stopping at Humboldt Redwoods State Park and driving along the Avenue of the Giants. We explored the park on our first day, took a scenic drive, then stayed overnight at Benbow Historic Inn before continuing up to Redwood National and State Parks early the following day.