I have been traveling for many years to Sonoma County for wine tasting. But, until this year, have not spent much time seeing what else California has to offer. After getting my fill of wine in Sonoma at this year’s Harvest Fair, I decided to head north to check out some of the amazing Redwood parks in Northern California. Options abound when it comes to parks. There is the National Park network, as well as many California State Parks to choose from.
Redwood National Park Network
The National Park network includes Redwood National Park (Est. 1968), Jedediah Smith State Park (Est. 1929), Del Norte Coast Redwood Park (Est. 1925), and Prairie Creek Redwood State Park (Est. 1923). As of 1994, these parks are now managed as one network of parks, jointly by the National and California State Park organizations. Within the parks there are four developed campgrounds: Jedediah Smith, Mill Creek, Elk Prairie and Gold Bluffs Beach. I was able to enjoy two of these during my stay.
Jedidiah Smith Campground
The campground at Jedediah Smith State Park is well shaded by the old growth redwoods. The sites are spacious and there are picnic tables and fire rings at each site. You can access an easy trail directly from the park that skirts along the Smith River and offers information about the trees and history of the area on signposts along the trail. The only drawback for me with this park was the limited cell reception. I spent the days in Crescent City, which is a quick fifteen-minute drive away. There is a coastal park right along the water where you can boondock for the day and check out Battery Point Lighthouse.
On your way to the park, the Howland Hill Scenic Drive is a MUST! As you approach, you will note signs indicating motorhomes and trailers are not advised. Class Bs will have no problem, but anything bigger than a small Class C will struggle. There are several places along this mostly unpaved road which are only one lane. This requires drivers to be cautious and considerate to others and use pull outs along the way. The road winds for 10 miles through some of the tallest old growth trees and will take you about 45 minutes.
While you are on the Howland Hills drive, you can find a couple of trailhead pull offs. I checked out some of the Boy Scout Tree trail. Just a couple of minutes into this trail, I felt like I was far from civilization. Passing only one other group of hikers, this is a quiet winding trail.
Gold Bluffs Beach Campground
There are two campground options at Prairie Creek Redwood State Park – Gold Bluffs Beach and Elk Prairie Campground. I chose Gold Bluffs.
The drive out to the campground is very scenic, but also narrow, winding, and sometimes wet. There are several signs warning you that the road is not recommended for motorhomes or trailers, and I definitely would not recommend it to anyone in anything bigger than a small Class C.
This campground is first-come, first-serve all year. I lucked out and got the very last available site in the 25-site loop. Some of the sites on the west side of the loop faced out to the ocean and have spectacular sunset views. My site faced back towards the bluff and by morning I realized it was on the path of a visiting elk. He came to the center of the loop most evenings to graze and each time passed right through my site. These Roosevelt Elk can be found all over the park – especially by the other campground Elk Prairie.
One thing not to be missed during your stay is Fern Canyon. You can walk there from the campground by going up the road. Or if you are up for a bit more of a challenge, you can walk on the beach. Shoes that can get wet are highly recommended as you crisscross the water throughout this short hike. Once you get to the canyon, you will be surrounded by 50-foot-high canyon walls covered with ferns – making you feel like you are walking into a scene from Jurassic Park.
California Coastal Redwood Parks
California designated numerous parks as part of their California Coastal Redwood Parks system. These parks run a large span of the California coast with the southernmost park south of Carmel, all the way up to the Oregon border. I explored a couple of these parks, but Hendy Woods State Park was my favorite.
These campgrounds take reservations May through September and it is a good idea to plan ahead and make reservations during this busy time. Generally, all of these campground are $35 per night with no hook ups, but the sites generally have picnic tables and fire rings.
Hendy Woods State Park
If you are looking for a perfect marriage of wine country and wilderness, this is the park for you. Located right off of Anderson Valley’s Hwy 128, this park is a great home base for exploring nearby wineries. The park itself has amazing sites tucked into the redwoods. When you arrive, they give you a map which indicates spots that get more sun – this comes in handy when you need solar power, since this campground is dry camping only. I snagged site 34, which ensured that I had plenty of sun. Added bonus was the strong cell signal, so I was able to work while camping.
First, you should explore the numerous trails which wind through the park, including Big and Little Hendy Groves. Once you’ve explored the trails, you should explore some of the wineries of Anderson Valley. Greenwood Ridge Vineyards is basically right outside of the park. One of the coolest features of this winery is the tasting room, which was built from a single redwood tree. Another great choice a little further away is Pennyroyal Farm – I highly recommend the wine and cheese pairing, both of which are produced by the farm.
California has so many great Redwood Park options, so get out there and explore some of them. Cheers from the Wine-o-bago!