As a true kid of the 80s, my introduction to the Redwoods came one Saturday afternoon when I saw my heroine, Princess Leia, speeding through a fern-covered grove of giant trees outwitting the Stormtroopers. Hooked, I added it to my life-long list of places I needed to visit. Fast-forward a couple of decades and I had to introduce my own Jedi Padawans to this mysterious land, known as the Redwood National and State Parks. Might it still might be harboring mischievous Ewoks?
Kids love records, and it doesn’t matter what the record is most times. On a recent road trip up the California coast from San Francisco, my kids and I discovered the tallest trees. We learned that not only are the ancient, or old growth redwoods, the tallest trees in the world; they are the tallest living things on the planet.
History of Redwood National and State Parks
Up until 1800, the northern coast of California was covered in approximately 2 million acres of redwood forests. Then as the gold rush started to tarnish, logging became the next gold mine.
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In 1923, California preserved the remaining redwoods when it created the first of three state parks. In 1968, Redwood National Park extended the area of protection to link all the state parks. In 1978, the park expanded farther. In 1980, the United Nations designated Redwood National and State Parks a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Three types of redwood trees exist yet only one type grows in Redwood National and State Parks. With bark that’s 12 inches thick, redwood trees have no known diseases or don’t suffer from insect damage.
- The Coast Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world and located along the northern California coast. They are the tallest variety with heights over 370 feet from a seed the size of a tomato’s.
- The Giant Sequoias are located on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in Central California. They are bulkier with thicker trunks yet not as tall.
- The Dawn Redwoods were thought to be extinct, yet discovered in 1944 in Central China.
Activities in the Redwood National Park and State Parks
Redwood National and State Parks offers lots of recreation options for families.
Scenic Drives: If limited on time, scenic routes offer glimpses of the magnificent redwood forests. Drive down Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, a 10-mile paved road that parallels U.S. Route 101, for some of the best tree viewing. The Enderts Beach Road, a 2-mile road, offers amazing views of the coastline near Crescent Beach.
Hikes: Hiking always tops my list. During our visit, we hiked the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail, a 1-mile loop off Bald Hills Road. The path meanders through a fern-covered grove where the dedication of Redwood National Park took place.
For families with younger kids, try the Ah-Pah Interpretive Trail, a .3-mile walk off Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. This trail takes visitors through the rehabilitation process after logging.
Cycling: Redwood National Park is one of the few parks that offers back-country cycling on rehabilitated logging roads. Check in at the visitor center for a brochure and current conditions.
Widlife Viewing: The Roosevelt Elk herd can be found in the Orick area, though easier to spot in the spring and fall. Especially during the fall’s elk rut, when the males battle each other in the annual mating ritual.
Tide pools offer kids an opportunity to explore a tiny marine world. The best place to find a tide pool is Enderts Beach, .5-mile hike from the Crescent Beach Overlook. Whale watching from the shore is best in November and March during the gray whale migration.
Organized Tours: Elk Meadow Cabins can arrange guided tours like family horseback riding and kayak tours. Mountain bikes are available for rent and guided trips can be arranged. Families can reserve fishing excursions, fresh and salt water, or birding tours.
Kids at the Redwood National and State Parks
The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about Redwood National Park. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the park rangers present them after completing their booklets.
The Redwood Junior Ranger booklet is the same for ages four and up. Kids complete the number of activities in the booklet based on their age. A ranger program is not required to earn this Junior Ranger badge though visiting a tide pool or taking a hike in the redwoods is encouraged.
The California State Parks offers a Junior Ranger program for kids visiting the Jedediah Smith Visitor Center or the Prairie Creek Visitor Center.
Lodging in the Redwood National and State Parks
During my visit in Redwood National and State Parks, I reserved a cabin at the Elk Meadow Cabins ($$-$$$). Located three miles north of Orick, California, Elk Meadow Cabins offers six three-bedroom, two-bath cabins that I would describe as a small house instead of a cabin. These cabins are located a short drive right off U.S. Route 101 in an area that has a resident herd of Roosevelt Elk.
Outfitted with all the necessities a family needs, I found this house a charming place to stay for a couple of days. This area of California is remote. The Elk Meadow Cabins offers an excellent location to base your Redwood National and State Parks excursions.
With homespun charm, the cabin had two bedrooms outfitted with a queen bed each and one bedroom perfect for kids with a pair of twin beds. One bathroom included a tub for the kids and the other bathroom had a shower and stackable washer and dryer. With the washer and dryer, I did several loads of laundry (the chore I can never escape).
The kitchen included all the necessary equipment for cooking for a family, including a dishwasher. During our stay, I opted to grill outside since that’s always a kid-pleaser and easy-to-clean-up for Mom. The grill was located on the back deck along with a table for dining al fresco, just stop at the grocery store before heading out to Redwood National Park.
Our cabin featured cable television and Wi-Fi. But my kids played outside until dark with the other kids they found playing in the grassy area that connected all the cabins. Bring the bikes or kayaks, the cabins feature a small garage for storing your toys. Enjoy a community fire pit or a soak in the Jacuzzi during your stay at Elk Meadow Cabins.
Elk Meadow Cabins offer guided tours through Redwood National and State Parks. With half-day or full-day tours, families can choose Redwood destinations like tide pools, Redwood Creek or a tall trees tour.
Getting to Redwood National and State Parks
Redwood National and State Parks are located along U.S. Route 101 in Northern California. From the south, Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center, 2 miles west from Orick, California, is 312 miles north of San Francisco. On the north side of the park, the Jedediah Smith Visitor Center in Crescent City, California, is 322 miles south of Portland, Oregon.
Getting Around Redwood National and State Parks
Redwood National and State Parks is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. The Redwood National Park is free to enter though Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwood State Park and Prairie Creek Redwood State Park collect day-use fees at their respective campgrounds.
U.S. Route 101 runs north and south though the Redwood National and State Parks. Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway offers a scenic drive and several unpaved roads offer beach access though trailers are prohibited.
Tips from a TravelingMom:
- When exploring the beach, never turn your back to the ocean. Sneaker waves can occur at any time.
- Rip Currents can occur at anytime. Put the kids in life jackets.
- If exploring the tide pools, remember rising tides can cut off access.
- If you feel a strong earthquake, move to higher ground in case of Tsunami.
- Ticks carrying Lyme disease have been found in the Redwood National and State Parks.
- Know how to identify Poison Oak.
- Best places to restock: stop at Crescent City, California if driving down from the north and McKinleyville, California, if arriving from the south.
- Give unpredictable Roosevelt Elk space, they weigh 1,000 pounds.