Giant redwood trees are an iconic part of the American landscape. These trees are absolutely massive and a sight to behold. Many of the best places to view these trees and the surrounding landscape are in National and State parks. Not only do these places protect the natural environment, they also maintain trails, roads, and other ways to get to the redwoods. You can even participate in an educational encounter or other event to really celebrate the majesty of redwood trees.
#1 Muir Woods National Monument
This national monument has been around since 1908 but the redwoods have been in existence since well before then. It is near San Francisco and easy to access for those living or visiting the Bay area. The national monument is named for famous naturalist John Muir, who was instrumental in establishing areas like this one to preserve the American natural landscape. It is one of the sites included in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The redwoods at Muir Woods are coastal redwoods in an old-growth forest, the largest trees on earth. Many of them are up to 250 feet tall with the tallest in this forest measuring 258 feet. Douglas firs are also common throughout the forest. Estimates put most of the redwoods in Muir Woods between 600 and 800 years old, although some are as old as 1,200 years.
There are plenty of hiking trails for all levels, including established paths that are accessible for those with mobility limitations as well as strollers. You can even take professional photos, have a wedding, or enjoy other special events at the park. Just be sure to get a permit, if required. Pets are not allowed in the park due to space limitations but nearby areas such as Muir Beach do allow pets.
Currently, a Redwood Renewal project is in progress in the park. These conservation efforts are meant to improve and preserve the natural habitat for the native coho salmon, as well as other animal and plant species in the area. This means that some areas may be closed as improvements are made. Overall, these efforts are important to the long-term health of the forest and park, however.
#2 Redwood National Park
The Redwood National Park system actually includes three distinct state parks, which are operated and managed through a partnership between the national park program and California state parks. The three parks included in this area are Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. You can enjoy the parks on their own or make an entire trip out of visiting each one to compare.
There are some special features because these parks are included in the national park system. If you don’t have a national park passport, pick one up from one of the visitor centers and get your first passport stamp. Every time you visit a national park, you can add a new stamp to your passport. There are also special entrance programs for military members and veterans, seniors, and 4th graders through the discounted America the Beautiful pass.
There are a couple of special places worth mentioning within this park system. Howland Hill Road is good for those wanting to see the redwoods from their vehicle. This scenic drive is absolutely beautiful and includes access to a short hike for those who want to get up close to the trees as well. The Trillium Falls trail goes through old-growth forests and ends at a scenic waterfall. Some sites, such as the Tall Trees trail, require a reservation and permit to access in order to regulate the number of visitors each day. Redwood National Park is also the home of the tallest redwood tree in the world, Hyperion, which is just over 379 feet tall.
#3 Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
The Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park covers 10,000 acres and much of this is old-growth forest. As you approach the park, you can see giant redwoods just off the highway. This is one of the northernmost parks in California with redwoods. It is just 9 miles east of Crescent City, California.
Around 7% of the remaining old-growth redwoods in the world are in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. This makes the park a very important part of conserving these historic and monumental trees. Not only do they impart great natural beauty, but they are also a vital part of the ecosystem and provide oxygen. Many of the 20 miles of trails in this state park are more rugged than in some others. They are perfect for those who want to get in touch with the redwoods in a very natural way.
If you prefer something that is more accessible, try driving through the park on Howland Hill Road. It is a gravel road, however, so be ready for some rough driving. It isn’t wide enough for travel trailers, RVs, or other large vehicles to access. You can also camp in the park at one of the 89 campsites, which are RV-friendly. They also have a number of cabins available. Just be sure to make your reservation ahead of time.
#4 Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
Another park in the joint system between California and national state parks is Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. It is made up of half old-growth redwood forests and half California coast. Some of the redwoods in this park can get up to 350 feet tall. They are truly breathtaking, especially when set against a backdrop of steep rocky cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This park doesn’t have as many beginner-friendly trails and paths. But what it lacks in accessibility, it more than makes up for in amazing views. Even if you decide not to stop and climb (and you will need to climb due to the major changes in elevation within the park), the scenic drive is worth the visit.
Most of the coastal areas are not accessible due to their steep topography. You can use the Damnation Trail and the Footsteps Rock Trail, although make sure that you’re ready for the steep climb back up. If you are new to hiking, these may not be the most comfortable places to explore. Wilson Beach allows walking and exploring tide pools but don’t swim in this rocky cove.
#5 Big Basin Redwoods State Park
This park was established in 1902, making it the oldest state park in California. There is plenty of old-growth forest as well as some new forest. If you want to learn a lot about the redwoods and how they grow, this is a great place to do it. You can see the difference between the ancient trees and their newer relatives.
Big Basin is located near Santa Cruz, a coastal central California town known for its laid-back spirit and great surfing. Some of the redwoods in Big Basin are as old as 1,800 years old and are 50 feet around. In 2020, a major fire went through Big Basin. Many of the old-growth trees remain but the fire made room for a lot of new growth. You can see first-hand how fires impact the natural world.
Parking is tight at this park so a reserved parking pass is recommended. You’ll need to pay for parking and if it is full, you’ll be turned away. So it’s best to reserve a parking pass to make sure you can get into the park. Once you are in the park, the Redwoods Loop Trail is a great place to start to enjoy the redwoods and explore.
#6 Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
The redwood forest at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is like something out of a fairytale. The 40-acre old-growth redwood grove is one of the largest areas that you can explore. The trails are shaded by the massive trees and remain cool, even in the summertime. This park is located in central California, near Santa Cruz. The tallest tree is around 277 feet tall. Experts estimate that it is as old as 1,500 years!
In addition to the redwood forest, which is remarkable, you can also see grasslands, a river, and sandhills. Camping is located in the sandhills portion, where you can see many interesting plants and animals. If you want to try something truly unique, make a reservation on the Roaring Camp Railroad line, which travels through the redwood forest and park.
There are plenty of accessible trails, perfect for strollers and those with mobility limitations. Many of the redwoods have fencing perfect for sitting to get a special photo. The Fremont Tree has a place to climb in and out of the massive trunk. The main trail, which forms a loop in the grove, is just under a mile and very flat.
#7 Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
This state park is also run in combination with the national parks program. There are two campgrounds within the park, three scenic drives, 75 miles of trails to hike, and 19 miles of bike trails that form a loop. There are trails for visitors of all ability levels and a self-guided nature tour where you can learn more about the ecosystem within the redwood forest.
One of the most amazing things about Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is that it is home to the majestic Roosevelt Elk. Named for President Teddy Roosevelt, who was a nature enthusiast, these are the largest elk species in North America. These animals eat ferns, grasses, and other small plants that are abundant in the park. Banana slugs are also a common sight in redwood forests. They are often bright yellow and gooey, giving them a truly unique appearance that is easy to pick out among the forest greenery and the reddish trunks of the trees.
#8 Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Of the park’s 53,000 acres, around 17,000 are made up of old-growth redwood forest. This is one of the largest areas of these ancient trees that remains today. A lot of the redwoods in this area were cut down for timber in the early 1900s. The Save the Redwoods League was instrumental in bringing attention to conservation efforts, getting control of this area and establishing it as a state park.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park is home to the famous Avenue of the Giants. This 31-mile drive goes through some of the largest towering redwoods in the world, including areas to actually drive through their massive trunks. As you meander through this scenic drive, take time to stop for a picnic, a photo, a hike, or even to swim in the nearby Eel River.
#9 Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
One of the most popular places to visit in Big Sur, Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park combines massive forests with central California’s rocky coast. This park features some of the best views of the natural landscape, including panoramic vistas of the Pacific Ocean. You can get to the park on the Pacific Coast Highway, which is also an experience in itself. Just be sure to watch for weather alerts and road closures, as this section of highway does sometimes experience landslides that shut it down in severe weather.
Nearby Monterey Bay is home to amazing marine life as well. From the park or the surrounding areas, you might get a glimpse of otters, sea lions, or whales. Within the park is an 80-foot waterfall that goes down into the bay. The half-mile Waterfall Overlook Trail/McWay Falls Trail is scenic but can be hazardous. The law requires that you stay on the trail.
#10 Hendy Woods State Park
If you want to enjoy some wine with your redwoods, visit the Hendy Woods State Park. It is located in wine country in Anderson Valley and features two redwood groves. It is a bit smaller with fewer trails than other parks but just as beautiful. The smaller footprint generally means fewer visitors so you can enjoy some solitude as well. There are 5 miles of trails in the park. The Discovery Trail deserves special mention for its accessibility. It goes through the heart of the Big Hendy grove of redwoods.
The meadow riverside is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic. After you’re done, you can explore the two groves, swim in the river, or canoe. This park tends to be a bit warmer because it isn’t on the coast. There are campsites as well as an accessible cabin.
Summary of the Best Places to See Epic Redwood Trees
|1||Muir Woods National Monument||Mill Valley|
|2||Redwood National Park||Multiple locations|
|3||Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park||Crescent City|
|4||Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park||Crescent City|
|5||Big Basin Redwoods State Park||Santa Cruz County|
|6||Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park||Felton|
|7||Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park||Orick|
|8||Humboldt Redwoods State Park||Weott|
|9||Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park||Big Sur|
|10||Hendy Woods State Park||Philo|
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Ryan Kelehar/Shutterstock.com
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