The Redwoods had been on my list of places to visit for years. Finally, my husband Jason and I had the chance to visit, and it exceeded all our expectations. I expected plenty of really tall trees and scenic hiking trails. What I didn’t expect was one of the most romantic destinations we’d experienced in years.
We stayed in a historic lodge, made a quick visit to a town that time forgot, and hiked miles through scenery that was so beautiful it didn’t seem real. This part of Northern California is a great destination for couples looking to disconnect and spend quality time together.
California redwoods grow only within 50 miles of the Pacific Ocean. They stretch from the southwestern corner of Oregon to 150 miles south of San Francisco, in Big Sur. When planning a trip to see the Redwoods, most people head to Redwood National and State Parks, a unique arrangement combining a national park and four state parks. This is definitely a great way to experience the Redwoods, but it’s important to know that there are dozens of other state and local parks that also feature these massive trees. And with so many ways to experience the region’s beauty, it’s unlikely you’ll ever see crowds.
Things To Do In The Redwoods
It goes without saying that the top item on everyone’s list while visiting the Redwoods is to see these massive trees, but there are plenty of other things to do as well. This sparsely populated region is full of surprises.
Drive The Avenue Of The Giants
Our trip started in Southern California, so we entered the region from the south, and our first introduction to the Redwoods was a tremendously scenic drive through the Avenue of The Giants. This 31-mile stretch of road parallels Highway 101 and is located in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, home to the largest remaining stand of virgin redwoods in the world. We stopped several times along this slightly winding road to gawk at the trees and get some pictures.
Earlier in the year, we had the opportunity to visit Sequoia National Park and were amazed at the size of those trees, which are indeed the largest in the world. What impressed us in the Redwoods, however, was the density of the trees. Some grow so closely together that they appear like multiple trunks of one tree.
After 15 miles of driving along this route, we opted to hop back on Highway 101 to reach our next destination faster. But this was definitely a top attraction in the Redwoods, and I highly recommend it.
Stop At A Visitors Center
Within Redwood National Park, there are five visitors centers, and we stopped at the first one we came to in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. I highly recommend stopping at one of these centers during any visit. First, it’s a great way to learn more about the plant and animal life of the area. It’s also a nice opportunity to chat with a park ranger to select a hike, learn about any road closures, and just get some input into your visit. While I usually do research in advance about hikes, I always appreciate the ranger’s guidance and expertise.
Stroll Along The Beach
While I knew we were close to the water, I was completely surprised to find the visitors center next to the ocean. So before heading out for our first hike, we spent some time strolling the beach, which was completely empty. Large waves crashed noisily on the sand where we found large, twisted pieces of driftwood. This was a beautiful (and romantic) spot to spend a bit of time and take a few selfies.
Hike Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail
Our first hike of the day was to Lady Bird Johnson Grove, named for First Lady Claudia Alta Johnson, an environmental activist well known for her efforts to beautify the nation’s cities and highways. This grove was named in her honor in 1969.
The trail is short, just 1.4 miles, and relatively flat, making it a great introduction to the park. Because this grove is located at a higher elevation of 1,200 feet, the trees aren’t quite as tall as in other areas. Anyone short on time, or newer to hiking, would find this trail ideal.
Explore Prairie Creek Trail
It’s never easy to pick a favorite moment during a trip, but if I absolutely had to, it was our hike along the Prairie Creek Trail. Recently renamed the Karl Knapp Trail, in honor of a long-time state parks employee, this easy 2.4-mile hike follows the creek through a forest of massive ferns and ancient redwoods. It was so picture perfect that it didn’t seem real. Other than the occasional sounds of the babbling creek, the forest was surprisingly quiet and we passed just a handful of other hikers.
Pro Tip: While we opted for an easy hike, there are several connecting trails that are more challenging and could extend your hike for several hours.
Look Up At The Big Tree
After we were done hiking the Prairie Creek Trail, we crossed the road to Big Tree Trail. While many of the trees in Sequoia and Kings National Parks are named for U.S. leaders and institutions, the trees here are relatively anonymous. During our visit, the only named tree we discovered was Big Tree, a pretty simple and straightforward moniker. At 286 feet high and 23.7 feet wide, it’s estimated that it’s 1,500 years old. The .3-mile trail is completely flat and would be great for walking with kids or anyone with limited mobility.
Watch For Roosevelt Elk
Throughout our driving and hiking, we saw signs warning us to look out for elk. In this region, there are about 1,000 Roosevelt Elk, a breed that was hunted almost to extinction and has rebounded nicely thanks to conservation efforts. If you hope to spot them, head to Elk Prairie in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Here you’ll find a large, open meadow that attracts elk for grazing. We arrived at the meadow in the middle of the day and found it empty. Fortunately, as we were leaving the park, we did spot a few close to the road.
Take A Side Trip To Ferndale
After a lovely day of hiking in the Redwoods, we decided to head to Ferndale and grab a snack. This town has attracted attention all over the world for it’s well preserved Victorian homes, hotels, and shops, many of which are located along Main Street. We spent time strolling through the charming boutiques and then popped into the Mind’s Eye Manufactory & Coffee Lounge for chai tea and a snickerdoodle. This quirky coffee shop is filled with games and books that invite visitors to stay for a while.
Best Restaurants In And Near The Redwoods
Dining tends to be casual in the Redwoods area which is perfect in an area known for its outdoor adventures.
Main & Mill, located at the Scotia Lodge, is an ideal stop for dinner (lunch also available on the weekends) after driving through the Avenue of the Giants. Their menu features comfort foods like fried chicken and burgers. As a vegetarian, I appreciated that they had veggie options as well. Beer, wine, and cocktails are also available.
For great clam chowder and fish and chips, head to The Trinidad Eatery in Trinidad. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, guests rave about their crabby fries and welcome the casual setting.
For breakfast, lunch, dinner, or just a quick cup of coffee, head to the stylish Cafe Brio in Arcata. And be sure to save room for dessert since their pastries are highly sought after.
We like to pack a picnic lunch while exploring national parks, so Wildberries Marketplace in Arcata is the perfect morning stop. Before heading out into the wilderness, grab some sandwiches from their cafe and top it off with fresh fruit and veggies and cold beverages.
Best Camping And Hotels In The Redwoods
There are plenty of nice options for accommodations in the Redwoods, and something for every budget, ranging from rustic camping to cozy lodges.
We were fortunate to stay at the recently renovated Scotia Lodge. This 100-year-old hotel is located at the northern end of the Avenue of The Giants, making it a great spot to stay for a few days while exploring the area. I loved the large wood-paneled lobby with several seating areas that invite guests to sit down and relax. The rooms are spacious and have many nice touches, like a tea kettle and pour-over coffee, refrigerator and microwave, and a claw foot bathtub. Each morning, fresh-brewed coffee and muffins are available in the lobby. There’s a restaurant and bar on site, so it’s easy to return after a day of activity and not have to leave again until the next morning. Board games are provided in the public spaces, so we grabbed one each evening and played while waiting for our dinner. I couldn’t imagine a more romantic spot to stay.
If you’re eager to camp under the Redwoods, there are plenty of options in the area. In the national park there are four developed campgrounds: Jedediah Smith, Mills Creek, Elk Prairie, and Gold Bluffs Beach. All are managed through California State Parks and can be reserved online. Throughout the region, there are many other campgrounds and RV parks, both in state and county parks. More information can be found here. Backcountry camping is also allowed — just be sure to obtain the free permit in advance.