This national park in far northwest California, 255 mi/410 km north of San Francisco, is named for its giant redwood trees—including Hyperion, the tallest tree in the world, measuring 379 ft/116 m. (Redwoods were once found in many parts of the world but are now limited to areas in California and China.) The coastal variety grows from Big Sur to southern Oregon, with the greatest concentration clustered in Redwood National Park.
The trees can live for centuries—some are believed to be 2,200 years old. They are the tallest variety in the world and are resistant to fire, high winds, insects—nearly everything but axes and chainsaws. Unfortunately, a lot of those have been busy in Northern California over the years, and the number of old-growth redwoods was drastically reduced to only a fraction of their former range.
The national park was established in 1968 to better preserve threatened areas. It has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve. Nonetheless, bitter confrontations continue, with environmentalists pushing for larger amounts of protected land, and logging interests arguing for continued access to timber reserves and the much-needed jobs that logging creates.
This turmoil should not prevent you from enjoying the forests that still do exist. Crane your neck and have a look. It can be dizzying to try to take in all of these giants—now and then a visitor falls over backward trying to do so.
It's also worthwhile to hike the trails through the redwoods. One nice walk is through Lady Bird Grove. You can walk to some of the world's largest known trees, but access is restricted: You must sign up at park headquarters for the hike, and you are taken to the trail in a van. The park has a special route for the blind called Revelation Trail. The Emerald Mile and several other trails begin at Bald Hills Road. The location of Hyperion, which was discovered in 2006 and is off-limits deep in the park, has not been revealed.
As wondrous as the redwoods are, you shouldn't overlook the coastline that forms the western boundary of the park. Tide pools, steep bluffs and beaches flanked by giant boulders make for lovely and interesting seascapes, and they're often very secluded. One of our favorite areas is at the mouth of the Klamath River, where you can camp and have the entire area to yourself except for the occasional fisherman.
Included within the boundaries of Redwood National Park are several exceptional state parks. They include Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=415), where you can spot Roosevelt elk along Gold Bluffs Beach and hike through unbelievably lush Fern Canyon; Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park (http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=414), where some of the first Jurassic Park movie was shot; and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park (http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=413), which some folks might recognize from Return of the Jedi.
For a closer, though more commercialized, look at the trees, try Trees of Mystery in Klamath, where you can ride the Skytrail through the forest canopy. The aerial gondola takes visitors up about 130 ft/40 m to a hillside observation deck where you may see birds and, with luck, maybe a black bear. You can return on the gondola or hike back to the visitors center to buy trinkets and ogle the huge Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox woodcut statues. There's also a museum of Indian artifacts and a 1-mi/1.6-km trail that takes you past oddly shaped trees. http://www.treesofmystery.net/skytrail.htm.
The best time to visit the park is May-October, though you'll need a jacket even then. Plan on at least a full day in the national park. Camping is available at several fine campgrounds within the park, and many people stay to the north in Crescent City, which hosts the World Championship Crab Races every year in mid-February.
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