A Weekend Road Trip to Redwood National and State Parks
Written by Brian Callender | Photography by Julie Boyd
One of our favorite things about living in a different part of the state is the abundance of new opportunities for adventure.
For the past year, Julie and I have done our very best to take full advantage of chance to travel and explore someplace new. After over thirty years of living in Southern California, we had collectively hit a wall. Sure, there were still some hikes on our list, but we weren’t excited about them in the way we have been since the move.
Relocating has reinvigorated our adventurous spirit. Every weekend is a chance to visit another destination, and cross it off our ever-expanding Northern California to-do list.
Taking a road trip to Redwood National and State Parks has been on the top of that list for a while, so we were very excited when we finally had the opportunity to visit the region.
Road Trip to Redwood National and State Parks: Planning
For many of our trips to national parks, we like to focus on particular hikes and landmark destinations. Because the Redwoods are so spread out, we planned this road trip to Redwood National and State Parks as an abbreviated weekend getaway with our focus centered more on an introduction to the region. We would spend time driving through each of the different parks, and see where the road took us. The one exception to this was the desire to visit Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
Knowing that the drive from our home in the South Bay would take around six-and-a-half hours, we opted to break up part of that long day and stay overnight on Friday in Santa Rosa. While only cutting off about two hours, it would allow us to get up early on Saturday morning and reach the region near lunch time. On Saturday, we planned to stay in Klamath, a small town between Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. Along the way, we would make stops in Eureka and Crescent City before ending our day back in Klamath.
Santa Rosa to Eureka
On Saturday morning, Julie and I woke up early, packed up, and hit the road. We hadn’t planned to shoot sunrise photos that morning, so of course, the colors were incredible. Stuck in the middle of the 101 North, and with no scenic viewpoints in sight, we jumped off a random exit and hoped we could make it to higher ground. Instead, we found ourselves parked in front of a closed winery, staring helplessly at a gorgeous sunrise. Once again, our trend of seeing fantastic colors when we want them least, continued.
For an extended weekend in the future, we plan to drive the duration of Highway 1, having traveled it from Southern California to Monterey on a previous trip. On this particular day however, we opted for speed, and stuck to the 101, arriving in Eureka by late morning. I was excited to visit Eureka as I had heard about its famous Victorian homes, and in particular Carson Mansion. We parked across the street from the mansion and were happy to be the only ones there, a rare site for a tourist destination. Before long, it became readily apparent that this was going to need to be a brief visit. There were a number of homeless people wandering around the streets, including a man being arrested just a block away from us. A short while after we parked, other sightseers converged on the mansion and began snapping photos of the other Victorian homes. Julie and I walked around the block before deciding it was time to continue on.
Eureka to Crescent City
Saying goodbye to Eureka, we were once again on the road and headed north. About 45 minutes north of Eureka we stopped at the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor’s Center in search of a stamp and sticker for our passport books. The Visitor’s Center, located just alongside the beach, was on the smaller side, so we decided to continue on to Crescent City and check out their information center. Although this location turned out to be even smaller than the previous, we were given some great information and a map from a knowledgable ranger. He suggested we head over to Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park and check out Stout Grove. We thanked him for the tips and jumped back in the car.
Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park
To visit the park, we opted to for the more scenic (read: bumpy) route that followed Howland Hills Road. Unbeknownst to us, unpaved and rough roads would be one of the reoccurring themes of this trip, and another reminder that an SUV is in our future. The road makes its way through a beautiful forest backdrop, and as the ranger informed us, “big trees are everywhere.” We made a brief stop at the Boy Scout Trail to stretch our legs and hike a bit, and then we drove a bit further to our intended destination, Stout Grove.
Walking through the giant redwoods, we were instantly reminded of how small nature can make you feel. At just 0.5 miles, the loop through Stout Grove is an easy one, and before long we were back at the car. To exit, we jumped on the 199 which connects back to the 101, a much smoother drive out on paved roads.
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park to Secret Beach, Oregon
Having already driven so close to the very top of California, I had the crazy idea that we continue on to explore a little of Southern Oregon. Although Julie wasn’t as excited about the plan as I was, she humored me, and we drove the additional 30 minutes into Oregon. It was at this time that we realized we were just about out of gas, another theme that seems to reoccur on our road trips, and our options were limited in this region. Fortunately, there were plenty of options on the other side of the border, and we quickly filled up at a nearby station. I always feel awkward getting gas in Oregon since the state is one of the few remaining full service fill states. However, the experience was completely painless and the attendant even saved us some money by adding our Safeway Rewards number in, something even I always don’t remember.
Driving along the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, there seem to be viewpoints every half-mile or so. We stopped at a couple of them, but continued until we reached Secret Beach, much more popular than its namesake. A short walk downhill and we were standing at the edge of the beach. There is a rock straight ahead that we have seen photos of on Instagram and as if on cue, there were people standing on it taking photos. Julie and I continued down to the beach and explored a small, shallow cave, and beach waterfall, as we waited for sunset. Sadly, we didn’t get any incredible colors that night, but the location is still very pretty.
After sunset, we hopped back in the car, headed across the border, and enjoyed a delicious dinner and drinks at SeaQuake Brewery in Crescent City. While the town was mostly sleepy when we arrived at 9:00 p.m., the brewery was packed. With full stomachs, we arrived at our hotel in Klamath around 11:00 p.m. and promptly crashed for the night.
Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
On Sunday morning, we grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel, and then were on the road headed to Fern Canyon. From Klamath, the drive to Fern Canyon is just under an hour. After traveling on Highway 101 for the first half of the drive, we turned off onto Davidson Road which winds through the coastal forest. Eventually, Davidson Road becomes Gold Bluffs Beach, and this is where things got interesting. From this junction, Gold Bluffs Beach Road is all dirt mixed with countless potholes and a small water crossing. It was safe to say that I spent much of the drive in my Mazda 3 seriously apprehensive of making it all the way to Fern Canyon, and wondering whether or not I had done damage to the bottom of my car. In fact, when we approached the water crossing, I was all but ready to turn back until another car came through and shared that the drive actually wasn’t bad at all. Once we finally reached the parking lot for Fern Canyon, I felt a welcome sense of relief, but also noticed that the majority of vehicles there were SUVs and trucks.
Fern Canyon, located within Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, is well-known for its canyon walls that are blanketed in, you guessed it, ferns! The canyon gained additional notoriety thanks to Steven Spielberg selecting it as a filming location for the Lost World: Jurassic Park.
From the parking lot, it’s a short walk to the mouth of the canyon and we were quickly greeted by it’s beauty. In the summer, the parks install wooden foot bridges to help in crossing over Home Creek, which runs through the canyon. Since we visited earlier in the year, the bridges were still off to the side of the trail. While you can avoid a bit of the creek from time to time, expect your feet to get wet as you make your way back into the canyon. I had thrown on an old pair of running shoes and only made a modest effort to keep out of the water. Keeping moving as much as possible, kept my feet from freezing.
We followed along the fern covered walls for a short while before it eventually gives way to the coastal forest once again. After about an hour or so at Fern Canyon, we headed back to the car and made the slow drive back to Highway 101.
Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Redwood National Park
With dry shoes and socks on, we were excited for our next stop, Lady Bird Johnson Grove in Redwood National Park. One of the things Julie and I found interesting about this particular National Park was the lack of a main entrance and fee collection point. From the 101, we turned on to Bald Hills Road and after a short drive, we had arrived at the trailhead for the grove. No complaints here, but the parks here definitely have a different vibe than what we have come to expect.
The trailhead to the grove begins shortly after crossing a footbridge over the road below. A one mile, easy loop, took us through the lush redwoods to a plaque in honor of Lady Bird Johnson. Dedicated to her efforts to preserve our public lands, it’s easy to see why Mrs. Johnson found a special affinity for this place. We took notice of just how quiet and peaceful the Redwoods can be, particularly when there aren’t hordes of people around!
Avenue of the Giants, Humboldt Redwoods State Park
For the last part of our trip, we excited to explore the scenic, Avenue of the Giants. Running alongside Highway 101, the Avenue of the Giants is a 31-mile drive that winds its way through more of the stunning redwoods. On this drive, we made several stops and just meandered through the trees, enjoying the lush greenery.
Again, it was especially nice to enjoy having the place to ourselves, and we both remarked about how peaceful it was. Had this been a longer trip, there are plenty of places to explore more and hikes we would love to come back and do on another trip.
Saying goodbye to the Redwoods, our whirlwind weekend was coming to an end. With this trip being such a brief one, we vowed to return again in the future to explore more of the area. We exited the south end of the Avenue of the Giants, and were back on the 101 headed home. After two long days in the car, we had only one thing on our mind: pizza. So we pushed ahead on the three hour drive to Santa Rosa and stopped at one of our favorites, Russian River Brewery. Despite arriving at 9:00 p.m. on Easter Sunday, there was still a 20-minute wait for a table. Worth it. Arriving home just before midnight, there was little time to reflect on our weekend adventure before heading to bed and work the next morning.
Thanks for following along on our adventure! Have you taken a road trip to Redwood National and State Parks? We would love to hear from you!
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