Redwood National and State Parks is an amazing place. For one thing, it’s actually a partnership between the State of California and the U.S. government, so it includes Redwood National Park and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.
More importantly, Redwood National and State Parks, which is about 7 hours north of San Francisco and 8 hours south of Portland, Oregon, contains 45 percent of the remaining protected old-growth redwoods in California. What’s more, it includes 71,715 acres of federal land and 60,268 acres of state land, for a total of 131,983 acres.
That size, however, makes planning a trip to Redwood a daunting task. To help make your trip planning easier — and ensure your visit is memorable for all of the right reasons — the National Park Service (NPS) has released “Plan Like a Park Ranger: Redwood Top Ten Tips,” written by the rangers who work at Redwood National and State Parks.
“We know that getting to see redwood forests is a dream for you,” the rangers write. “We welcome you at the visitor centers, we meet you on the trails, and we hear your stories. So, we know it can be confusing to choose the best trail, know where you can go with your leashed pet, or even know how to find the redwood parks.”
The rangers’ helpful tips answer all those questions — and others as well. Read on to learn, as the rangers explain, “how to make this the best year to visit Redwood.”
1. Use The Mobile App
Redwood park rangers created all the content about the park in the new NPS Mobile App. That means it includes everything you need to know about all four of the parks.
The free app is currently available for iOS and Android devices. You can learn more about the app, which also features content for more than 400 other national parks, here.
Pro-Tip: Rangers urge you to download information about the park before you arrive because cell service is limited inside the park.
2. Your GPS Will Likely Be Wrong
“Popular driving apps have very bad information out here,” rangers explain. “Yes, even the digital map you love and trust can send you to the wrong place in the redwoods.”
Instead, rangers suggest using either the NPS app or Redwood’s website for directions. You can find the website here.
Pro-Tip: Rangers caution not to use “Bald Hills Road” as a destination when traveling to Redwood. The windy, narrow road is gravel in some sections and is not recommended for recreational vehicles or vehicles pulling trailers.
3. Know About Current Conditions
“Staying up to date on what is happening here reduces surprises when you arrive,” rangers explain.
To be informed, rangers recommend checking the “Current Conditions” page on the park’s website and checking for alerts on the NPS app. This tip is especially important this year because there will be “very long” traffic delays on Highway 101 which will impact many travelers. There may also be smoke in the air or campfire restrictions you need to know about.
You can monitor current conditions here.
4. Get Off HWY 101
When many people travel to Redwood, they don’t get off Highway 101. This means, unfortunately, that they miss seeing the heart of the parks.
Instead, rangers recommend driving the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, which allows seeing 10 miles of continuous old-growth redwoods.
Here are two more reasons to take the scenic parkway. First, it’s suitable for RVs and vehicles pulling trailers. Secondly, more than a dozen trails and pull-outs are located along the parkway.
You can learn more about the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway here.
5. All Trails Are “The Best Trails”
“Everyone wants to see “the best” redwoods and hike “the best’ trail,” rangers explain. “Luckily enough, we have 40,000 acres of old-growth redwoods and hundreds of miles of trails to enjoy.”
The challenge then is determining which trails to take. To help simplify your planning, and ensure you make the most of your visit, the rangers have compiled a list of the walks and hikes in the redwoods that they recommend. You can find that list here.
6. Plan Ahead For Sleeping And Eating
Don’t wait until you arrive at the park to look for a place to spend the night, rangers explain, because “finding a place to sleep in the park at the last minute won’t likely happen.”
Thankfully, all four of the in-park-developed campgrounds are on a summer reservation service. You can learn more about booking reservations in the developed campgrounds here.
Another option is backcountry camping. If that’s your preference, you’ll need a backcountry permit. You’ll also need to be prepared to camp in woods inhabited by bears and mountain lions, rangers caution. You can learn more about backcountry camping here.
Also, keep in mind that there are no food vendors or restaurants inside Redwood National and State Parks. There are, however, numerous dining and grocery options just outside park boundaries. You can learn more about dining options here.
7. Pets Are Allowed — Sort Of
Pets are not allowed on any trails or at ranger-led programs at Redwood.
“There are carnivores like bears, coyotes, and mountain lions, as well as herds of very protective Roosevelt elk in our parks,” rangers explain. “You, or your pet, can quickly get into harm’s way if your pet encounters park wildlife. The scent of your dog, or even a single bark, can cause wild animals to be agitated.”
The good news, though, is that leashed pets can go to many developed areas in the parks. The best place to take a leashed pet is the Cal Barrel Road — a 3.5-mile gravel road that used to be a logging road.
“We love seeing leashed dogs on Cal Barrel Road,” rangers explain. “The full length of the road can be used by dog walkers to give people and leashed pets the rare opportunity of being able to walk under redwoods together.”
You can learn more about taking pets to visit the redwoods here.
8. Parking Will Be Difficult For RVs
The parks’ campgrounds and some of the scenic roads were built before modern RVs were designed, rangers explain. That means if you’re driving an RV, you won’t be able to get to areas such as the Simpson-Reed Grove, Fern Canyon, Howland Hill Road, Lady Bird Johnson Grove, The Bald Hills, or the Tall Trees Grove.
Pro-Tips: There is good RV parking at the Yurok Loop Trail, along the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. You can find more information here.
You can also find RV parking at the Big Tree Wayside, just off the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, and at the Trillium Falls Trail. You can find more information about those areas here.
9. Think Beyond “Fern Canyon” And “Tall Trees Grove”
Social media influencers, journalists, and others frequently promote Fern Canyon and Tall Trees Grove. While the small areas are beautiful, getting to them is challenging, rangers explain.
For instance, getting to Fern Canyon requires driving along a dirt road and crossing two streams. Rangers note that many cars with low clearance get stuck trying to cross the streams.
Getting to Tall Trees Grove requires driving an hour and then taking a long hike. The parking lot at the trailhead is very small, so it’s necessary to get a permit in advance.
To make your trip easier while still seeing redwoods and enjoying yourself, rangers recommend finding alternative hikes and walks. You can find their recommendations here.
10. Practice Safe Selfies
Redwood National and State Parks is home to Roosevelt elk, black bears, and mountain lions. It goes without saying that you should never approach black bears or mountain lions, but visitors shouldn’t approach the elk either.
“Roosevelt Elk are wild animals and weigh as much as a small car,” rangers explain. “The females will kick with their front legs at eye level to defend their babies — and that kick can crush a human skull. The male elk will use their formidable antlers to defend their territory or fight for dominance. Either way, humans will lose.”
You can learn more about how to maintain your safety while around Roosevelt elk, black bears, and mountain lions here.
If you’re planning a trip or simply want to learn more, be sure to read all of our Redwood National and State Parks coverage. Be sure to also read our San Francisco and California coverage too.