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.

For 2023, we have updated this (hopefully) helpful list of "Top Ten" things to know as you plan your trip. Let's all make this the best year to visit Redwood.

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, this summer there will be delays on HWY 101 which will impact many travellers (and campers at the Mill Creek Campground). There might be smoke in the air, or there might be camp-fire restrictions, or T-Rex's 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 definatly want to see "the best" redwoods and go on the "best trail". Luckily enough, 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 strolling or serious hiking you can 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'll, 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 are on a summer reservation service. Backcountry camping is an option - but you'll have to given a permit beforehand and be 100% ready to hike out and camp in the woods with bears and mountain lions. (Seriously)

There are lots of private campgrounds and some county campgrounds outside the Parks' boundaries. Except for the Smith River National Recreation area to our east, there are not any federal lands nearby where "freedom camping" is possible. 

We have no in-park lodges and we have no restaurants in-park. Chambers of Commerce websites will help you find local 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 our 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.  Also, 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 visitors with large vehicles won't be safely getting 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, promoters, 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 dissapointment, blocked access for our emergency services, and damage to park rescources.

Driving to Fern Canyon: From May 1st-Sept 30th, a free on-line parking permit is needed to be applied for - and issued - before arriving at the Gold Bluffs Beach entrance station.  A change of footware is needed for hikers since you will be getting your feet wet crossing Home Creek. Also, it has some logistical challenges driving there on a narrow, windy road. Rangers' tip: if you have a low clearance car, watch out! Many low clearance vehicles get stuck in the two stream crossings on the dirt road to the Fern Canyon parking lot. You can still do the 11-mile round trip hike to Fern Canyon without a permit from the Prairie Creek Visitor Center.

Tall Trees Grove is a few dozen acres of old-growth redwoods in a park that has 40,000 acres of them. It's an hour's extra drive and then a long hike to get to this grove by Redwood Creek. A free permit is needed before-hand to get through a locked gate. The parking area at the trailhead is very small. The limited parking is the reason why permits are needed.  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 loose. 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. Finally, you can see what other "Ranger Top Tens" there are across the whole of the National Park Service.

Redwood National and State Parks

Last updated: February 2, 2023