The Best Way to Spend 1 or 2 Days in Redwood National Park in California
Are you planning on visiting Redwood National Park but don’t know where to even begin with your trip planning? Don’t worry, we feel you. When we decided to spend some time in this part of Northern California we got a bit overwhelmed. For starters, the national park — which is actually made up of one national park and three state parks — is quite huge. It is also very spread out. Plus, there is just a whole lot to see.
But don’t worry, we are here to help.
Below are some super fun Redwood National Park travel itineraries for every type of traveler and every type of time frame; including two travel itineraries for if you have one full day in the park, 2 days in the park, or (if you are really lucky) three days in the park. These travel itineraries lay out some of the best ways to spend your time in the area, while also giving you a couple of extra tips on things like where to spend the night and what to bring with you to the park.
► If you have any other questions about exploring the national park, then make sure to check out our super comprehensive Redwood National Park Adventure Guide.
REDWOOD NATIONAL PARK MAP
Redwood National and State Parks Half Day Itinerary
We suggest that if you are short on time (for example you only have a couple of hours) then you should try to focus on just one area of the park instead of the whole entire park (it is just too big). Below are two separate half-day itineraries for the northern half and southern half of the park.
If you only have half a day to explore Redwood National Park and you are looking to get up close and personal with the famous coastal redwood trees, then we suggest sticking to the northern half of the park, and specifically Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in particular.
THE PERFECT HALF-DAY ITINERARY
| Start at the Hiouchi Visitor Center where you can spend some time exploring the exhibits, learn more about the history of the area and eat breakfast or lunch at one of the center’s picnic tables.
| Next, drive the famous Howland Hill Road, which was once an old stagecoach route (don’t worry it is still as narrow today). Along the drive, which is 10 miles in length, you should make sure to stop off and explore some of the large redwood groves, including Stout Grove, and also check out the super clear Smith River, which is one of the last undammed rivers in California.
| Finally, once you get to the end of Howland Hill Road, which spits you out near the town of Crescent City, you should hop on over to Crescent Beach and the Crescent Beach Overlook. Both will give you great views of the stunning Northern California coastline and the Pacific Ocean.
From the beach, you can easily hop back on Highway 101 and head either south towards San Francisco or north towards Oregon.
Or if you only have half a day and are looking to spend more time along the Pacific coast, while also visiting a few redwood groves, then we suggest spending your time down in the southern half of the park, and more specifically, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
THE PERFECT HALF-DAY ITINERARY
| Start at the Prairie Creek Visitor Center where you can check out the exhibits, talk to a ranger about the area and grab your national park passport stamp (if you are into that).
| Once you get your fill of the visitor center, start driving the stunningly beautiful Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. The drive, which is 11 miles long, gives you easy access to a number of interesting sites — including the Atlas Grove, the Big Tree Wayside and a number of short hiking trails.
Towards the end of your drive, you can either turn off and do the Coastal Drive, which loops around a forest and gives you great views of the coast, or you can head back the way you came (back towards the visitor center) and drive out to Gold Bluffs Beach, one of the best beaches in the whole national park.
💬 INSIDER TIP: if you are planning to visit during the busy season (May to September) then you will need a permit to park at the Gold Bluffs Beach parking area. If you can’t get a permit but still want to head to the beach, then we suggest driving a bit further south and checking out the Redwood Creek Picnic Area instead.
From the beaches, you can easily hop back on Highway 101 and head either south towards San Francisco or up north towards Oregon.
Redwood National and State Parks 1 Day Itinerary
Even if you have a bit more time to spend in Redwood National and State Park, we still suggest focusing on one area of the park instead of the whole complex. Because the distance between places is quite large, in our opinion, it is still better to put more of your time and energy into exploring via foot (like hiking) than it is to just drive around. Below are two full-day itineraries for Redwood National Park.
| Start at the Hiouchi Visitor Center where you can explore the various exhibits, learn more about the history of the area and eat breakfast or lunch at one of the center’s picnic tables. OR you can grab a quick bite to eat and some caffeine at the nearby Historic Hiouchi Café, a super cute spot that opens at 7 AM daily.
| Next, drive out on the famously scenic Howland Hill Road. Along the drive, which is 10 miles in length, you should stop off and explore some of the large redwood groves — including the beautiful Stout Grove. Likewise, since you have a full day, why not also head out on the beautiful Boy Scout Tree Trail, which is 5.5 miles round trip and gives you awesome access to Fern Falls and some massive trees.
Another great adventure option in the northern part of Redwood National Park is to spend a bit of time hanging out along the banks of the Smith River, which runs right along the northern edge of the park. You can access the river via the Stout Grove Trail or by parking at the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park Day-Use Area, though this costs $8 unless you have a national park or state park pass. From the day-use area, you will need to cross a seasonal footbridge.
If you are looking to spend the night in the area at the end of your one day of exploring, you have the option to camp in either Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park or book a hotel room in the nearby town of Crescent City (see our recommended hotels below).
From Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park you can easily drive back towards Highway 101 near Crescent City, where you can then head either south towards San Francisco or north along the Oregon coast.
Start your full day of adventures in the southern half of the national park at Gold Bluffs Beach (just make sure to get your parking permit). From the beach, you can walk around and do a small section of the California Coastal Trail or you can head straight to the trailhead for the famous Fern Canyon hike.
Fern Canyon is one of the most popular hikes in the whole Redwood National Park, so be prepared for it to be busy (especially during the summer). The hike, though short (less than 2 miles) is stunning and definitely worth doing.
Once you finish the hike and get your fill of the beach, drive back to the Prairie Creek Visitor Center and then onto the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. Along this scenic drive, you have the opportunity to stop off at such destinations as Big Tree Wayside and the Atlas Grove. You can also do another short hike in one of the redwood groves along the way if you have the energy.
If you are looking to spend the night in this part of the national park, you have the option to camp in either the Elk Prairie Campground or Gold Bluffs Beach Campground, or book a hotel room in the nearby town of Klamath (see our recommended hotels below).
Redwood National and State Parks 2 Day Itinerary
If you are planning to spend two full days in the national park (good choice), then you have a lot of options on how to fill your time. Below are two basic 2-day itineraries.
The first one is to follow what we outlined above for the one full-day itinerary and just do either the Northern Half on day 1 and the Southern Half on day 2, or vice-versa (depending on where you are coming from). If this is the route you want to take — which is kind of what we did while visiting Redwood National Park — then we suggest reserving a night at the Mill Creek Campground, which is located in the middle of the national park, or booking a room in Klamath.
If you want to do something a bit different, why not spend your first day in Redwood National Park doing a big hike and then the second day exploring more via car.
A great hike to do on day 1 is the James Irvine Trail to Fern Canyon. This hike is 11 miles total and starts at the Prairie Creek Visitor Center. The James Irvine Trail takes you through massive redwood groves before spitting you out near the coast at the Fern Canyon Trailhead. This is a great option if you want to see both redwoods and the rugged California coast or if you want to hike Fern Canyon but didn’t get a permit.
Once you finish the hike, drive up to Mill Creek Campground in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park where you can camp for the night (make sure to get a reservation ahead of time).
On your second day, drive out to Crescent Beach and Crescent Beach Overlook, or spend an hour or two exploring Endert’s Beach, which is a popular place for tidepooling. Once done at the beach, drive a bit further north until you reach the beginning of Howland Hill Road. This scenic drive gives you easy access to some great coastal redwood groves, including Stout Grove and the Grove of Titans. Finish your second day by relaxing along the Smith River or grabbing a quick bite to eat in the town of Hiouchi.
Redwood National and State Parks 3 Day Itinerary
If you have a full three days in Redwood National and State Parks then definitely consider spending at least part of it in the park’s beautiful backcountry. The national park has seven backcountry sites available — ranging from open prairies surrounded by pine trees to hidden sites along the coast. Some of the most popular areas to go backpacking are Flint Ridge, which is located off of the California Coastal Trail, Elam Camp, which is located near Redwood Creek Trail, and Redwood Creek Gravel Bar, which is the only area in the park where dispersed camping is permitted.
If you choose to backpack in the more southern part of the national park — for example at the Elam Camp or Redwood Creek Gravel Bar — then on the third day of your time in the area we suggest spending it relaxing either at the coast (at Gold Bluffs Beach for example) or in one of the numerous redwood groves. In the southern half, one great grove to explore is Lady Bird Johnson Grove, which is located right off of the scenic Bald Hills Road.
You can learn more about backpacking in Redwood National Park — including how to get a FREE backpacking permit ahead of time — here.
Redwood National and State Parks is one of the prettiest places to explore in all of California. With its wide array of biomes, stunning scenery and rich history, there is seriously so much to explore in this amazing national park. Hopefully, these half-day, full-day, 2-day and 3-day travel itineraries give you a great idea on how to spend your time in the park. But as always, if you have any questions, please leave a comment below or reach out to us at www.backroadpackers.com.