This page only covers the federally-owned lands of Redwood National Park; for the neighboring Jedediah Smith, Del Norte, and Prairie Creek state parks, please see the Redwood National and State Parks page. Confusingly, the name "Redwood National Park" is sometimes used to refer to all four parks together.
The main body of Redwood National Park is a huge swath of the Redwood Creek basin, in the middle of which is the iconic Tall Trees Grove. When the park was created in the 1960s, one of this grove's trees was, at 368 feet tall, the world's tallest known tree, a fact that helped motivate the creation of the park. Although taller trees were later found in other parks, in 2006 the Redwood Creek basin once again became the site of the record holder when the 379-foot-tall "Hyperion" tree was discovered. Unfortunately, Hyperion's location is kept secret since even slight root damage from visitors would likely result in its top dying off.
Redwood National Park is dramatically different from the three neighboring state parks. The state parks have most of the really spectacular old growth because they were opened in the 1920s, when the area's forests were by and large pristine and unlogged. The pace of logging accelerated dramatically during the housing boom of the 1940s, and by the time Redwood National Park was opened in the 1960s most of the North Coast's prime old growth had either been logged or added to the state parks. In addition, changing attitudes toward park preservation made it much harder to build wilderness old growth trails. As a result the national park's trails tend to be located in small remnant patches of old growth, in second growth, or in areas that don't have any redwoods.
The national park does, however, have much more of a wilderness feel than the state parks. While the state park trails often run within earshot of busy roads, many of Redwood National Park's trails have no traffic noise whatsoever and few other hikers. Providing a wilderness experience was one of the goals of establishing the park, and in that regard the park has been very successful.
West of Redwood Creek and south of the town of Orick is an extensive network of equestrian trails. The northern half of this trail network, between the Orick trailhead and Elam Camp, has been minimally affected by logging and contains endless miles of singletrack trail through attractive alder groves, with a few small patches of old-growth redwoods that are surprisingly nice. The network's southern half, between Elam Camp and the Tall Trees Grove, still has some enjoyable singletrack but is mostly made up of monotonous logging roads through dismal second-growth redwoods. Throughout the area, the horse trails are mostly in good condition and easy to hike, but a few are faint. In places it's easy to get lost since there are intersections with other logging roads that aren't shown on most trail maps, and the trails are usually signed only with a horse icon and an arrow, not the name of the trail. A GPS receiver is really useful here.
I wouldn't recommend the Orick Horse Trails for first-time visitors to Redwood National Park, especially for those who come mainly to see the big trees. However, if you want to see another side of the park, check out the Ridge or McArthur Loop trails, or the old-growth redwood grove above Elam Camp.
*** Emerald Ridge and Tall Trees (length 5.5 miles; climbing 700 feet)
A more memorable and interesting variation on the Tall Trees hike, this loop includes a few miles of walking along the wide, gravelly stream bed of Redwood Creek, and some splashing through the shallow water. This loop can only be hiked in summer.
*** The Lady Bird Johnson Grove Nature Trail (length 1.4 miles; climbing 100 feet)
The most popular trail in the park, this short loop leads through an attractive ridgetop grove of large redwoods.
*** The Berry Glen Trail (length 7.2 miles; climbing 1270 feet)
Starting at the Elk Meadow parking lot, this trail climbs through old-growth to the Lady Bird Johnson Trail.
*** The Coastal Trail, Flint Ridge Section (length 9.5 miles; climbing 1520 feet)
Located four miles north of Prairie Creek Redwoods, this trail begins at a scenic pond, ascends a ridge through a remnant patch of old-growth redwoods, then descends to a backpacking camground near the coast.
*** The Trillium Falls Trail (length 2.8 miles; climbing 440 feet)
This trail leads through a small patch of old growth on the side of Highway 101. There's a lot of traffic noise but the redwoods are actually pretty impressive.
*** The Tall Trees Grove (length 3.9 miles; climbing 690 feet)
Once home to the world's tallest known tree, this small grove requires a special permit, a one-hour drive, and a 1.4-mile walk to access. After all that, the grove is not particularly scenic.
*** The Dolason Prairie Trail (length 10.4 miles; climbing 2490 feet)
This scenic out-and-back hike descends through a prairie with dramatic views of the Redwood Creek basin, then enters old-growth redwoods. From the end of the trail, a short stretch of the Emerald Creek Trail leads to Redwood Creek. The return climb is long and insistent, but the gradient is mostly gentle.
** The Redwood Creek Trail (length 15.4 miles; climbing 500 feet)
The most popular backcountry trail in the Redwood Creek basin, the Redwood Creek Trail mostly leads through creekside forest that hasn't been logged but is also naturally devoid of redwoods. Camping is allowed along the creek.
** The McArthur Creek Loop (length 14.1 miles; climbing 1400 feet)
This long loop is the best of the Orick Horse Trails. The scenery is mostly lush non-redwood forest, but there are also a few old-growth redwood groves.
** The Coastal Trail, Hidden Beach Section (length 7.8 miles; climbing 1390 feet)
This part of the Coastal Trail leads through spruce and alder woods on an isolated bluff high above the Pacific Ocean.
** The Coastal Trail, Skunk Cabbage Section (length 7.6 miles; climbing 1050 feet)
The southernmost section of the Coastal Trail in Redwood National Park climbs through a shallow ravine filled with a richly green spruce forest before descending to the beach. It's possible to continue along the secluded beach for a few more miles.
* The Lost Man Creek Trail (length 22.0 miles; climbing 3100 feet)
This dirt road starts in old-growth redwoods but climbs mostly through somewhat dull second-growth to Bald Hills Road. Bicycles are allowed.
* The Mill Creek Horse Trail (length 10.4 miles; climbing 1970 feet)
This loop explores a small holding on the southern border of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. There are two short sections of old growth, one of which is actually pretty magnificent, but most of the route is unattractive second-growth.
* The Coastal Trail, Tey-wo-lew Section (length 6.0 miles; climbing 590 feet)
This trail used to be part of Coastal Drive but is now closed to cars. The road runs along high coastal bluffs and is a pleasant place to hike, but nothing spectacular.
* The Lyons Ranch Trail (length 4.5 miles; climbing 750 feet)
A dirt road through remote, windswept prairie and oak woods, with some nice views of the Redwood Creek watershed. The route features an old barn and a sheep shed. Much different from the rest of the park.
* The Yurok Loop (length 1.2 miles; climbing 100 feet)
Conviently located just off Highway 101, this short loop starts off with some nice ocean views, but the second half is a little dull.
Except for the equestrian trails, all trailheads in the Redwood Creek basin are off Bald Hills Road. From Arcata, drive north on Highway 101 about 40 miles. Just north of the run-down little town of Orick is the well-marked Bald Hills Road / Lady Bird Johnson Grove turnoff.
Kuchel Visitor Center, on the beach just south of Orick, serves as the main visitor center for Redwood National and State Parks. It's open from 9 am - 5 pm except in winter (November - February), when it's open from 9 am - 4 pm.
There's no charge to visit Redwood National Park, but the Tall Trees grove requires a permit from Kuchel Visitor Center.
For recommended lodging and restaurants, see the Redwood National and State Parks page.
© 2007, 2011, 2017 David Baselt