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10 Best Hikes in the Redwoods – The Tallest Living Things to EVER Exist!

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There’s something magical about the enormous redwood trees of northern California. With their prehistoric-looking bark and eye-popping height (some are over 350 feet tall!), walking underneath their impossibly high branches makes you feel like you’ve just stepped straight into Jurassic Park. If you’re making the pilgrimage to the Redwood National and State Parks to visit the tallest trees on earth, lace up your hiking boots and hold onto your butts- here’s ten of the best hikes in the redwoods of Northern California to explore. 

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What’s the difference between sequoias and redwoods?

Before we dive into all the spectacular hikes in the redwoods that Northern California has to offer, let’s make sure we know what redwoods are in the first place. The Golden State is bursting at the seams with superlatives, including having two of the biggest tree species on the planet, the sequoias and the redwoods. So what’s the difference between the two?

While they’re closely related, they’re actually two separate species. The redwoods grow from the central Californian to the southern Oregon coast (no more than 50 miles inland), whereas the sequoias can be found in the subalpine western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, primarily at an elevation of 5,000 to 7,000 feet.

Woman running down the Avenue of Giants in the Redwoods

The redwoods are the tallest trees in the world- in fact, the world’s tallest tree (a redwood, of course) is just shy of 380 feet tall, which, for context, is the equivalent of a 35-story building. Sequoias, on the other hand, are shorter- a measly 125-175 feet tall- but, given their diameters can grow up to 26 feet, they’re actually the largest trees on earth by volume.

Finally, sequoias generally live longer- some of them are believed to be 3,500 years old. Redwoods are, in comparison, spring chickens, living to just 700 years old- although there’s been a few documented outliers that have lived to over 2,000!

Woman standing in redwood along Karl Knapp Trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

What’s the deal with Redwood National and State Parks?

While you find redwoods along hundreds of miles of the Pacific coastline, the best place to see the redwoods is in Northern California. In fact, over half of the world’s remaining redwoods live within a park system dedicated to them in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties: Redwood National and State Parks, which includes Redwood National Park and Del Norte Coast, Jedidiah Smith, and Prairie Creek State Parks. This is quite the unique set-up- Redwood is actually the only U.S. National Park that is cooperatively managed with state parks.

The reason for this anomaly is due to the minimal protections redwoods had for centuries- in fact, 95% of old-growth redwoods have been logged since European settlers landed in the United States. Throughout the 1900s, many activist groups, including the Save the Redwoods League and the Sierra Club, aggressively lobbied to Congress to protect these majestic trees- and, in 1994, successfully argued to offer these state parks similar protections as those in the beloved U.S. National Park System. 

It’s worth noting that there are other amazing parks in this area where you can explore groves of enormous redwoods and the majestic California coastline that technically aren’t part of the Redwood National and State Parks system, like Humboldt Redwoods State Park. They’re so incredible, in fact, that some of them are featured in my list below!

In the aggregate, these Northern Californian parks are quite spread out, though- it can take over two and a half hours to drive one-way between the southern- and northern-most parks. So, depending on how long you have to explore the area, you may want to just concentrate on one area (like the northern section with Prairie Creek and Jedidiah Smith) or make a road trip out of hitting them all!

Woman hiking on the Karl Knapp Trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Best hikes in the Redwoods

Now, to the fun part- let’s go hike through some REALLY tall trees! 

I want to add a really quick reminder to always follow the Leave No Trace principles while you’re on the trail. When my husband, Justin, and I visited, we saw an absurd amount of carvings and other types of graffiti on these beautiful and ancient giants- please don’t be that guy and do anything to harm these ancient giants or their environments.

And now, on to the trees!

1. Stout Memorial Grove Trail

Location: The trailhead is located here, in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.

Fee: $8 per car for day use

Length: 0.7 Miles

Elevation gain: 32 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Description: This loop hike winds through Stout Grove- I don’t play favorites with redwood groves, but if I did, this one would certainly be at the top. While the grove itself has a relatively small footprint, there’s very limited undergrowth and no other types of trees here that compete for your attention- nothing but densely-packed 300-foot redwoods towering above. 

I also love the story behind this place- a widow of a lumberman donated this land to the Save the Redwoods League in 1929 in memory of her husband, with the land eventually becoming a beloved part of this state park.

Couple walking through Stout Grove in Jedidiah Smith State Park in redwoods

2. Boy Scout Tree Trail

Location: The trailhead is located here, in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.

Fee: $8 per car for day use 

Length: 5.3 miles

Elevation gain: 750 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Description: Tucked further back into Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park from the more popular Stout Memorial Grove Trail, this out-and-back trail provides an interesting array of topography as you wind through a forest along ravines, hills, and valley floors, all bursting with ferns. The impossibly green undergrowth here is also much more abundant than in Stout Grove and, along the trail, there’s a diverse mix of large redwoods- and unbelievably enormous ones. At the end of the trail, you’ll reach a tranquil waterfall cascading down a series of fallen logs and ferns (creatively named “Fern Falls”), forming a small pool below.

3. Karl Knapp (formerly known as the Prairie Creek Trail) to Foothill Loop Trail 

Location: The trailhead is located here in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

Fee: $8 per car for day use

Length: 2.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 95 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Description: This trail packs in a lot of punches, with some of the most grand trees you’ll find in Northern California (many of which tower over 300 feet tall), enormous primeval ferns, and- my favorite part because I’m a little kid- TWO tunnels carved into fallen trees. You also have a good chance of spotting elk here- while we didn’t see any during our visit, we definitely heard them insistently bugling almost the entire time we hiked!

It’s worth noting here that, while each of the parks in the area feature redwoods, they all have distinctively different vibes, depending on their elevation and proximity to the coast. If you only have time to stop at one place in Northern California to see the redwoods, I’d recommend making it Prairie Creek. Between the lush scenery and the incredible biodiversity, this place feels straight-up otherworldly.

Woman standing in tree tunnel along Karl Knapp Trail of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

4. Fern Canyon Loop

Location: The trailhead is located here in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

Fee: $8 per car for day use

Length: 1.1 miles

Elevation gain: 118 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Description: Along this trail, you’ll hike a bit through an old-growth forest, including redwoods, sitka spruces, and western hemlock trees, until you reach an absolutely stunning canyon, with 50-foot walls dripping with ferns. This is also an excellent spot to see light rays, beaming through the tall trees around the canyon, especially if you come in the early morning. 

The forest here is so unbelievably fecund, it looks like something out of Jurassic Park- and in fact, it was actually a shooting location for Jurassic Park: A Lost World, BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs and IMAX’s Dinosaurs Alive!

Dinosaur vibes aside, a little word of warning- you’ll likely need to hike through ankle-deep water to cross streams (especially if you come in the spring, fall, or winter) and scramble over fallen logs in some sections- so be sure to bring along waterproof hiking boots (like these for men and these for women).

Stream along Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Tip: During the more popular summer months, you’ll need a permit to hike Fern Canyon.

5. James Irvine Trail

Location: The trailhead is located here, in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

Fee: $8 per car for day use

Length: 12 miles

Elevation gain: 1,404 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Description: This out-and-back hike leads all the way from the Prairie Creek Visitors Center, snaking through a grove of impressive redwood trees, to a cathedral of sitka spruces soaring overhead. From here, the trail will actually lead you past the dripping walls of the aforementioned Fern Canyon and finally on to the craggy shores of Gold Bluffs Beach. While this is a long hike, you’ll see so much quintessential California scenery in one go- definitely worth it!

6. Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail

Location: The trailhead is located here in Redwood National Park.

Fee: Free!

Length: 1.5 miles

Elevation gain: 101 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Description: Quick history lesson- until the establishment of Redwood National Park in 1968, the redwood trees were aggressively logged in the area directly surrounding the park. The national park’s first visitors were actually confronted with miles and miles of scarred and logged land ending abruptly at the park’s boundaries. In 1969, President Nixon dedicated this grove of redwoods to the former First Lady to thank her for her environmentalist and conservation work. 

This loop trail is unique because it seamlessly transitions from second-growth forests of Douglas fir (i.e., those that were planted after this area was extensively logged) to ancient groves of redwoods that have lived on this land for centuries. Hug a tree while you’re here and think of all the awesome men and women who fought to protect these magnificent specimens.

Tree along Lady Bird Johnson Trail in Redwoods National Park

7. Tall Trees Grove Loop Trail

Location: The trailhead is located here, in Redwood National Park.

Fee: Free- although you need to apply for a permit ahead of time (only 50 parties are allowed to hike the trail per day, due to the narrow access road)

Length: 3.3 miles

Elevation gain: 748 feet 

Difficulty: Moderate

Description: Along this trail, you’ll follow the trail down 1.3 miles to the redwood grove, along a moist floodplain that runs along the Redwood Creek. This trail’s biggest claim to fame is that it was the home to the tallest tree in the world at one point, the 368-foot Libby Tree, before it was dethroned by another redwood discovered in the area in 2006. 

Because of the presence of the Libby Tree and the added mystique of a required permit, this is an incredibly popular trail. And while it’s 100% worth going to if you’re going to be visiting the area for several days, I’d recommend prioritizing the trails in Prairie Creek or Jedidiah Smith over Tall Trees Grove, given that the trailhead is relatively challenging to reach and the grove, while stunning, is only about a quarter mile in length.

8. Wedding Rock Trail

Location: The trailhead is located here, in Sue-meg State Park.

Fee:  $8 per car for day use 

Length: 0.3 miles

Elevation gain: 42 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Description: Okay, okay- so this isn’t a redwood trail. But, if you’re visiting Northern California, a stop at Sue-meg State Park (formerly known as Patrick’s Point), a totally underrated gem in Humboldt County, is an absolute must. This short walk will take you to an overlook along the untamed California coastline, with stunning sea stacks, impossibly turquoise water, and abundant wildlife (this is a great spot to see whales, seals, and other sea creatures). Visit at sunset and thank me later.

Woman standing at sunset at Sue-meg State Park

9. Founders Grove Nature Trail

Location: The trailhead is located here, in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

Fee: Free!

Length: 0.5 miles

Elevation gain: 32 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Description: Many of the groves in the Redwood National and State Parks have a relatively small footprint- not so with Founders Grove. When you’re on this loop trail, there seems to be giant redwoods in every direction as far as the eye can see.

Plus, given its unique climate (it’s protected by towering mountains to the west and receives tons of precipitation, thanks to the nearby Eel River Valley), the trees here are absolutely massive! Add in the trail’s proximity to the Avenue of Giants, a famed 31-mile road lined with titan redwoods and this is one of the most unmissable stops while you’re in Northern California.

Man standing next to fallen redwood in Founders Grove in Humboldt Redwoods State Park

10. The Homestead and Big Trees Loop

Location: The trailhead is located here, in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

Fee: Free!

Length: 2.3 miles

Elevation gain: 705 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Description: While many of the hikes on this list are popular stops amongst visitors to the redwoods, this trail flies a bit more under the radar. That’s not to say it’s not spectacular, though- in fact, this very forest contains the largest remaining contiguous stretch of old growth redwoods in existence.

The start and the end of your walk here will be along the Big Trees Area, which boasts some (surprise!) really frickin’ big trees. Unlike some of the other groves in the area, there’s no understory obstructing your views, so don’t forget to crane your neck upwards and take in the very tippy-tops of the trees hundreds of feet above. 

When to visit Redwood National and State Parks

Thanks to its moderate coastal temperatures, there’s really no bad time to visit the redwoods in Northern California.

The summertime is by far the busiest season, but I’d actually recommend avoiding it- the trails are usually packed and the weather can be quite foggy.

In my opinion, the redwoods are one of the best places to visit in California during the winter, given the moody low hanging clouds and morning light rays make these ancient forests look even more mystical.

Similarly, the spring months are a bit cooler and rainier than the popular summer months, but also a lot less crowded. Justin and I visited this area for a week in March, had overcast, but dry weather, and the trails totally to ourselves.

In fact, the majority of the California coast is pretty quiet during this timeframe and, because of the rain, it’s beautiful and green. If you can swing it, I’d highly recommend considering tacking on some extra days to your trip to the Redwoods and making it a full blown California coast road trip!

Man looking up at redwood root system at Stout Grove in Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park

Where to stay when visiting Redwood National and State Parks

As noted above, the famed parks for redwoods in Northern California are fairly spread out along the coastline, but the town of Trinidad is a decent halfway point between the northern and southern parks. It’s worth noting that most of the towns in this section of California are tiny and rustic, and Trinidad is no exception. So while there’s plenty of clean and cozy lodging here, I wouldn’t expect a swanky resort experience.

Seastack on a beach in Trinidad, California

With that in mind, consider

  • View Crest Lodge: This rustic yet modern hotel offers a variety of rooms and cabins (some of which come with a jacuzzi and fireplace), a hot tub, and free breakfast. Yes please!
  • Emerald Forest Cabins & RV: Sweet and comfy cabins with incredibly friendly and helpful staff. This place has major summer camp vibes- in the best way possible. 
  • Trinidad Inn: While the outside of this motel may look a little weathered, the rooms are clean and cozy. The building itself is tucked into a redwood grove, which you can enjoy while using some of its outdoor amenities like picnic area and firepits.
  • Trinidad Bay Bed and Breakfast: If you’re looking for something slightly more upscale, this bed and breakfast offers a ton of charm- think warm cookies at check-in, views overlooking the ocean, and a three-course breakfast, served to your room.

What to Bring for Hikes in the Redwoods

Here’s a few things you should pack to make sure your trip to these ancient giants is as epic as possible:

  • Hiking boots: The trails here can be quite root-y, muddy, and for some of them (I’m looking at you, Fern Canyon), literally require you to hike through several inches of water. So bring waterproof hiking boots (like these for men and these for women), both to protect your feet from stabby things along the trail and the dreaded wet socks.
  • Rain jacket: Redwoods require gallons of water every day to survive- so it should be no surprise that this area can be quite rainy. Nothing a good ol’ rain jacket (like this one for men or this one for women) can’t fix!
  • Bear spray: There are no grizzly bears in the area around Redwoods National and State Parks, but there are black bears that frequent this area. They are usually scared of humans and it’s fairly unlikely they’ll harm you, although mother black bears have been known to be aggressively protective around their young.

    Because of this risk, I take bear spray (which is used much like pepper spray to temporarily disorient, but not injure aggressive animals) with me wherever I go hiking in bear country. Although we thankfully have never had to use it, we each carry this one. Note that if you’re flying in to visit this region, you can’t take bear spray on airplanes (even in checked luggage), but you likely can find some at the Walmart in Trinidad.
  • Offline maps: Cell phone signal throughout the region is abysmal, so be sure to download any maps you need on Google Maps or the AllTrails apps before you head out on your adventure.
Pssst… you need the AllTrails Pro version of the app to download offline maps, but you can get a 7-day free trial here. If you're wondering whether the app is for you, we wrote a whole post on whether AllTrails Pro is worth it.
Woman running through Stout Grove in Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park

Get your child-like sense of wonder ready- the redwoods are truly awe-inspiring! Are there any awesome hikes in the redwoods that I missed? Let me know in the comments below!

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