Kids love records and it doesn’t matter if it’s tallest or shortest most days. On a recent road trip up the California coast from San Francisco, my kids discovered the tallest trees. Then we learned the ancient, or old growth redwoods, are tallest trees in the world and the tallest living things on our planet.
Redwood National and State Parks
Until 1800, approximately 2 million acres of redwood forests covered California’s northern coast. Then the gold rush started to tarnish and logging became the next gold mine.
California preserved the remaining redwoods in 1923 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 and in 1978, the park expanded further. In 1980, the United Nations designated Redwood National and State Parks as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Three types of redwoods exist yet only one type grows in the Redwood National and State Parks. With bark that measures 12-inches thick, redwoods have no known diseases or 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.
6 Things to do in the Redwoods with Kids
Redwood National and State Parks offers lots of recreation options for families.
If limited on time, the 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 is a 2-mile road that offers amazing views of the coastline near Crescent Beach.
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.
Redwood National Park offers back-country cycling on rehabilitated logging roads, one of just a few parks that allow this. Check in at the visitor center for a brochure and current conditions.
The Roosevelt Elk herd graze in the Orick area. Catch a glimpse in the spring and fall, especially during the elk rut in the fall. The annual mating ritual when males battle each other for the right to mate.
Bring the water shoes and check out the tide charts so kids can 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.
Elk Meadows Cabins can arrange guided tours like family horseback riding and kayak tours. Rent mountain bikes and arrange a guided trip. Or reserve a fresh and salt water fishing excursion or a birding tour.
Redwoods with Kids
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 4 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 to 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. They line a short street 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 and the Elk Meadow Cabins offers an excellent location to base your Redwood National and State Parks excursions.
With homespun charm, my cabin featured two bedrooms 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 who bath and the other bathroom had a shower and stackable washer and dryer.
The kitchen included all the necessary cooking equipment for a family, including a dishwasher. During our stay, I opted to grill outside since it’s a kid-pleaser and easy-to-clean up for Mom. I found a grill on the back deck along with a table for dining al fresco. Grab groceries before heading out to Redwood National Park.
Our cabin featured cable television and Wi-Fi but my kids played outside until dark. Bring the bikes or kayaks, the cabins feature a small garage for storing your toys. Elk Meadow Cabins offers a community fire pit and Jacuzzi.
Where’s 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.
Redwood National and State Parks is 63 miles to Oregon Caves National Park, 170 miles to Crater Lake National Park and 185 miles to Lassen National Volcanic National Park.
Details for Redwood National and State Parks
Redwood National and State Parks are open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. The Redwood National Park is a fee-free area. 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.
I recommend the Moon Guides if you need more information.
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Know Before You Go:
- When exploring the beach, never turn your back to the ocean. Sneaker waves can occur at any time.
- Rip currents are strong currents that 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; it can be found along the trails.
- Best places to restock: stop at Crescent City, California if driving down from the north and McKinleyville, California, if arriving from the south.
- Give Roosevelt Elk space, they are unpredictable animals that weigh 1,000 pounds.