My family has been itching for a road trip (well, some of us…), and this year we were able to get away for Spring Break. The weather is always tricky in April, but we got lucky and were able to time our trip for a brief window of good weather. We split the drive down into two days to make it easier, spending the night with my parents along the way. We decided to camp at a Forest Service campground east of the Redwoods (Panther Flat), since the price was less and that was as far as we wanted to drive on the second day.
[Panther Flat is $15 per night and has running water, flush toilets and showers. You can make reservations in the busy season. National Park campgrounds are $35 per night and also take reservations in summer.] This worked out well for us, but you may prefer to camp within the park at one of the NPS campgrounds.
Fun things for kids at Redwoods National and State Parks:
There are several easy and short kid-friendly trails (trails in the north)(trails in the south) within the national and state parks. I recommend that you stop at one of the ranger stations and get a map, and ask the rangers to highlight the trails on the map for you. We visited the Hiouchi Visitor Center first to get our maps and guide books. We also stopped at the ranger stations in Crescent City and Prairie Creek and got our passports stamped.
Simpson-Reed Grove: The first walk we did was in the Simpson-Reed Grove, just off Highway 199 in the Jedediah Smith Redwoods Park portion. Pull off the highway, find a spot along the road, and find the trail right near the restrooms and handicap parking. The sign on the pullout says Walker Road Day Use Area. This gentle loop is just under one mile, with minimal elevation gain. It was truly amazing to be walking among the giant trees, with spring flowers and foliage just beginning to unfurl around us. Annika liked the oxalis that was growing, and the kids found a few downed logs to climb on and take photos. Moss, slugs, lichens, ferns – you’ll feel like you’re truly in a deep forest on this trail.
Big Tree Wayside: This 1/2-mile loop takes you past the Big Tree, as well as several other magical giants. You’ll find the trailhead on the east side of the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, a slower, curvier drive than the busy Hwy 101. Restrooms are available at this trailhead.
Stout Grove Trail: Located along the Howland Hill Road (see below for a description of this journey), the Stout Grove is another short and easy hike for families. It’s around 3/4 mile long, with a slope at the beginning to get down to the river valley. This grove sits next to the Smith River, and is damp and shady. Shy wildflowers bloom among the ferns, and we heard pileated woodpeckers calling high above us. This trail has a variety of standing and fallen trees for decent photo ops for your family.
There are many other kid-friendly trails in the park.
Take a scenic drive. The rangers told us about a couple of smaller roads off the main highways that make for a beautiful side trip. The Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway is a paved, narrow, curvy road that allows a slower pace through the giant trees than busy Hwy 101. You’ll find multiple hikes right off the road. If you travel from north to south, you can end your trip at the Prairie Creek Visitor Center.
Howland Hill Road is a narrow, unpaved, muddy, potholed, primitive road through groves of giant redwood trees. Trailers and motorhomes are not advised on this road, and you’ll need to allow at least an hour for the drive. You can access the Stout Grove and other trails from this gorgeous road; it’s definitely worth carving some time out to take it.
Enderts Beach Road travels along the coast with access to the Crescent Beach Picnic Area, and then rises up to a headland with a scenic view of the beaches and headlands north and south. Sometimes people see whales migrating off the coast from this vantage point. The road is narrow and the turnaround is crowded, so trailers and motorhomes are not advised.
Activities outside the parks:
We wanted to explore the areas around the national and state parks while we were down there, so we had a few other fun activities we included in our trip.
- Tolowa Dunes State Park and Lake Earl State Wildlife Area – North of Crescent City is a rich wildlife and birding area. We took a walk out to the dunes and looked for birds one morning. There were many more places we could have explored in this area, and I hope to go back someday to see more.
- Look for Wildlife off the Coast and Visit the Battery Point Lighthouse – The rugged coastline in Crescent City is home to the breathtaking Battery Point Lighthouse. It is only accessible when the tides are low, and you can get tours every other weekend in the spring and summer. We weren’t able to take a tour, but did enjoy seeing and photographing the lighthouse from different angles.
- Trees of Mystery – We normally avoid touristy type attractions, but this private park has a nice set of trails, info about the giant trees, chainsaw carvings that children may find enjoyable, and a large free museum of native art and artifacts. The highlight for us was taking a trip in the Sky Trail gondolas through the tree canopy to a sweeping viewpoint over 700 feet above the far-away coastline.
- Darlingtonia Trail on Hyw 199, at Milepost 17.9, just east of the Panther Flat campground. This short loop trail just off the highway allows closeup views of large pitcher plants growing in boggy soil. We thought this was a fascinating stop, and it was really cool to see all the plants in their native habitat. You can pick up a guide and learn more about the plants at the Forest Service Office in Gasquet, or find an online PDF about the trail here.
- Rough and Ready Botanical Wayside Trail – This short, flat walk north of Highway 199, west of Cave Junction, has a remarkable diversity of flowers blooming in the springtime. We had lunch at the picnic tables and walked the trail up to the stream, enjoying the beautiful blossoms along the way. Plant geeks will find a detailed PDF of plants to see on the Oregon Wild website. Please note that there are no restrooms or water available on the site, so come prepared.
- Oregon Caves National Monument – We wanted to go see this interesting place while down in the area, but didn’t plan our days well, and the Monument is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays in the spring. We’ll have to visit it next time!
We really enjoyed exploring this part of the country, and the kids appreciated being among the giant trees. There is a special feeling you get in old growth forests, and I think it’s valuable to get to those places when we can. There were so many other areas surrounding the national and state parks that we didn’t have time to visit. In the summer, the beaches would be fabulous places to hang out. But you can get a really good feel for the park in a few days. Crescent City has banks, stores, and restaurants for restocking what we needed, and is a cute little town in its own right. One thing to be aware of – Highway 101 is undergoing construction this summer, so you should expect the possibility of long delays, even on weekends.