Hugging California's northwestern edge is a spectacular network of parks protecting nearly half of the world’s coast redwoods, the world’s tallest living things, which grow over 350 feet/107 meters high (the remote Tall Trees Grove is home to the tallest, which measures in at 379 feet). But there’s more than giant trees in this lush land. Here, majestic (and big) Roosevelt elk graze in grassy prairies, and Fern Canyon wows visitors with its impossibly verdant corridors. Wild beaches such as Enderts Beach are dotted with weathered driftwood, not a footprint in sight, and rivers tumble into the sea. Three parks—Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park (pronounced “del nort”), and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park—work in consort with Redwood National Park to protect the region, and all offer a remarkable number of ways to explore, learn, and discover.
Campers can pitch their tents in Jedediah Smith State Park, northeast of Crescent City. Its 86-site developed campground sits beside the emerald Smith River in a glade lush with ferns and old-growth trees. You can walk from your tent to the 340-foot-tall Stout Tree, or go for a drive on spectacular Howland Hill Road, a 10-mile/16-kilometer winding dirt road through old-growth redwoods. Farther south at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park near Orick, pick a site along windswept Gold Bluffs Beach or in the more developed (and wind-sheltered) Elk Prairie area. Don’t be surprised if a huge Roosevelt elk walks right past your tent. Gold Bluffs Beach has 26 first-come, first-serve sites; Elk Prairie’s 75 sites can be reserved in advance. And a few miles south of Crescent City at Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, 145 sites are found amid a second-growth forest of redwoods and alders near Mill Creek. There are also private campgrounds in the region.
If you’re a camper who craves amenities like showers and flush toilets, your best bets are any of the state park campgrounds. If you prefer seclusion to amenities, Redwood National Park provides a handful of backpacking campgrounds, most requiring relatively short hikes of less than three miles.
The parks may be known for the redwoods, but the 70 miles of coastal trails in this area are not to be missed. Leave the shady redwood forests behind on a mellow hike to Enderts Beach, a rock-studded, driftwood-laden shoreline. Getting there requires a walk of just under 1 mile/2 kilometers on a now-abandoned stretch of the old Coast Highway (it’s downhill going in, uphill on the return). The crescent-shaped beach is perfect for strolling, watching the wild waves, or exploring tide pools at low or minus tides—look for sea stars, urchins, and giant green anemones.
While in the area, the picture-perfect seaside towns of Crescent City and Trinidad, and the city of Eureka—the largest coastal city between San Francisco and Portland, Oregon—are well worth exploring.
Insider tip: Remember that all that green is here for a reason: annual rainfall, which normally falls from October through April, averages 60 to 80 inches/152 to 203 centimeters, so bring raingear and sturdy, nonslip shoes.