Summer is our favorite time for road trips. Since we live in Washington state, places like Canada, Idaho, and Oregon are all within driving distance from our home. Sometimes, we’ll even travel down to California to visit friends in the Bay Area or family down in San Diego. On a recent trip to California, instead of taking a direct route through I-5, we decided to add a few extra days and visit the Redwood National Park. It was a nice detour, and a good chance for all of us to reconnect with each other and with nature.
The United States has a fairly extensive national park system, with the first national park established in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant. There are now over 400 national parks (major and minor parks, along with affiliated attractions) across the country and in its surrounding territories. The West Coast is lucky to have a large number of the major national parks, including Redwood National Park in California, Crater Lake in Oregon, and Mount Rainier in Washington. What I love about the national parks is that they give you a glimpse of the country’s history and natural wonder!
Redwood National Park was established in 1968 and covers an area of approximately 217 square miles along the coast of northern California. The park is visited by over 500,000 visitors a year, and houses some of the United States’ tallest and oldest trees, the redwood trees. These trees can be up to several thousand years old, and can span 30 feet or more in diameter. It truly is amazing to see!
The best part about Redwood National Park is that it’s so family-friendly. There are a number of easy hikes for little ones to do, as well as roadside attractions that will keep the kids engaged and excited about nature. If you’re planning a trip to Redwood National Park in the near future, check out our picks for kid-friendly activities.
Explore the Trees of Mystery
Our first stop during our visit to Redwood National Park was the Trees of Mystery, just north of the town of Klamath. Though technically not part of the national park, this roadside attraction has a number of redwood trees that you can look at and explore. First opened in 1946, it features a trail through old-growth forests, a gondola ride along the tree canopies (called the Sky Trail), and an outdoor collection of redwood carvings. There is also a museum dedicated to indigenous culture located adjacent to the gift shop, and a forest-themed restaurant located across the street from the Trees of Mystery. My favorite part of the attraction, though, was the gigantic Paul Bunyan statue, accompanied by his blue ox, Babe, that greets visitors near the entrance to the trail. It certainly is worth a visit!
Experience the Tour-Thru Tree
Travelers have been visiting the redwood forests long before the national park was established. One of the relics of tourism in this area are the drive through trees – redwood trees that have been cut to allow cars to drive through. The environmentalist in me cringes at the thought of damaging such a natural wonder, but the traveler in me was so curious about what it would actually be like to drive through a tree. Fortunately, there are a few trees in the area that you can do this. We chose the Tour-Thru Tree near Klamath. For just $5, you can drive your car through the tree, and even pose for a picture!
Drive the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway
Speaking of driving, there are several scenic drives around Redwood National Park, but our favorite was the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. It’s a winding road that runs through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, in between the towns of Klamath and Orick, and lined with redwoods and other trees found in the old-growth forests. It’s accessible via Highway 101, as it serves as a scenic bypass for the highway. We enjoyed the slower pace of the drive, and the cooling shade that the big trees provided.
Visit the Big Tree
Along the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway is a turn-off leading vehicles to the Big Tree. With a circumference of about 68 feet, this is one of the largest trees in Redwood National Park. The tree is just off the road, so it’s an easy walk along a path to visit the tree. There is a boardwalk built partially around the tree, so you can get an up close and personal look at the Big Tree!
Travel along the Avenue of the Giants
Another scenic drive, and actually about 80 miles south of Redwood National Park, is the Avenue of the Giants. This is a 31 mile north-south route that spans an old portion of Highway 101 within Humboldt Redwoods State Park. There are a number of tourist attractions along this drive, include two drive through trees and a house built into the trunk of a tree. There are also some cafes and art galleries along this route that showcase art made from the redwoods.
Hike Lady Bird Johnson Grove
Whenever we can, we like to incorporate physical activities into our travel plans. I loved our visit to Redwood National Park because that physical activity was just built in to each day’s activities. There are plenty of kid-friendly hikes at Redwood National Park (and the park brochure gives you a lot of options!), but by far our favorite was the Lady Bird Johnson Grove trail. There were so many trees to go into and explore, and the trail was just the right length to keep our kids active without getting over tired.
We loved our time at Redwood National Park. These ancient trees gave us an opportunity to connect with nature, and connect with each other. With the decrease in funding to the National Park system, and the threat of climate change, now is an important time to experience America’s national parks. I would even go so far as to say it’s your duty to experience these parks, especially Redwood National Park, before they’re gone for good!
Have you had a chance to experience Redwood National Park? Share your favorite memories in the comments below.
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