Redwood National Park is part of a system of three parks, which includes Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The parks are located right next to each other on the California coast about halfway between San Francisco, CA and Portland, OR. The biggest draw to the National and State Parks are the Redwood trees, which are the tallest trees on earth. They are also some of the oldest trees on earth. In old growth forests, some trees are 2,000-3,000 years old. In addition to the redwoods and hiking, there are number of other things to see like the beach, waterfalls, canyons, wildlife and tide pooling. To my surprise, none of the parks required a National Park Pass or entry fee.
I have always wanted to visit Redwood National Park to see these trees. It was one of the top things that I wanted to do on our year long trip around the country with our three young children. So it was one of the first things that we saw. We drove up from Santa Rosa, the town we stayed in for one month before going down to San Diego. It was a 4 ½ hour drive, but with three little kids and being out of practice with longer road trips, it took quite a bit longer.
On our first day we started driving after breakfast and arrived with enough time to do one hike. We chatted with one of the park rangers at the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center and decided on the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail. It is a 1.5 mile trail out and back. It is one of the more popular trails with a relatively small parking lot, but we got a spot. I had the baby in the baby carrier and the two older boys (2 ½ and 4 ½) walked the entire trail. We spent the whole time gaping in awe at these trees.
One of the things that surprised me the most was how many of them had been impacted by fire. Some of them had the bases of the trees entirely hallowed out by fire, and yet they were still alive and thriving. The boys loved playing in these spaces that felt like little houses. They ran in and out of them calling them “cupboard nupboard houses”. The redwoods contain tannic acid which makes them fire resistant, particularly when they are mature. So even though they have been impacted by fire they still thrive.
We packed meals with us which we ate for every meal with the exception of lunch on the last day. We brought lots of PB&J, yogurt and granola, pasta salad, and snacks among other things. I am glad that we did because there were not a ton of places to eat near the parks, and it saved a lot of time and money.
On the second day we spent the majority of the day walking the Prairie Creek Trail (Karl Knapp Trail) which crosses over Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway to Foothill Trail with a stop at Big Tree Wayside. It is a 2.5 mile stroller/wheelchair accessible trail. This hike was even more impressive than the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail. We lucked out with a sunnier day, and it seemed like there were more open spaces for light to shine through the trees. There also seemed to be more trees with enormous bases to explore on this trail. For this walk we had the baby in the baby carrier and the two boys got to take time in the stroller. Though they spent a good portion of the time hopping out to climb and explore. On the way home, we made a quick stop along the coast to look at the beach.
On the third day we were pretty tuckered out. We did two shorter hikes. We would have like to have done some of the other activities in the park, like the Fern Canyon Loop Trail, but they were permit only and we did not apply in time. After looking at the map, we went with Trillium Falls Trail for the morning on our last day. It was a short hike up to a waterfall. It was much more of an uphill hike than either of the two previous trails. Though it was short enough and manageable with our 2 ½ and 4 ½ year old hiking to the waterfall and back and the baby in the carrier. Because the focus of this hike was the small waterfall it was a nice change of pace from the enormous Redwood groves. We also got the chance to see a number of elk in the meadow on the drive to the trail.
The last thing that we did was to do the Redwood Access Trail behind the visitor center in Prairie Creek State Park. This is a super short sensory trail with a number of things for the boys to explore, and a nice way to wrap up the trip.
On our way out on the last day I asked a ranger for a recommendation for lunch. He recommended a town called Trinidad and suggested the Lighthouse Grill. He said the other restaurants nearby were good too. We took him up on his recommendation and grabbed a bite to eat at the Lighthouse Grill, which was very good and the perfect setup with little kids. We ordered at the counter and they brought the food to us at our table. We ordered fish and chips and a big salad to share. We loved all of it and the boys enjoyed the fish and fries. Looking at what the other diners ordered there were lots of other good meals to choose from too.
Having learned from our experience on the drive up, the drive back was much more of a success, particularly leaving after lunch. Full bellies and tired boys made for a better start to the drive, as two of them took an afternoon nap as we started the drive. Three days seemed to be the perfect length of time for the trip. We really enjoyed the hikes that we did, but with three young kids, we did not have the capacity for any more hiking. If I could do it again, I would have prepared a little bit more in advance and done the Fern Canyon hike which requires a permit. From what one of the park rangers told us, you could do this hike with young children, you just may need an extra set of clothes and shoes as they are likely to get wet.
I loved our time at the Redwoods. I don’t think there’s anything quite as impressive as what you can find in nature, and these trees are pretty spectacular in their height, age, and robustness. With some of the other things that we go to see, like the coast line, the beautiful drive in and out of the park, and the elk roaming around I felt like we had a really full well-rounded trip.
What to Do in Redwood National Park with Kids:
- Lady Bird Johnson Grove: 1.5 Miles (we did not take a stroller, but you may be able to do this with a stroller)
- Prairie Creek Trail (Karl Knapp): cross over Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway to Foothill Trail (2.5 miles) includes Big Tree Wayside (stroller friendly)
- Redwood Access Trail (behind visitor center) (short stroller friendly loop)
- Trillium Falls Trail (not stroller friendly)
- There are lots of other great trails. Speak with a ranger for suggestions.
What Else to Do:
- Beach overlook near the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center
- See the elk near the Prairie Creek Visitor Center or Elk Meadow Picnic area
- Tide Pooling (we didn’t do this, but we hope to do it in San Diego while we are there)
- There’s lots more to do here. It always helpful to chat with a ranger about all the options - they are super helpful and informative, or research online.
Where to Eat:
- Lighthouse Grill in Trinidad