Wandering amongst the tallest trees on earth is a bucket list item for any nature lover, and today, that means heading to California. Though redwoods once graced much of the northern hemisphere with their dominating presence, today they remain only in coastal California and a tiny portion of southwestern Oregon. Known therefore as coastal or California redwoods, these evergreen trees live for 1,200 to 2,200 years or even longer and can reach up to 380ft in height and 29ft in diameter. These cousins to the giant sequoias are also among the oldest living organisms on Earth, thought to have lived on the planet for 240 million years.
Before commercial logging began in the 1850s, these giant trees inhabited millions of acres of coastal California, but have been whittled down to just 5% of their original number, or 110,000 acres due to logging, climate change and fire suppression, placing them on endangered species Red List. Needless to say, opportunities to enjoy these natural marvels are dwindling, but strolling between their hulking red trunks in the shade of their massive branches is the experience of a lifetime. If you’re wondering where to see redwoods in California, check out our top four spots around the state.
Because these trees thrive in a moderate coastal climate, it’s always a good time of year to visit them which means you can skip the summer crowds and wait for quieter seasons. Pack a comfortable pair of hiking boots and a waterproof jacket and check out these gentle giants.
1. Redwood National Park
Starting with the most famous location, Redwood National Park is part of a partnership with four state parks to form Redwood National and State Parks which protects almost half of all remaining old-growth coastal redwoods. The best hikes in Redwood National Park deliver fantastic day hikes and backpacking opportunities on fairly flat terrain and rated easy or moderate, making it accessible to all levels of hiker. Here you’ll find the world’s tallest tree, Hyperion, but don’t get too close or you could face jail time Though National Parks have a bit of a reputation for being busy, Redwood is actually one of the least crowded National Parks, seeing about 500,000 visitors in 2019 as it is miles from any metropolitan area. It is located in northern California, close to the border with Oregon, a three-hour drive from Redding.
2. Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Humboldt County is well-known for its magnificent redwoods and down in the southern end of the county lies California’s largest redwood state park, Humboldt Redwoods. This park protects 17,000 acres of old-growth coastal redwoods, which are thousands of years old and have never been logged. In Rockefeller Forest, you can visit the 354ft tall Giant Tree and find one of the last remaining drive-thru redwood trees. South of Eureka, this park is about 3.5 hours west of Redding. Reservations are recommended here in the summer, but due to the temperate climate it’s well worth visiting in another season.
3. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
The Santa Cruz mountains offer some fantastic opportunities for Redwood viewing, and while access to Big Basin Redwoods State Park has sadly been limited since the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex fires which closed the park for a long time, nearby Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park protects a smaller grove of trees that is still well worth exploring. With only an 8-mile drive north from Santa Cruz, you can stroll through a 40-acre redwood grove on the lovely Redwood Grove Trail.
4. Muir Woods National Monument
Though the best stashes of redwoods undeniably lie in more remote northern California, you might be surprised to learn that there’s a tranquil stand of giant trees that you can easily access from bustling San Francisco. Muir Woods National Monument has protected 554 acres of redwoods just north of the city for over a century and has several paved hiking trails ranging from half an hour to a couple of hours. Its proximity to San Francisco means that reservations are required during busy months, and the best way to see it is to join a bus trip from the city.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.