Redwood National Park: Huge trees, deep canyons, miles of wilderness and quaint towns…


Grove of Redwoods in the park stretch almost 300' to the sky...!

Twelve loggers pose on stump of giant Redwood tree in late 1800s (photo from Samoa Cookhouse Museum).
Rugged California coast near Redwood National Park offers tidepool treks.
Samoa Cookhouse serves sumptuous food in an historic, family-style dining setting
Old Scotia Hotel in the well-preserved logging town of Scotia makes this town a must-stop!
Roosevelt Elk, just off the highway, are frequent traffic-stoppers!

On your way to Northern California’s redwood coast and Redwood National Park, you’ll be stunned by the myriad of state and national parks set aside to preserve our “big trees heritage”.  You will pass thousands of tall trees, fast-flowing river canyons, rugged coastal views and ancient wilderness; though a large part of the fun of this trip are plenty of quaint, small towns dotting the landscape.

From north of Leggett on Hwy. 101, you will find numerous state parks and reserves that celebrate remnants of the once extensive old growth redwood forests.  This stretch of the highway has a string of state and private campgrounds, many beside towering redwood trees and picturesque rivers. 

When serious logging began in the 1850s, two million acres of old growth redwood forests covered the river valleys and mountains of California; today only five percent of that remain (35% of the remaining old growth forest is protected in Redwood National and State parks).  These parks offer a wide array of diversity, from coastal surf crashing upon secluded shores, tall mountains shrouded in fog and massive redwood forests reaching to the skies! 

At Myers Flat on Hwy. 101, detour off to Hwy. 254, and follow the old road, the “Avenue of the Giants”, north.  Paralleling Hwy. 101, this 30 mile driving tour meanders through stately redwood forests.  A number of turnoffs provide a walkable setting (most are handicapped-accessible). Nearby are a variety of affordable lodging and dining options and several campgrounds.

As you approach Redwood Park, dig out, or purchase for a nominal sum, your Federal Senior pass, if you qualify; it gets you into national parks free, and saves you half off any Federal campground!  Since 1994, the National Park Service and California Parks have operated the federal and several state parks under one mantle, Redwood. 

We began our tour of the park at the Thomas Kuchel Visitor Center just south of Orick and quickly discovered historic insights, knowledge of the flora and fauna of the park and what to put on our “must see list”.  We mapped out a tour that included portions of wild coast with an expansive trails network that led to tidepools and beachcombing.  Grey whales and Steller sea lions reward the inveterate explorer!

We discovered that the Coast Redwood, Sequoia Sempervirens, is a close cousin to the Giant Sequoia and are the tallest trees in the world.  Found in profusion along river ways, heavy winter and spring rains and ocean fog provide the environment for trees reaching and exceeding 300 feet in towering splendor.

While driving to, and within Redwood National Park, keep your eyes open for Roosevelt elk, deer, skunks and coyotes!  The park offers no lodging services (hotels or motels) nor food service, though you will find plenty of each in nearby towns.  Within the park are four campgrounds and many backcountry camps.  We loved the campground near Tall Trees Grove, and made future plans to return to other sites along Bond Creek.  Tent and RV camping is also widely found at many state and private campgrounds along the route both south and north of the park.

Three nearby towns of particular interest are the well preserved company logging town of Scotia on Hwy. 101, another company mill town, Samoa, further north and the quaint town of Ferndale, three miles west off Hwy. 101 near Fortuna.  Stop for a sumptuous lunch at the Samoa Cookhouse, which has been continuously serving meals, first to resident mill workers, then to the public, for over 120 years!   And, Ferndale takes special pride in preserving scores of Victorian homes, making the town a favorite of shutterbugs!

This is a trip that can be done over a long weekend, but with all the additional diversions, plan a week or longer to Redwoods National Park and California’s “Lost Coast” area; these hallowed forests and secluded Pacific Ocean vistas will command you to return!

How to get there: From Stockton, the park is about 400 miles and 8.5 hours; though, as part of a longer trip, we added about 100+ miles and several more hours by heading due west to Hwy. 1, then up the impressive California coast through Jenner, Gualala, Mendocino, Ft. Bragg and other pretty towns.  Hwy. 1 eventually intersects Hwy. 101, then you continue north on 101.   For a more direct route from Stockton, take Interstate 5 to Williams, then Hwy. 20 west (past scenic Clear Lake) to Hwy. 101, then north on 101 and into the park. 

When to go: Just about any time of the year, though biggest crowds hit in summer when school is out.  The park is located near the ocean, with temperate climate, so the park stays pretty cool, even during most summer days, and can get nippy at night. 

What to see while there:  Stop first at one of five visitor centers for displays that offer historic insights and allow you to map your journey through this stunning landscape.  You will want to include coastal exploration and time to meander through scores of redwood groves, including Tall Trees Grove.

What’s nearby: A large part of the fun of this trip are the many diversions, including CA coastal views at scores of sites along the way, other state parks of impressive consequence and plenty of cute, small towns such as Scotia, Samoa and Ferndale.

What to take: Camera and binoculars, good walking shoes or boots, sunscreen and sunshade hat, and water bottles or a canteen if you plan to hike the park’s spectacular trails.  Warm clothes and rain-gear can come in handy, as well!

Where to stay (including camping): Eureka and Arcata, south of the park, and Crescent City, just north, offer many motel/hotel choices and plenty of public and private campgrounds can accommodate every kind of camper.

For more info: Redwood National Park, 1111 Second Street, Crescent City, Calif. 95531;,  or phone  707-465-7335 for insights into the park as well as hiking and camping. Camping in the park can be booked through, or by calling 877.444.6777.

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: travel; or contact me,  Next week we continue our tour of California’s national parks with a feature on Channel Islands National Park; until then, happy travels in the west!

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