Redwood National Park Trails:

Redwood National Park

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Redwood National Park Overview

Stepping into a grove of coastal redwoods has been likened to entering one of the world's great cathedrals. Sure, the sense of holiness is comparable but otherwise words and man-made construction have a way of coming up, well, short. No cathedral in the world vaults 30-plus stories high, as the redwoods do, and no amount of ornate carving or stained glass windows can outdo a redwood forest for the flamboyance of the rhododendrons, ferns, creeping oxalis, mosses, and other greenery decorating its floor.

At Redwood National Park, visitors of all abilities and inclinations have a chance to meet the largest living organisms in the world firsthand. Just when you think you've seen the biggest tree you've ever laid eyes upon, an even bigger specimen will appear around the corner.

Hikers at Redwood will find trails to match their schedules and interests. Bikers can choose between paved roadway and shore-hugging dirt roads. Paddlers can sample several world-class rivers that flow just outside the park. And wildlife lovers will marvel at the variety of birds and mammals on display. Even windshield tourists will delight in roadways that make for scenic driving.

When you visit Redwood National Park, the spotlight is on the tall trees, but the big boys and girls aren't the only show in town. The park boasts a long stretch of wild coastline, grassy foothills, and oak woodlands—an entire coast-to-ridgetop slice of ecology. Surely one of the wonders of the park is witnessing the transition between different life zones in a place where orientation to the sun and ocean mists, as well as elevation, determines where two-foot grasses will grow and where a future 350-foot giant will take root.

Backpack with Giants
This 16-mile round-trip hike along Redwood Creek Trail is a journey like no other. From the trailhead near Bald Hills Road, follow the path through a forest of giant ferns, dogwoods, alders, and willows. About eight miles into the hike, you cross a small bridge into Tall Trees Grove, home to three of the six tallest trees in the world, each soaring 300 or more feet upward. To be dwarfed by a living organism of this magnitude is truly humbling. Camp downstream from the bridge on the sandy banks of Redwood Creek. Be sure to hang your food, because there are bears in the area. Summer is the best time for this overnighter. The bridges are open only from mid-May to mid-September, and though you may be able to cross the creek at other times of the year, the rain-swollen waters may discourage you. Backcountry permits must be obtained from the Redwood Information Center near Orick.

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Two-Wheel on the Coast
The ethos at Redwood National Park, as in any national park, is to preserve the land, so you won't find rip-em-up mountain bike trails here. However, there are bike rides that will take you into some of the world's most beautiful environments. Enderts Beach Trail is part of the California Coastal Trail. It's about seven miles out and back, mostly along the old Highway 101 roadbed, though it does turn into single-track where the road has been washed away. You can create a 12-mile loop by backtracking on the current Highway 101. The scenery along the way is classic Northern California coast. Stop to enjoy the sand, the tidal pools, and the bracing sea breeze.

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Paddle Klamath River
Redwood National Park is essentially a thin strip of protected land along the coast. It shelters the mouth of the Klamath River, which is perhaps the most important paddling destination in the area. The Klamath River is a Jekyll and Hyde river; it has two distinct personalities. Though there are more than 200 rapids all along its 187 miles, the upper portion is definitely the wildest. The lower portion, nearest Redwood National Park, tends toward tamer whitewater and the focus is on wildlife and scenery.

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Scan the Skies for Raptors
Not all of the park is cloaked in shadowy redwood forest. Sweeping grasslands known as prairies spread throughout the park. In springtime, the prairies burst with colorful wildflowers, which give way in the dry summer to an amber glow. Prairies are the realm of raptors like the red-tailed hawk, kestrel, and great horned owl, and their prey of gophers and meadow mice. Mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, elk, and blacktail deer also frequent the grassy pockets, which have been kept free of trees by fire and elk. Acorn-bearing Oregon white oaks edge prairies at higher elevations. Prairies make good birding spots where you may see the goldfinch junco, quail, or raven. For the best wildlife viewing, try these hot spots: Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, especially Elk Prairie; Bald Hills Road, where you'll find Counts Hill Prairie; Childs Hill Prairie; Schoolhouse Prairie; and Dolasan Prairie Trail.

Dip a Toe in the Pacific
At Redwood National Park you would expect to encounter the hush of the fragrant ancient forest along a trail softened by decades of accumulated duff. But how about the blast of sea wind along a rocky, dramatic coast? So beautiful is Redwood's coastline that even without the park's forest giants and mountains, it alone would make a compelling case for national park status. Rugged, with stretches of steep, rocky cliff broken by rolling slopes, it is largely unaltered by humans.

Drive the Redwood Highway
Travelers to Redwood National Park will have the pleasure of venturing along some of California's most breathtaking roads. For much of its length, U.S. Highway 101 is a forgettable roadway much like any other highway. But for a 78-mile stretch from Eureka to Crescent City, the road transforms into the Redwood Highway. Of course, you'll see plenty of neck-craningly tall redwoods, as well as pounding surf, sea stacks, thrilling cliffs, and lush redwood forest where the road follows the Pacific coastline.

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