This two-day itinerary is custom-built for families. You’ll visit five top-notch Redwood hikes in three state parks and experience some of the most scenic areas in Redwood National Park. Your kids will be beaming with pride after they earn Junior Ranger badges and capture memories of a lifetime.
Where should I stay?
For this itinerary, I’d recommend staying two nights at Jedediah Smith campground. The sites are situated in an old-growth stand of redwoods along the banks of the Smith River. Yes, the campground is busy and the sites are exposed, so you’re likely to see your neighbors. But, the location is a perfect jumping-off point for redwood hikes. There are also a few amenities you might find useful during your stay, including a camp store, coin-operated showers, toilets, firepits, and drinking water. The campground is patrolled frequently so you won’t have to worry about unruly neighbors or noisy generators after quiet hours. Beware, this campground fills quickly so make sure to reserve your campsite up to seven months in advance.
You’re heading into some of the most superb redwood scenery on the planet with these three short Redwood hikes. Take a break and play in the Smith River, cross a floating bridge, and help the kids earn their first junior ranger badge.
Boy Scout Trail
The drive to Boy Scout trail is a destination unto itself as you meander along unpaved Howland Hill Road through ancient redwoods in arguably the most scenic area of the Redwood National and State Parks. It’ll be near impossible to keep your foot off the brake as you peer out the windows completely slack-jawed. A few miles later, there is a small pullout at the trailhead with enough parking for six or seven cars. Be sure to pack some water and a few snacks because you may be out there for a while. This is one redwood hike you don’t want to rush.
Tip! Arrive early to nab one of the few parking spots at the trailhead and you’ll also avoid the crowds that converge on the area in mid-morning.
Boy Scout trail is one of the most extraordinary old-growth trails on the planet. Walking among these giants is a profound experience that will change your life forever. There is something extremely powerful about these ancient trees that helps puts our fast-paced world into perspective.
The trail moves gracefully through an awe-inspiring old-growth area with a lush understory of moss, ferns and wild rhododendrons. The kids will enjoy peeking around sharp corners in the trail and exploring new hiding places inside tree trunks and around twisting root systems. The lowland section of this trail has a magical feel, like a scene from Jungle Book, with lush vegetation and a deep, dark canopy that stretches hundreds of feet over your head. After a short distance, the trail climbs gradually and takes on a markedly different feel as the vegetation thins out allowing magical sun rays to fill the spaces between trees on a sunny morning. The upland section offers views of enormous redwoods in small groups and provides ample opportunities for solitude the further you travel. Follow this Redwood hike as far as your kids will allow and then reverse course for an entirely new perspective.
Wellman Loop Trail
Now drive to the Jedediah Smith visitor’s center and grab a junior ranger activity booklet for the kids under age 12. Kids of all ages will enjoy looking at the exhibits and watching the short informational video on the redwoods that runs in the theater throughout the day. Then make the short drive back to your campground and walk to Wellman Loop trailhead near the camp store. This short 1.5 mile redwood hike traverses a smaller stand of redwoods along the banks of the Smith River. The kids will have a blast answering questions about the vegetation and learning about the unique history of the Park. Finish the loop by following a spur trail from the campground to a beach where the kids can spend a few minutes or hours swimming in the shallow waters of scenic Smith River. Now return to the visitor’s center with the kids’ activity booklets so they can earn their first badge. Oh, the honor!
From Jedediah Smith campground, take the spur trail across the floating bridge to access this quintessential redwood hike. The short half-mile loop delivers a knockout experience for families looking for an easy stroll through ancient redwoods in a lush, serene environment. You’ll want to take your time to admire each magnificent redwood and explore the various primitive trails crisscrossing the area. Let the kids get on their back and look up at the miracle growing high above them. If they’re lucky, they may find clover growing on fallen trees or banana slugs inching along the ground. The best time to visit the grove is late afternoon when the foliage glows with beautiful golds and greens from the late afternoon sun. Although this redwood hike is short, it could be the most beautiful and memorable.
You’ll visit two state parks along the coast featuring beautiful redwood hikes to gigantic redwoods and a beautiful cascading waterfall. The kids will enjoy looking for wildlife and earning two more junior ranger badges!
Big Tree Loop
From your campsite, drive one hour south to the Prairie Creek visitor center. After picking up a junior ranger activity booklet for the kids, walk a short distance to the Prairie Creek trailhead. The next mile provides stunning views of lush woods as the trail meanders along the creek through a beautiful stand of redwoods. The interpretive signs along this route will keep the kids engrossed as they learn about the local ecosystem and look for birds and wildlife. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for those hollow cavities in the redwoods that make a perfect hideout for the kids. There are a few doozies along this trail.
The trail turns and crosses the road before you turn back toward amply named Big Tree, the largest redwood in the park measuring 68 feet in circumference and an estimated 1,500 years old. This is a great place for a snack break and some family shots for this year’s Christmas card. From here, continue along scenic Cathedral Tree which, as the name suggests, provides access to some of the largest redwoods in the park. This section of the trail seems more intimate and serene. There are wooden benches positioned along the route if you need a break or want to admire your surroundings. As you approach the highway, there’s a tunnel under the road which leads back to the visitors center where the kids can earn their second badge.
Trillium Falls Trail
After lunch, drive to the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center, a beachside visitors complex that holds a variety of kid-friendly exhibits regarding coastal redwoods and watersheds. Spend a few minutes looking offshore and you might spot a breaching gray whale. Now grab those activity booklets for your kids and head back to the car for a short drive to Trillium Falls trailhead. Tell the kids to keep a close eye for Roosevelt Elk that are frequently seen in meadows along the highway.
This two and a half mile redwood hike begins in an open meadow, once the site of an old sawmill, before turning right and climbing away from the highway through an impressive stand of redwoods. This section of trail has the feel of an enchanted forest with the thick layer of moss and sprawling vines that cling to branches. The kids will happily hunt for clues along the route until they reach cascading Trillium Falls, where they’ll find the last clue in their activity booklet. This is a great place for a quick break to capture some pictures. From here, continue along the trail another mile and a half to complete the loop. My four-year-old was letting me know it was time to go, so we opted to reverse course from Trillium Falls. You’ll want to make the short drive back to the visitors center to collect their final badge. Trifecta!
Looking for other Redwood hikes? Here are the guidebooks I recommend.
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