Park: Redwood National Park
Location: Crescent City, California
Established: January 1968
Size: 112,618 acres
Annual visitors: 527,143 (2015)
Entrance fee: Free
Times visited: 2
California is a place of extremes: Highest peak, lowest valley, driest spot, hottest location, oldest lake, oldest tree, largest tree and highest tree.
Redwood National Park, along with three partnering state parks, helps to protect about 45% of all remaining coast redwood old-growth forest, including the tallest trees in the world.
Del Norte Coast, Prairie Creek Redwoods and Jedediah Smith Redwood State Parks were founded in the 1920s, when it became clear that the last remaining old-growth redwood forest was going to disappear due to unrestricted clear-cut logging.
My first visit to the parks was in August 2015. I was heading up the coast highway with a friend, travelling from San Francisco to Vancouver together. We gave ourselves a few hours to explore Redwood National Park, and then spent the night at the campground in Jedediah Smith State Park.
If, like me, you only have a few hours to give to these parks, then I highly recommend our itinerary (this plan assumes you're travelling south to north... reverse the plan for north to south!)
1) Stop at the Thomas H. Kuchiel Visitor Center along Hwy 101 to gather maps and information (don't forget to stamp your passport and buy a park patch!) Take a half-hour to wander the beach and enjoy a picnic in the fog.
2) Pick a short trail, such as the Trillium Falls Trail, or the Lady Bird Johnson Grove. It is a very different feeling to be walking amongst these giants, instead of just seeing them from the car. Don't miss out on getting up close and personal; trees need hugs too!
4) Continue north along Hwy 101, stopping at the Crescent City vista point to learn about the deadly tidal wave of 1964.
5) Take the scenic Howland Hill Road through Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park to the Stout Memorial Grove. Enjoy a quiet and leisurely wander through this amazing grove of old giants. The nearby Smith River is great for a cool swim on a hot day!
We also had the chance to visit the Stout Grove during a Ranger talk. We learned so much about the coast redwoods during that hour, including how resilient they are. Unlike their more challenging cousin, sequoia, new redwoods can sprout from a root crown, stump or even fallen branches!
It is difficult to explain the allure of the old-growth Coast Redwoods forests. Perhaps it is the enormity of the trees, or their presence after all these centuries. Maybe it's the sound of the wind in the canopy, or the filtered sunlight coming down to the understory. Whatever it is, they are captivating to young and old alike, and well worth a detour to the west coast of California.