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National Park Getaways
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Redwood National and State Parks
Most people know Redwood National and State Parks as home to the tallest trees on Earth. But the parks also protect vast prairies, oak woodlands, wild riverways, and breathtaking coastline, all supporting a rich mosaic of wildlife diversity and cultural traditions. Together, the National Park Service and California Department of Parks and Recreation manage these lands for the inspiration, enjoyment, and education of all people.
Redwood is a large park, both in size and diversity—large enough to provide a lifetime of exploration. However, most visitors have only a few days to discover the park, so our most frequently asked question is: what to do?
To help answer that question, after a deep scientific analysis (i.e., three of us kibitzing over lunch) we have created the ultimate, authentic, insider’s guide: the Top Ten Ways to Explore Redwood National and State Parks.
- Walk Among Giants: Whether an easy, leisurely stroll through Stout Grove or a multi-day trek along Redwood Creek, there's no better way to experience the timeless beauty and humbling grandeur of the world’s tallest living things—coast redwoods—than on one of the park's many trails through ancient, old-growth forest.
- Scope-Out a Prime Elk-Viewing Spot: Prepare to be “wowed” by Roosevelt elk—the largest subspecies of North American elk. Though as few as 15 Roosevelt elk remained in California in 1925, they're now one of the most commonly seen mammals in the parks, year-round, at places like Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center, the Bald Hills, Elk Meadow, Elk Prairie, or along Enderts Beach Road near Crescent City, California.
- Thar She Blows!: Watch for whales from the Klamath River Overlook or Crescent Beach Overlook. These lofty vistas are ideal viewing locations for Pacific gray whales as they migrate (often within a mile or two of shore) between the chilly waters of Alaska and the warm lagoons of Baja California. Keen spout spotters may even observe a pod of orcas!
- Time Capsule: From 2,000 year-old trees to more than 4,500 years of human history, Redwood speaks with the winds of time. From the still thriving cultures of the Tolowa and Yurok people, to the adventures of early explorer Jedediah Smith, and from the dreams of the Gold Rush 49ers, to the rugged life of logging or fishing the seas—this is a land of legends. Check out the exhibits at the Kuchel Visitor Center at the south end of the park and the Del Norte Historical Society's Museum in Crescent City. At low tide, be sure to walk out to the historic Battery Point Lighthouse, also in Crescent City.
- Salmon are Making a Splash!: Three federal threatened and endangered species, the Chinook salmon, coho salmon, and steelhead trout, are beginning to make a comeback thanks to the stream habitat restoration work of park scientists. Streams once clogged and dammed by sedimentation and logging debris, are now clear—good news for spawning salmon returning upstream at the end of their epic life journey. Catch a glimpse of these resplendent fish in Redwood Creek or Mill Creek in late fall.
- Tidepool Treasures and Secluded Shores: The parks protect almost 40 miles of pristine coastline and near-shore marine environment. Offshore rocks, crags, and small islands known collectively as sea stacks provide critical nesting habitat for seabirds such as the common murre and the double-crested cormorant. Sea stacks also provide a safe place for sea lions and harbor seals to haul themselves out of the cold water to rest and soak-up sunshine. Beaches provide opportunity for hours of entertainment, relaxing by the shore, or exploring the tidepools at Enderts Beach at low tide. Remember to leave all the tidepool residents where you found them.
- Purple Mountains Majesty: Take a trip five miles inland from the Pacific Ocean just north of Orick to discover what the United States looked like once upon a time, high above the dense redwood forest. The Bald Hills Road travels 18 miles to School House Peak, 3100 feet in elevation, for distance views across open prairies to the sea. Three hundred year-old Oregon white oaks and open grassland provide habitat for a variety of wildflowers, birds, and animals including fields of bush lupine, acorn woodpeckers, black bears, and Roosevelt elk. Stretch your legs at mile maker 17 for a two-mile easy walk down a dirt path to Lyons Ranch Historic Site, “home place” of the Lyons family patriarch who moved to the Bald Hills in the 1860's. Bring plenty of water, a picnic lunch, and make sure you have a full tank of gas. No services are available once you leave Highway 101; trailers and motorhomes not recommended.
- Channel Your Inner Sci-Fi Geek: The other-worldly landscape of Redwood National and State Parks has inspired filmmakers for decades. Dinosaurs sought primeval-like refuge in the narrow, fern-covered walls of Fern Canyon in Steven Spielberg's The Lost World: Jurassic Park. In Star Wars: Episode IV—Return of Jedi, ancient coast redwoods helped transport moviegoers to a galaxy far, far away—the world's tallest trees materialized George Lucas' vision of the planet Endor, the forested home of the furry Ewoks.
- Take a Ride on the Wild Side: Rafters and kayakers prize the clear, cool waters of the wild and scenic Smith River—California's only undammed river system. But the river is generally only runnable from November through April after recent rains. During the warm summer months, picnicking and wading on the river shores is delightful. Always wear a life jacket in the river.
- Get the Inside Scoop: Fun, family-friendly ranger-led programs are presented through the park in summer. Join a guided walk or relax at an evening campfire program to gain deeper understanding and appreciation of the park's natural wonders and human history. Kids love the ranger-led Junior Ranger programs presented every summer at three park campgrounds. They can earn their Redwood Junior Ranger Badge year-round via the self-guided Junior Ranger booklet available at any park visitor center.
By Redwood National Park Rangers Michael Glore, Debbie Savage and Candace Tinkler