Avoiding the Crowds
The parks include three major features -- the ocean setting, the old-growth forests, and the prairies. Not many people discover the bald hills (called "prairies" here) that offer excellent views over the tops of the redwoods and down to the ocean. And while the coastal environment and the shade of the redwoods can chill a hiker's bones year-round, these treeless spots are warm and sunny sanctuaries in the summertime. The prairie region also offers many opportunities to explore the park by hiking to the historic barns used during the ranching days before the park's establishment, visiting the School House Peak Firelook to check out the view, or hiking to the valley bottom along the Dolason Prairie Trail.
Contact Redwood National and State Parks, 1111 2nd St., Crescent City, CA 95531 (tel. 707/464-7335; www.nps.gov/redw). The park's Visitor Guide newspaper describes activities in the parks, plus the wildlife you're likely to see. Books and other resources are available from the Redwood Parks Association (tel. 707/464-9150; www.redwoodparksassociation.org).
The southern gateway to the Redwood National and State Parks is the town of Orick, on U.S. 101. You can't miss it: Just look for the dozens of burl stands alongside the road. Just south of town you'll find the sleek Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center, P.O. Box 7, Orick, CA 95555 (tel. 707/465-7765), where you can get a free map and see a variety of exhibits. It's open daily year-round from 9am to 5 or 6pm (4pm in winter). If you missed the Kuchel Visitor Center, don't worry: About 7 miles farther north on U.S. 101 is the Prairie Creek Visitor Center (tel. 707/488-2171), which carries the same maps and information. It's open daily from 9am to 5pm year-round.
The northern gateway to the National and State Parks is Crescent City. The town has its charms, but the face it presents along U.S. 101 isn't exactly alluring. (To combat this, a beautification project is ongoing.) Still, it's your best bet for a motel, gas, fast food, and outdoor supplies. Before touring the park, pick up a free guidebook at the Crescent City Information Center, 1111 2nd St. (at K St.), Crescent City, CA 95531 (tel. 707/465-7335). It's open daily 9am to 5 or 6pm (until 4pm in winter).
If you happen to be arriving on U.S. 199 from Oregon, the rangers at the Hiouchi Information Center (tel. 702/4558-3294) and Jedediah Smith Visitor Center (tel. 707/458-3496) can supply maps and advice. Both are open daily in the summer; Hiouchi is open fall through spring as staffing allows, closed spring to fall, and Jedediah Smith is closed from mid-September to mid-May.
Fees & Permits
Admission to the national park is free, but to enter any of the three state parks (which contain some of the best redwood groves), you'll have to pay a $8 day-use fee, good at all three.
The camping fee is $35 for drive-in sites. Walk-in sites are free or $5, and a few are $20. Most do not require permits, but free permits, available in person at visitor centers, are required for backcountry camping along the Redwood Creek Trail.
To travel the Tall Trees Trail, you'll have to get a free permit from the Kuchel Visitor Center near Orick.
Special Regulations & Warnings
Many of the best scenic drives in these parks are on roads not suitable for motor homes or trailers. If possible, those with RVs should consider towing a car, traveling with a friend who is driving a car, or maybe even renting a car near the parks.
- Don't disturb abandoned baby seals or sea lions you may encounter on the beach. The mother may be nearby, but she will not return until you leave. In fact, you may be fined up to $10,000 for your good intentions. If a pup looks injured or appears to be in danger, call the North Coast Marine Mammal Center (tel. 707/465-6265).
- On the beach, be aware of tidal fluctuations. Swimming is hazardous because of cold water, strong rip currents, and sneaker waves.
- Watch for poison oak, particularly in coastal areas.
- Follow park regulations regarding bears and food storage; all food and scented personal-care items should be secured and hidden from view in vehicles, placed in bear-proof lockers (located at each drive-in campsite), or hung from trees. Roosevelt elk are wild and unpredictable; do not approach them on foot.
- Treat water from natural sources before drinking.
- Tree limbs can fall during high winds, especially in old-growth forests.
Seasons & Climate
All those huge trees and ferns wouldn't have survived for 1,000 years if it didn't rain a lot here. Count on rain or at least a heavy drizzle during your visit, then get ecstatic when the sun comes out -- it can happen anytime. Spring is the best season for wildflowers. Summer is generally foggy along the coast. (It's called "the June gloom," but it can continue into July and Aug.) Fall is the warmest and (relatively) sunniest time of all, and winter isn't bad, though it can be cold and wet, and some park facilities are closed. A storm can provide the most introspective time to see the park, since you'll probably be alone. And after a storm passes through, sunny days often follow. On an even brighter note, chances are, you won't freeze to death in winter or wither and melt in summer, because the average annual temperature along the Redwood Coast varies only 16°, ranging from an average low of 45°F to an average high of 61°F (7°-16°C).
Annual events include the Discovery Ride through the Ancient Forest in October. Contact the park for exact dates and times. Also, Crescent City holds a surf contest in October, and the park holds a candlelight celebration through the old growth in December.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.