Redwood duff covers the forest floor. The fallen leaves are soft and thick. Duff mutes the sound of your footsteps and those of forest dwellers. The sweet, spicy, and earthy fragrance of the trees is uplifting. Walking in a redwood forest is revitalizing.
The silence is profound. There’s no insect buzz. Birdsong and wind can be heard in the distance. Giant redwoods dominate the sky, soaring so high, you can’t see the tops. Their thick foliage is a windbreak blocking all but the fiercest winds. Massive trunks and dense vegetation stop much of the sun’s light from reaching the forest floor. Most birds prefer a sunny location to call home. The tannins from redwood bark discourage insects, many birds’ favored diet.
Coastal Redwoods grow only within 50 miles of the Pacific. Few extend south of Big Sur, California, or north of Brookings, Oregon. California has over 40 parks with Coastal Redwoods growing in their characteristic long, narrow groves.
Coastal Redwoods are the tallest trees globally, reaching 300-400 feet, with trunks 30-50 feet in diameter. The ancient ones live 1,200-2,200 years. They can regrow after being devoured by fire. They will join together via their root system, growing into a ring to support each other with nutrients and water.
Connect to the natural world through redwoods. Visit them in northern California at one of the 48 California State Parks, recreation areas, natural reserves, or historic parks that have redwoods. Here’s an interactive map of the California State Parks that protect redwood groves: California Coastal Redwood Parks.
1. Walk Through A Redwood
Richardson Grove State Park is one of California’s first redwood parks. It was opened in 1922 with 120 acres. Today 1,800 acres bring visitors to immerse in the forest and the Eel River.
Begin your visit at the visitor center, where you can get the lay of the land and a park map. You’ll see your first two giants there — 340-foot twins beside the center. Next, there is a walk-through tree and a bat tree to explore, along with 9 miles of trails ranging from easy to moderate.
You can hike, camp, swim, picnic, catch and release fish, watch for birds and wildlife, forest bathe, and search for wildflowers. Richardson Grove is seven miles south of Garberville, California, off Highway 101.
2. Meet Captain Miles Standish
Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area‘s tallest redwood is 225 feet tall. It’s called the Captain Miles Standish Tree. Captain Standish was in the 1620 expedition of pilgrims that landed at Plymouth Rock. He is also honored in the park name along with Edward Ritter Hickey, a lumberman’s son that died while caring for 1918 flu outbreak patients.
More than 1,000 acres are covered with old and second-growth forests. You can hike ten miles of trails (including the ADA-Accessible Taber Nature Trail), camp, swim, picnic, watch for birds and wildlife, forest bathe, and join interpretive programs at the amphitheater.
Standish-Hickey is 180 miles north of San Francisco on Highway 101. The park entrance is 1½ miles north of Leggett, California.
3. Climb Through Geologic History
Jug Handle State Natural Reserve is on the Mendocino Coast. Jug Handle is one of the most curious of California’s redwood parks, stretching from the beach through woodlands, redwood groves, and a pygmy forest.
The Ecological Staircase is a 2.5-mile trail that gains 288 feet elevation. During different geological periods, five tectonic plates were formed. As you ascend from one terrace to the next, you pass through 100,000 years of geological activity. As a result, each terrace has a different landscape, flora, and fauna. You’ll begin at the beach and pass through headlands, grasslands, woodlands, redwood groves, and the otherworldly Pygmy Forest. Jug Handle is located on CA Highway 1, between Mendocino and Fort Bragg, on the Mendocino Coast.
4. Go Cave Kayaking
Van Damme State Park has it all regarding microclimates and geological diversity. Oceanfront to ridgetop with fern canyons, streams and waterfalls, and redwood groves in between. This park is stunning.
In addition to communing with redwoods, you can: hike, bike, camp, picnic, kayak, “find-and-leave-behind” beachcombing, tide-pooling, wildlife viewing, explore a pygmy forest, or camp with your horse.
Family tent camping areas, backcountry hike-in camping, and accessible camping are available in the park. A beach wheelchair is available at no charge. Beach wheelchair reservations must be made at least 7 days in advance. Van Damme is located on CA Highway 1, 1 mile south of Mendocino.
Pro Tip: Van Damme has camping for all styles. RVs or tents are welcome at Van Damme, but spaces are limited. Reserve your spot early.
5. Hike To A Hermit’s Hut
Hendy Woods State Park is named for Joshua P. Hendy, an Englishman who vowed that the old redwood groves he owned would never be cut. Today they are a state park in Mendocino County. On the 816 acres, there are two redwood groves, Big Hendy and Little Hendy. Accessible camping and trails are available.
In the 1960s and 70s, a man called “Hendy Hermit” lived in and near the park. The WWII veteran lived in the hollows of redwoods burned in fires. Hike the Hermit Hut Trail to the hermit’s home among the trees. There is an interpretive panel that tells his story. Hendy Woods is on Highway 128, 8 miles north of Boonville, California.
6. Find Your Inner Recluse
Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve is just a bit off the beaten path, making it a park with few visitors most days. However, getting to Montgomery Woods is part of the experience. Whether approaching from the east or west, the trip takes you into the heart of the California Coastal Mountains. A slow and winding road passes through valleys, oak groves, and chaparral.
The Montgomery reserve covers 2,743 acres. It started in 1945 with a 9-acre donation from Robert Orr, a local landowner.
Montgomery is a day-use park. No camping is available. Things to do include hiking the two-mile Montgomery Trail (steep in places), picnicking, and birding. Accessible restrooms, interpretive panels, and shady picnic tables are available.
Montgomery Woods is located on Orr Springs Road in Mendocino County, California. It’s 32 miles southeast of Mendocino and 13 miles northwest of Ukiah.
7. Meet A Russian Fur Trader
Fort Ross State Historic Park has been home to humans for centuries. The historic park focuses on recreating the different cultures’ living conditions. The largest is a Russian-American settlement colonized from 1812 — 1841 by Russian explorers and fur traders. Only one of the original buildings is part of the village. The other Russian-era buildings are reproductions.
Fort Ross has lively history and education programs. It’s not unusual to see docents dressed in period and profession-related costumes leading visitors on tours and demonstrating day-to-day life in an 1800s Russian-American settlement.
Things to do: Visitor Center and Museum, camping, hiking, picnic, fish, guided tours, beach, snorkel. The park is located on CA Highway 1, 26 miles south of Gualala and 12 miles north of Jenner.
8. 360 View From the Sea To The Sierras
Sixteen miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, Mount Tamalpais State Park has one of the most stunning vistas in any California State Park. On a clear day, you can see the Farallon Islands (25 miles out to sea), San Francisco, Marin Hills, the East Bay, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Sixty miles of hiking trails include tracks into Muir Woods National Monument. Mount Tamalpais Park completely surrounds this ancient forest. It has been a protected National Monument since 1908.
In addition to immersing in the Coastal Redwoods in Muir Woods, you can picnic, fish, camp in tents or cabins, mountain bike in the place it was invented, road bike, horseback ride, go to the theater, hang glide, and participate in ranger-led programs.
9. Stay In A Forest Lodge
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park has a rustic lodge where non-campers can base their exploration of Pfeiffer. There are 61 cottage-like accommodations with modern amenities, excluding TVs, radios, phones, and Wi-Fi.
Enjoy redwoods and maples, oaks, sycamores, cottonwoods, alders, willows, and conifers along the miles of trails. Also, check out the Visitor Center, Nature Center, camping, swimming in Big Sur River, chasing waterfalls, cycling, fishing, and picnicking.
10. Meet The Mother And Father Of The Forest
Big Basin Redwoods State Park has identified the mother and father of the forest. Hike the Redwood Loop to meet these ancient ones. Father is 66 feet in diameter and 250 feet high. Mother is 70 feet around and 329 feet tall. Both are 1,000-1,800 years old.
Big Basin has waterfalls along many of its 80 miles of trails. In addition, wildlife viewing, hiking, a history and nature center, bicycling, horseback riding, horse camping, tent camping, group camping, tent cabins, backpacking, and interpretive programs are features of the park.
Note: Big Basin was devastated by wildfire in 2020, burning 86,509 acres and closing the park. Regrowth and restoration have begun, and parts of the park are open. Check the website for details before you arrive.
Select one park for your first visit to commune with Coastal Redwoods. Perhaps one that has lodging nearby. Dig in for two or three days. Give yourself time to visit the tall trees and explore outside the park boundaries.
When you visit California’s gorgeous redwood forests, you will leave feeling lighter, more in touch with the natural world. Walking quietly in a grove of ancient ones is unforgettable. Inhaling the tree’s perfume is intoxicating. Come to California’s redwood country and meet the gentle giants.
Magnificent redwoods dominate many state parks in California and have a long history: