Redwood National and State Parks
If you’ve never been or are planning a visit, I want to be the first to say make these parks a priority! A walk through these giants in any one of the state or national parks will be nothing short of amazing! What’s great about the Redwoods is that you don’t have to be in excellent physical condition to have a great time here. There is something to see for almost anyone’s ability. Now I may be bias because I enjoy hiking, and I think it’s a must do; in this post I will tell you about my experience that involved hiking and many drive up locations along the way.
If you have no idea what you want to do with your time here, I recommend stopping at the Prairie Creek Visitor Center to ask some questions. This way you will also be in a somewhat central location for whatever you decide to do.
Fern Canyon was on my bucket list for several years, and for good reason, before I got the opportunity to hike through it myself.
When Gold Buffs Beach Road is open Fern Canyon is actually very easily accessible at only 1.1 miles if you do the loop from the parking lot at the end of the road, and only 0.4 miles through the canyon itself. However, I would absolutely NOT recommend that if you want a better experience in the Redwoods. My friend Joe and I instead optioned for the 11.2 mile James Irvine to Miners Ridge loop. You probably think I’m insane for suggesting something so long, but this loop hike is a very easy trail if you are in shape to walk that far. I say this because at the visitor center they advertise that the park has very little elevation change on their trails. The rangers told us that over the course of this 11.2 mile loop there is only a 300 ft. elevation change (AllTrails is probably wrong) which may sound like a lot, but it is hardly noticeable at that distance. What I’m trying to say is that any moderately in shape person should strongly consider this loop because the miles will fly by as you are constantly looking up at these giants!
When you reach Fern Canyon there is the option to bypass the canyon altogether (hence the loop I mentioned earlier), but what’s the fun in that? You might have to take off your shoes depending on the water level, but I think that’s half the fun, and remember this part is only 0.4 miles. The rangers can also let you know the water level before you begin hiking so you know what to prepare for. When I visited in March the water was ice cold, but after the initial shock I really think it added to the experience.
If you start out like us on James Irvine Trail then you should hit Gold Buffs Beach right at the end of Fern Canyon. A short walk up the road and you should see a sign for Miners Ridge on the left. Miners Ridge will eventually meet back up with the James Irvine Trail that will take you back to the visitor center where you started.
Things to note are that the visitor center asks you to park off to the side when you do longer hikes so as to free up parking for other people when you’ll be gone. The whole loop took my friend and I about 5 and a half to 6 hours, but that is only because we were moving slow and taking countless photos. More than likely your time will be shorter.
Drive Up Locations
For those that don’t want to hike or don’t have the physical ability there is a number of drive up locations very close to the Prairie Creek Visitor Center that are worth checking out.
Big Tree is only a short drive away from the Prairie Creek Visitor Center, and less than a 5 minute walk to see a gigantic tree that is roughly 1,500 years old!
Heading north from Big Tree drive slow up Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. About a quarter mile away on the left you should see a sign for Corkscrew Tree. If you aren’t looking carefully it can be easy to miss. Corkscrew Tree is also less than a 5 minute walk from the road and features a very unique twisted tree unlike any of the others. The visitor center can let you know the exact mile marker to look for so you don’t miss it.
There is not one specific location on Bald Hills Road, and if you have more time in the parks ask the visitor center for recommendations along this drive because they were telling us countless options that we just didn’t have the time for. Either way, Bald Hills Road has many switch backs that rise in elevation very quickly where you can pull over at a number of locations to get a better view of the Redwoods, how they were subject to loggers, and how they have recovered since.
One thing you will notice is that Redwoods favor the lower elevations, and actually get shorter as you drive up or hike toward the coast because they don’t grow as well with salty air.
Drive Thru Trees
To my surprise it’s not like you will just be driving along and stumble upon a drive thru tree. It’s actually something you might have to go out of your way a little to see. There is actually 3 drive thru trees where you can stop to get a picture as you pass through all of which are in slightly different locations.
This one located just outside of Humboldt Redwoods State Park on the Avenue of the Giants, and actually has hours of operation where you can drive through Sunday - Saturday. Be sure to check before visiting.
This one is located furthest from any of the parks themselves in Leggett, California, and also has certain hours where you can drive through Sunday - Saturday similar to the Shrine Tree.
Out of all of the trees this one is the closest to the Prairie Creek Visitor Center. It’s about a 20 minute drive north, and is also the only tree that does not advertise certain hour restrictions. Of course I would check with park officials to be sure.
The Redwoods in my opinion do not present a very high danger for most park visitors. There are many signs throughout that advertise to be aware of aggressive elk, and while I thought it was funny, I’m sure it’s something to take seriously. Clearly I’m not the expert so ask park rangers to be sure. Overall, dress for the weather, possibly be prepared for freezing cold water if you walk barefoot through Fern Canyon, and be respectful of the park and the trees.
Lastly, it shouldn’t have to be said, but PLEASE DO NOT DEFACE THE TREES IN ANYWAY! It’s not okay here or anywhere and is a huge sign of disrespect. These giants are hundreds to thousands of years old so keep in mind what you are walking through will very likely be the same thing that countless other generations see when they visit. All being said, this blog is for information purposes only and I ACCEPT NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY INJURY, LOST INDIVIDUALS, OR LEGAL TROUBLE ENCOUNTERED WHILE FOLLOWING THE INFORMATION POSTED HERE.
As always find the most up to date information and conditions on the official National Park website.