Plan Like a Park Ranger: Redwood Top Ten Tips

Four women look at a park map and brochure. A redwood tree is behind them

NPS Photo / John Chao

Let Us Help You!

There are no "timed entries" into most of Redwood National and State Parks. But if you want to drive to Fern Canyon this summer... keep reading.

Our park rangers know that getting to see redwood forests is a dream for you. We welcome you at the visitor centers, we meet you on the trails, and we hear your stories. So, we know it can be confusing to choose the best trail, where you can go with your leashed pet, or even how to find the redwood parks.

Redwood park rangers created all the content for the new National Park Service Mobile App. Our content includes three California State Parks (Jedediah Smith Redwoods, Del Norte Coast Redwoods and Prairie Creek Redwoods) and Redwood National Park. Be sure to download the data before you get here! There is limited cell service once you are here.

Popular driving apps have very bad information out here. Yes, even the digital map you love and trust can send you to the wrong place in the redwoods.  Our mobile app has accurate GPS data, and our website has good directions.

Rangers' tip: Don't use "Bald Hills Road", or "Tall Trees Grove" as destinations when you are driving to Redwood National and State Parks.

Make sure to read the current conditions page on our website and check the "Alerts" on the mobile app. For example, there may be construction delays on HWY 101. There might be smoke in the air, or there might be campfire restrictions, or T-Rexes on the loose. Staying up to date on what is happening here reduces surprises when you arrive.

Make sure to drive the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway to easily see 10 miles (16km)  of continuous old-growth redwoods.  If you can only do one thing - drive this parkway. Many people miss out on the heart of Redwood National and State Parks when they don’t get off HWY 101.

Oh yeah - you definitely want to see "the best" redwoods and go on the "best trail". Luckily, we have 40,000 acres of old-growth redwoods and hundreds of miles of trails to enjoy. All these trails are under equally beautiful redwoods. 

Now, it's a matter of figuring out how much gentle touring or serious hiking you want to do. How much time do you have?. What part of Redwood National and State Parks will you be visiting? How big is your vehicle?  We've got you covered with a selection of recommended walks and hikes in the redwoods

Sorry, but finding a place to sleep in the park at the last minute won't likely happen. All four of our in-park developed campgrounds require reservations in the summer. Backcountry camping is an option - but you'll need a permit beforehand and be 100% ready to hike out and camp in the woods.

There are lots of private campgrounds and some public campgrounds outside the Parks' boundaries. The only dispersed camping is in Smith River National Recreation area to our east, where you can also reserve cabins.

There are no lodges or restaurants in these parks. Local Chambers of Commerce websites will help you find lodging or places to grab a meal. 

Good news is that leashed pets can go to many developed areas in the parks. But your pet and wildlife don't mix - and that is just one reason why pets are not allowed on any of our parks' trails.

There are options to take Fido for a walk under towering redwood trees - we love seeing leashed dogs on Cal Barrel Road. Stop by a visitor center, and Fifi can earn her BARK!Ranger badge and certificate

Our campgrounds and some scenic roads were created before modern recreational vehicles (RVs) were designed.  This means that large RVs can't drive to the Simpson-Reed Grove, Fern Canyon, Howland Hill Road, Lady Bird Johnson Grove, The Bald Hills, or the Tall Trees Grove.

Rangers' tip: There is good RV parking at the Yurok Loop Trail, along the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway,  at the Big Tree Wayside, and at the Trillium Falls Trail.

Influencers, journalists, and bloggers frequently write about Fern Canyon or the Tall Trees Grove. Yes, these are two beautiful places - but they are just a fraction of what to see here. Fern Canyon's "fame" has led to overcrowding, lack of parking, visitor disapointment, blocked access for our emergency services, and damage to the park.

Driving to Fern Canyon: From May 1st-Sept 30th, you will need to get a free online parking permit before arriving at the Gold Bluffs Beach entrance station. Make sure you and your vehicle are ready! Large RVs may be unable to navigate the narrow, windy road. Also check your vehicle clearance. Many low clearance vehicles get stuck in the two stream crossings on the dirt road to the Fern Canyon parking lot.

Rangers' tip: You can still do the 11-mile round trip hike to Fern Canyon from the Prairie Creek Visitor Center without a permit.

Tall Trees Grove is a few dozen acres of old-growth redwoods. Plan for an hour drive and then a long hike to get to this grove by Redwood Creek. Due to very limited parking at the trailhead, a free permit is needed beforehand to get through a locked gate.

Rangers' tip: for alternatives see tip #5 of finding "The Best Trails".

Never approach the Roosevelt Elk, they are wild animals and weigh as much as a small car. The females will kick with their front legs at eye level to defend their babies - and that kick can crush a human skull. The male elk will use their formidable antlers to defend their territory, or fight for dominace. Either way, humans will lose. Be safe and be aware of your surroundings while in the redwoods.

Need Some More Tips?

If you want to dive deeper into Redwood information (for example: Where is the "Drive Through Tree"?) then head to our Frequently Asked Questions page. Heading to more parks? Check out other "Ranger Top Tens" across the entire National Park Service.

Redwood National and State Parks

Last updated: January 19, 2024