Spend your first weekend in Redwoods National and State Parks

Visiting Redwood National and State Parks for the first time? We've got recommendations on where to camp and what to explore for a first time adventurer!

Redwoods National and State Parks in Northern California remains one of the most awe-inspiring and magnificent National Parks in the US. I recently spent a weekend camping at the park with my fiancée, exploring the oceanside beaches, hiking through old grove trees, and catching some glimpses of the local wildlife. As a native Coloradan, I've always wanted to see the Redwoods for myself. Getting to spend an entire weekend encased in the beauty of these ancient trees is a treasure that will call to any adventurer. These are the sights and memories that will stick with us. 

Camping at Redwoods National and State Parks 

There are several developed campgrounds and backcountry camping throughout parks, and a little preplanning will easily get you a space. The main developed campgrounds are Jedediah Smith, Mill Creek, Elk Prairie and Gold Bluffs Beach. Gold Bluffs has you camping along the coast, while the remaining three will have you camping within the Redwoods themselves. We stayed at Elk Prairie, which was perfectly situated near various hiking trails through old grove trees. Elk Prairie (and its associated visitor center for the park) is easily accessible off the 101 just north of Orick, CA. Campground reservations can be made here. If you are there during a weekend on the summer, be sure to see what the fireside chat program for the evening is. You may be surprised what you will learn, and kids will thoroughly enjoy it. Remember to always use the bear lockers and keep your campsite crumb free. 

Exploring the Coast and Fern Canyon 

While you may typically think of Redwoods National Park for hiking and camping, the Pacific Coast is extremely close and offers some unique sights - particularly Fern Canyon. This canyon is completely lined in ferns, and runs along a small stream. Be ready to get your shoes a bit wet as you traverse deeper into the canyon. It truly feels like you've been transported to the Jurassic period. (Fun fact, they shot some backdrops for Jurassic Park here). The hike itself is very short, about 1.1 miles, making it accessible for everyone. To get to Fern Canyon, take Davidson Road (just north of Orick) until it becomes Gold Bluffs Beach and then follow it all the way to the end. You'll have plenty of gorgeous beach views to stop and enjoy along the way. Come to the Gold Bluffs Beach before sunset for a nearly empty beach and beautiful view as the sun sinks over the horizon.

Hiking in the Redwoods 

The Redwoods National and State Parks contain a ton of great hiking trails for any skill set. You will likely have a hard time deciding between all the options! For a half day hike, we hiked the Miners Ridge trail via James Irvine trail. This trail takes you through old grove Redwoods, and you will spend the entire time looking upward at their towering heights if you're not careful. The trailhead for James Irvine is accessible near the Elk Prairie Visitors Center.  Starting from the trailhead, follow James Irvine due west for 3.5 miles. The elevation gain is modest throughout, making this an intermediate hike. Once at the junction for Miners Ridge, either head south along the ridge back to complete the loop, or head all the way to Gold Bluffs Beach. The steepest portions of this hike were just after starting the Miners Ridge portion. Connecting back to the trail head via Miners Ridge made the total hike 8.3 miles. It's peaceful, serene and beautiful. As a first time visitor to the park, this will give you everything you could hope for. If a short hike is a better fit for you, we also explored the Lady Bird Johnson Grove. This is a short 1.5 mile hike, with little elevation gain, through newer groves. To find Lady Bird Johnson Grove, take Bald Hills Road eastward off the 101. Note, it's a pretty step climb and the road is somewhat rough. As always, remember to pack it in and pack it out. Leaving no trace is vital to keeping the Redwoods beautiful and preserved. 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Kyle Reader

New to the Outbound community! A life spent in awe of the outdoors. I am a runner, climate activist and healthcare consultant based outside the San Francisco Bay Area. Photography is my new adventure.