I spent 4 nights/3 days in the area, which is about the right amount of time to see the most important sites and soak up the ambience of the park. Here’s what I did, with some helpful notes:
Tall Trees Grove Hike-This is a 3.9 mile trail with a 690 foot vertical element. That was enough to kick my ass, though I recovered enough later in the same day to also hike to Fern Canyon. YMMV.
Here’s what you’ll see on this hike-some moss-draped oaks and spectacular 350 foot tall redwoods, the tallest species of tree on earth. That said, there are a lot of ways to see these giants that are a whole lot easier than spending at least 4 hours of your day doing it, like driving the Avenue of the Giants Drive further south.
But if you must do this hike, you’ll need to get a special permit at the Prairie Creek Ranger Station, where they will give you the code to enter the gate to access the drive to the trailhead. They only issue 50 a day, but when I arrived Friday of Labor Day weekend to pick one up when the station opened at 10AM, I was one of only three groups signing up for the hike. Also, I saw people still hiking down into the valley as we were on our way up after noon-meaning, so far as I can tell, you needn’t worry about the permit. You’ll probably get one, even on a holiday weekend with gorgeous weather.
After the permit, you drive 7 miles to get to a (mostly) dirt road to access the parking lot for the trailhead. They will tell you at the ranger station this is a rough road and ask what kind of car you have, as if driving it is like a motocross event. Again, don’t worry. I drove a BMW 4 series down the road with no problem. Just use reasonable precautions and you’ll be fine.
I wanted to have a picnic on the trail but there really isn’t anything set up for that. Plus, the mosquitoes are pretty bothersome down there. Best to just pack in some snacks.
Anyway, yes, the trees are huge, and worth seeing-it’s just that you don’t really need to do this hike to see these giants because they are also in other parts of the park that are far easier to access.
Fern Canyon-This is also accessed via a dirt road, and when I got to a section about 1.5 miles from the trailhead, I found a woman who got her car stuck in the stream that crossed the road and it was being pulled out by a truck. I took one look at her normal car and decided my sports car definitely wouldn’t make it so I parked it in front of the creek and began walking. Soon enough, a couple of guys in an SUV who did manage to get across gave me a ride the rest of the way. FYI, I learned later that the woman should not have tried to cross the center of the creek and should have used the seaward side instead, though how she would have known that beforehand is beyond me. And BTW, if the Rangers know that is the case, why don’t they post a sign to that effect?
In any event, after arriving at the trailhead this is a short and very easy hike-maybe a mile. I don’t know exactly because I took a Ranger led tour, which I would say is worthwhile if you have the time but certainly it isn’t worth losing any sleep over if you don’t. The trail runs parallel to the beach and through an Elk refuge. We did see a bull grazing out on the coastal plain on our way to the canyon.
The canyon itself is, true to its name, indeed covered with ferns. I would say it’s about an 70 foot vertical cliff on both sides and is very short-maybe a few hundred yards. I’ve never seen anything else like it and I wouldn’t miss this if you’re in the area.
Redwood NP is remarkable not just for the trees, but also for the wonderful cities in the area. I rented a house on the coast in Trinidad, but really that’s a bit too far north. Better to stay in funky college town Arcata IMO, or even in Victorian Ferndale or gritty but historic Eureka. All of these places are worth seeing, but as a side note, do not listen to the guidebooks that tell you that you must eat at the historic Samoa Cookhouse, the oldest continuously operating example in America. My advice is to go there, see the cookhouse and nearby maritime museum, and eat somewhere else-we waited 30 minutes for seating for breakfast and it was a huge disappointment-nor any kind of bargain at $30.
I love Redwood National Park. Walking under those trees, you feel like you’re in a different world. The sounds of your footsteps are muffled by a thick carpet of pine needles, and the sun dappled light barely seeps through the trees in the cool twilight of the late afternoon. As you walk, you get the feeling that you’re not alone-that you’re in the presence of something greater than yourself-that God is there, walking in those great redwood cathedrals even now, 2,000 years after He made them. That alone is worth the trip.