Northern California has over 23 state and national parks with old growth redwood forests. While there are hundreds of trails throughout this part of the state, only a handful are home to these massive redwoods that visitors come to see.
The largest redwood trees are located within what are called “old growth forests”. These old growth redwoods have been around for hundreds of years and survived the extensive logging activity of the early 19th and 20th centuries.
The Redwood National Park is actually the “Redwood National & State Parks”. Its entire area is made up of one large federal National Park, and three smaller State Parks that surround it: Del Norte, Jedediah Smith, and Prairie Creek. Humboldt State Park is just south of these four parks, and is not considered a part of the combined entity. However, we include it and a few other smaller state parks in this list because they are all extremely close to each other.
Each park has its own character and highlights.
Prairie Creek is known for its lush and green coastal forest, while Jedidiah Smith is filled with light and is the most photogenic of all the parks. Del Norte has a unique location on a prominent coastal bluff, while Redwoods National Park occupies a large and heavily-logged inland valley. Humboldt Redwoods is best known for its dark, dense, and flat lowlands. Of all the parks in Northern California, Jedediah Smith and Prairie Creek State Parks have the best preserved ecosystems and some of the most scenic hikes.
The largest trees within these parks are found in the flat bottoms of creek valleys, where the most water resides. These flat sections are called alluvial flats, and they host the spectacular, cathedral-like groves of redwoods that the parks are famous for. Redwood National Park has 27%, or about 19,000 acres, of its land as old growth. Humboldt has the next highest amount at around 17,000 acres. Jedediah Smith State Park has the highest percentage of old growth redwoods, with it being over 75% of its total land area.
All of the trails we’ve listed below have all or part of the trail going through an old growth forest. Old growth forests will have a mix of trees that are between hundreds and thousands of years old, as well as plenty of fallen trees that have come down in extreme weather events. The point of these trails is to see some of the most magnificent trees in not only the US, but the world as well.
Short on Time?
Do you only have time for one trail per park? We have you covered. Here is the best hike (for sights and ease) for those that are only passing through the area and simply want to find an easy hike to see some massive trees.
- Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park – Stout Grove
- Del Norte State Park – Damnation Creek Trail. This is a long and difficult trail, so only explore about the first half-mile of it.
- Prairie Creek State Park – Foothill to Cathedral Tree Loop
- Humboldt Redwoods State Park – Founders Grove
- Redwood National Park – Lady Bird Johnson Trail
The Most Famous and Iconic Trails in Redwood NP
While our table below lists the best trails in the cluster of Redwood National and State Parks, here are some of the most famous trails:
1. The Tall Trees Grove Trail
The Tall Trees Trail is a popular hike in Redwood National and State Parks, located on the California coast in the United States. The trail is known for its towering redwood trees, which are some of the tallest trees in the world. The trail is approximately 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometers) long and takes about 3-4 hours to complete. It is a moderate to difficult hike, with some steep and slippery sections.
The Tall Trees Trail begins at the Redwood Creek Trailhead and follows the Redwood Creek for about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) to the Tall Trees Grove. Along the way, hikers will pass through a variety of forested environments, including old-growth redwood forests and mixed conifer forests. The trail crosses Redwood Creek several times, and hikers may need to use a footbridge or rock hop across the creek.
The Tall Trees Grove is home to some of the tallest trees in the world, including Hyperion, the tallest known tree on Earth. The grove is closed to the public to protect the trees, but there is a viewpoint near the grove where hikers can get a glimpse of the trees from a distance.
2. Fern Canyon
Fern Canyon is a beautiful and unique destination located in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Humboldt County, California. The canyon is known for its towering walls of ferns, which grow up to 50 feet (15 meters) high and cover the canyon walls from top to bottom. The canyon is also home to a variety of other plant species, including redwoods, Douglas firs, and maples.
The Fern Canyon hike is not an easy one to accomplish without planning. The road into Fern Canyon requires a vehicle equipped with four-wheel drive. However, the end of the trail is relatively easy, with a mostly flat and well-groomed surface. It is about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) long and takes about 1-2 hours to complete. Along the way, hikers will pass by numerous waterfalls and small pools, as well as a variety of wildlife, including birds, rabbits, and the occasional black bear.
Fern Canyon is also a popular spot for photography, with its lush green foliage and cascading waterfalls providing a stunning backdrop. The best time to visit is during the spring or early summer when the ferns are at their greenest and lushest.
3. The Boy Scout Tree Trail
The Boy Scout Tree Trail is a popular hike located in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Humboldt County, California. The trail is known for its towering redwood forest and beautiful old-growth trees. The trail is approximately 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometers) long and takes about 3-4 hours to complete. It is a moderate to difficult hike, with some steep and slippery sections.
The Boy Scout Tree Trail begins at the Big Tree Wayside parking area and follows the Prairie Creek for about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) to the Boy Scout Tree, a giant redwood tree that is over 300 feet (91 meters) tall and has a circumference of over 25 feet (7.6 meters). Along the way, hikers will pass through a variety of forested environments, including old-growth redwood forests and mixed conifer forests. The trail crosses Prairie Creek several times, and hikers may need to use a footbridge or rock hop across the creek.
4. Prairie Creek Trail
The Prairie Creek Trail – now called the Karl Knapp Trail – is an extremely popular hike located in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Humboldt County, California. The trail is known for its giant redwoods and beautiful old-growth groves. The trail is approximately 7 miles (11.3 kilometers) long and takes about 6-8 hours to complete. It is a moderate to difficult hike, with some steep and slippery sections.
Make sure to pick up a brochure and trail map at the Prairie Creek Visitor Center before heading out on this trail.
The Prairie Creek Trail begins at the Big Tree Wayside parking area and follows the Prairie Creek for about 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometers) to the James Irvine Trail. Along the way, hikers will pass through a variety of forested environments, including old-growth redwood forests and mixed conifer forests. The trail crosses Prairie Creek several times, and hikers may need to use a footbridge or rock hop across the creek. The trail also passes by several popular destinations, including the Boy Scout Tree and Fern Canyon.
The Prairie Creek Trail is a beautiful and rewarding hike that offers a chance to see some of the tallest and most majestic trees on the planet. It is a popular trail, so it can get busy on weekends and during the summer months. It is recommended to start the hike early in the morning to avoid crowds and to have the best chance of seeing wildlife. The trail can be muddy and slippery after rain, so it is recommended to wear appropriate footwear and be prepared for wet conditions.
The Top 20 Redwood National Park Hikes
|Rating||Trail Name||Park||Effort||Miles||Elevation Climb|
|4.7||The James Irvine Trail & Miners’ Ridge Loop||Prairie Creek Redwoods SP||Difficult||11.4||1480′|
|4.7||Grove of Titans||Jedediah Smith Redwoods SP||Easy||1.3||200′|
|4.7||Boy Scout Tree Trail||Jedediah Smith Redwoods SP
|4.7||Brown Creek Loop & South Fork Trail||Prairie Creek Redwoods SP||Moderate||3.0||700′|
|4.7||Stout Memorial Grove Loop||Jedediah Smith Redwoods SP||Easy||0.6||40′|
|4.7||Simpson-Reed Trail||Jedediah Smith Redwoods SP||Easy||1.0||52′|
|4.7||Rockefeller Loop||Humboldt Redwoods SP||Easy||0.7||32′|
|4.7||Foothill to Cathedral Tree Loop||Prairie Creek Redwoods SP||Easy||2.2||150′|
|4.7||Damnation Creek Trail||Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP||Difficult||3.4||1190′|
|4.7||Fern Canyon Loop Trail (pass req’d)||Prairie Creek Redwoods SP||Easy, but getting there is Hard||1.1||120′|
|4.7||Bull Creek Flats||Humboldt Redwoods SP||Moderate||8.6||670′|
|4.6||Trillium Falls Trail (pass req’d)||Redwood NP||Moderate||2.8||440′|
|4.6||The Berry Glen & Lady Bird Grove Trail||Redwood NP||Difficult||6.0||1290′|
|4.5||West Ridge Trail||Prairie Creek Redwoods SP||Moderate||5.8||760′|
|4.5||Homestead and Big Trees Loop||Humboldt Redwoods SP||Easy||2.4||110′|
|4.5||Cheatham Grove||Grizzly Creek Redwoods SP||Easy||0.7||40′|
|4.5||Flint Ridge Section Trail||Redwood NP||Difficult||7.9||1770′|
|4.4||The Grieg-French-Bell Grove||Humboldt Redwoods SP||Easy||1.4||22′|
|4.4||Redwood Creek Trail||Redwood NP||Difficult||15.7||1130′|
|4.3||Moorman Pond Trail||Prairie Creek Redwoods SP||Easy||1||165′|
|4.2||Mill Creek Trail||Jedediah Smith Redwoods SP||Moderate||7.4||250′|
|4.2||Emerald Ridge and Tall Trees||Redwood NP||Moderate||5.5||700′|
- SP = State Park, NP = National Park
- The ratings are from AllTrails as of June 2022
- The trailhead’s location is linked to from the trail’s name
- All of these trails are within Old Growth forests except one (Fern Canyon Trail)