Nestled along the rugged coastline of Northern California lies a realm of giants, where towering sentinels of nature have stood for centuries, bearing witness to the passage of time. The California Redwoods, with their colossal stature and ancient wisdom, offer an enchanting journey into the heart of the natural world. But what makes this adventure truly magical is sharing it with your children. Today, Wendy Cox, photographer and mom of four, invites you to step into the realm of the California Redwoods, where the majesty of these ancient trees becomes a backdrop for unforgettable family memories and an extraordinary connection to nature. She’ll show you how visiting these towering giants can ignite your child’s sense of wonder and create a bond with the natural world that will last a lifetime. 

Tips for visiting the California redwoods with kids

Visiting the California Redwoods

We live in an incredibly large and beautiful world. There are more amazing places to visit than there are days in our lives, and deciding where to spend our few precious vacation days is a choice I don’t make lightly. You want somewhere epic, but not overwhelmed by too many people. You want something memorable, but without having to fight for parking.

One place that I find myself returning to time and again is the Redwoods of Northern California. I hope as you read through this post, you will begin to understand the reason why my heart longs to view this stunning scenery. And if you have never experienced redwood trees in person, I hope you will want to!

What are redwoods?

Let’s begin our expedition with a little background knowledge about redwoods. Redwood trees, the towering giants of the plant kingdom, are a living testament to the awe-inspiring power of nature. These magnificent trees, scientifically known as Sequoia sempervirens, are native to the west coast of North America, particularly thriving in the coastal regions of California. Redwoods are celebrated not only for their sheer size, with some reaching heights of over 350 feet and diameters of 20 feet but also for their remarkable longevity. Redwood trees can live to be thousands of years old.

Part of the reason they are able to live so long is because of their strong, thick bark. Redwood bark provides protection against pests, fires, and diseases. You might think that redwood trees have deep roots in order to live so long, but that is not the case. They have a shallow root system that intertwines with other redwood trees nearby, and the trees support each other against strong winds, storms, and floods. We can learn a lot from a redwood tree!

Exploring Fern Canyon with kids - California redwoods - kid running down hiking trail surrounded by towering redwoods

The importance of redwood trees

The importance of redwood trees cannot be overstated. Beyond their immense size and longevity, redwoods play a vital role in our ecosystem. Their immense canopies provide habitat for countless species of wildlife, while their root systems stabilize the soil and prevent erosion. These trees also act as carbon sinks, absorbing significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and helping mitigate the effects of climate change. Furthermore, the redwoods have cultural and spiritual significance for Indigenous communities, and they hold a special place in the hearts of all who encounter their majestic presence.

Fostering a connection to nature

Beyond their ecological and cultural significance, the redwoods provide a unique opportunity for people to connect with nature on a profound level, fostering a sense of humility, wonder, and a deep appreciation for the natural world. Preserving these extraordinary trees is not just an environmental imperative; it’s a commitment to safeguarding the soul-stirring beauty and ecological balance of our planet.

John Steinbeck wrote of these trees, “The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. From them come silence and awe. They are ambassadors from another time.”

teaching kids about the importance of redwood trees

Best places to see redwood trees

Redwoods thrive in the cool, moist climate and can primarily be found along the coast of California, from southern Oregon to central California. Northern California has several places where you can experience the redwoods. My favorites are Redwood National and State Park, Julia Pfiefer Burns State Park, Yosemite National Park, Muir Woods National Monument, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, and Humboldt Redwoods State Park. There is even a redwood or two in Griffith Park in Los Angeles County. 

As a side note, as you’re walking through the redwood forests, you might notice some familiar scenery. Popular films such as Jurassic Park: The Lost World and Star Wars Return of the Jedi were all filmed in the Redwoods of Northern California. 

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park with kids

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Recently my family and I spent some time in Northern California, amongst the redwoods. Our first stop was Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. We camped here for several nights in the Elk Prairie Campground, named for the adjacent field where the elk are frequently seen. This campground is about an hour south of the California/Oregon border.

This campground has showers, running water, flushing toilets, and several loops to choose your campsite from. There is also wood available for purchase at the campground. Many trails running through the campground will take you through breathtaking redwood forests. Photographs really cannot capture a redwood tree fully because of the height of these beauties, but this was my best attempt!

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Biodiversity in redwood forests

The redwood forests of Northern California are a biodiversity hotspot, teeming with a remarkable array of flora and fauna. These ancient and towering giants create a unique microclimate that supports a rich diversity of plant life. Beneath the canopy of the redwoods, you’ll find a lush understory filled with ferns, mosses, and a variety of wildflowers.

Additionally, redwood forests are home to a plethora of bird species, from majestic owls like the northern spotted owl to the colorful and melodic songbirds such as the varied thrush. The canopy itself is inhabited by several arboreal mammals like flying squirrels and tree-dwelling salamanders, showcasing the intricate web of life sustained by these towering trees.

This intricate web of life, from the smallest fern to the grandest elk, illustrates the interconnectedness of the redwood forest ecosystem and the critical importance of preserving these ancient groves for future generations to marvel at and study. The redwood forests of Northern California serve as a living testament to the wonders of nature and a reminder of the urgent need to protect and conserve our planet’s precious biodiversity.

Banana slug for the win

One of the most iconic inhabitants of these forests is the banana slug, a large, bright yellow gastropod that serves as a critical decomposer, breaking down organic matter and recycling nutrients. My kids had a great time exploring the trails, playing at the amphitheater, and looking for critters near the creek. We were so excited to finally find a banana slug! Coming from Southern California, banana slugs were a new discovery for my kiddos. And isn’t “banana slug” such a fitting name for these guys? They could almost pass for a real banana if you ask me!

banana slug at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Exploring Fern Canyon with kids

If you’re only going to be in the area for a short time, my number one recommendation would be to visit Fern Canyon. Exploring Fern Canyon with kids is like stepping into the pages of a storybook where ancient redwoods and lush greenery create a magical, primeval world. Located within Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Northern California, Fern Canyon is a place of wonderment that captivates young hearts and sparks their sense of adventure. As you and your children venture into the canyon, you’ll be enveloped by towering walls covered in ferns of all shapes and sizes, offering a verdant, fairy-tale atmosphere that feels straight out of a fantasy movie.

You will need a permit to hike Fern Canyon, and you can get that here. The road getting to the trailhead at Gold Bluffs Beach is not all paved, but we were able to make it in our minivan without any problems. If there has been recent heavy rain, I would recommend bringing a vehicle with 4-wheel drive. The trailhead doesn’t look like anything special, and there are bathrooms, picnic tables, and beach access. The real beauty comes once you get on the trail.

Fern Canyon nature & exploration

Walking through the shallow creek that winds its way through the canyon becomes a delightful game of exploration for kids, as they hop from rock to rock and splash in the crystal-clear waters. The towering redwoods on either side create a cathedral-like setting, where the filtered sunlight plays hide-and-seek with the ferns.

Not surprisingly, there are 5 different types of ferns in this canyon. They start out only on the ground, but as you continue to walk, you’ll start to notice that the walls of the canyon are also teeming with ferns and other greenery. It’s like walking through a magical place unlike anywhere else. Streams run through the canyon, so you’ll want to wear appropriate footwear for mud and water.

What to expect in Fern Canyon

Chances are, if you’re in Humboldt County there will be precipitation at some point as well. We stopped quite a few times along the trail to play in the water, climb on the fallen logs, look at fun rocks, and just enjoy the beauty around us. The 1.1 mile loop took us about an hour to complete.

Fern Canyon provides an excellent opportunity to introduce your children to the wonders of nature, teaching them about ecosystems, plant life, and the importance of conservation in a hands-on, memorable way. As you and your kids traverse this enchanting canyon, you’ll create lasting memories that foster a deep appreciation for the natural world and the ancient redwoods that call it home.

Northern California redwoods - Fern Canyon nature & exploration exploring fern canyon with kids

Sue-Meg State Park

A short drive from Fern Canyon is Sue-Meg State Park, formerly known as Patrick’s Point State Park. Exploring Sue-Meg State Park is an enchanting journey into a pristine natural wonderland where the beauty of the outdoors takes center stage. As you meander along its well-maintained trails, you’ll be immersed in lush forests that change with the seasons, providing a kaleidoscope of colors and scents. The park’s pristine lakes and serene waterways are great for kayaking and fishing, while the gentle rustling of leaves overhead and the sweet songs of birds create a symphony of nature that soothes the soul. Whether you’re hiking, picnicking, or simply savoring the tranquility of this hidden gem, Sue-Meg State Park is a sanctuary where you can reconnect with the natural world and savor moments of peace and serenity.

Sue-Meg also has a small replica of a native village. I find it incredibly interesting to read about how the native peoples lived in the area, especially since they still have a strong influence in Humboldt County and many reservations in the area.  

agate beach at Sue-Meg State Park

Agate Beach and campground

Located inside this state park is Agate Beach Campground. While we didn’t stay here, I did note that there are cabins available, so I added it to my list of places to stay in the future. Five minutes along a fairly steep trail from Agate Beach Campground will give you access to Agate Beach.

This beach is filled with millions of tiny stones, and the entire beach is one huge treasure hunt. Many agates (naturally occurring translucent stones) are hidden among the ordinary stones at this beach. I could spend hours digging around looking for them! If you have a kiddo who is into rocks or hunting for treasures, you can get that you’ll spend a lot of time at this beach.

Agate Beach and campground at Sue-Meg State Park Exploring Sue-Meg State Park and finding agates at Agate Beach with kids


As a special treat for our kids, we booked the most amazing accommodations in a private redwood forest with creeks and a waterfall for one night of our trip. You can book your stay at these adorable, rustic cabins here. Located in the heart of the Humboldt Coastal Redwoods, these cabins were so lovely for our family. 

The road getting to the cabins was treacherous for our little minivan, but if you have 4 wheel-drive, you should be fine. It was so private, and waking up in the middle of the redwoods with the stream running below was nothing short of a dream. Our kids loved every minute of our time there, and we wish we could have stayed longer. It was a memory we will never forget!

rustic treehouse cabin getaway in Humboldt Coastal Redwoods California for families rustic treehouse cabin getaway in Humboldt Coastal Redwoods California for families

Redwood Park in Arcata

Making your way south from McKinleyville, your next stop should be Redwood Park in Arcata. Arcata is home to Cal Poly-Humboldt, a great university for anyone wanting to go into agriculture. Can you imagine exploring the old-growth redwood forests as part of your higher education? I’m feeling tempted to go back to school just thinking about it!

Exploring Redwood Park in Arcata is like stepping into a living fairy tale, where towering giants of the natural world, the majestic coast redwood trees, reign supreme. This place is a true hidden gem. As you wander along the well-maintained trails, you’ll find yourself dwarfed by trees that can reach heights of over 300 feet, their canopies forming a cathedral-like ambiance that filters the sunlight to create a soft, ethereal glow.

Wildlife and biodiversity

The park’s lush undergrowth, moss-covered fallen logs, and babbling creeks add to its enchantment, while wildlife sightings, including banana slugs and varied bird species, enhance the sense of connection to nature. Redwood Park in Arcata is a sanctuary where you can walk among giants, listen to the whispers of the forest, and rediscover the profound beauty and tranquility of the natural world.

 Even the parking lot of the park is surrounded by towering redwood trees. The minute you begin walking on any of the plentiful trails, you’re immersed in the sights and smells of these old giants. Don’t forget to check under the leaves of the redwood sorrel (looks like a clover), because you might find a color there that you weren’t expecting. 

Exploring Redwood Park in Arcata with Kids

Swinging from the redwood trees

We were lucky enough to happen upon some rope swings during our time in Redwood Park. These whimsical contraptions blend the simple joys of childhood with the majesty of the redwood forest, offering fun for all ages. For the kids, it’s an opportunity to experience the thrill of swinging amidst towering giants, feeling the wind rush past as they soar through the dappled sunlight. It’s a chance to channel their inner Tarzan or Jane while developing coordination and balance.

Everyone in our family took turns swinging high into the forest on the ropes. The kids all had a blast, so much so that my daughter said that the rope swing was her favorite part of our whole trip! The kids could have stayed and played here for the rest of the day, but we had a couple of other destinations to discover before the end of the day.

Swinging from the redwood trees in Redwood Park California Rope swing fun in the redwood trees in Redwood Park California Swinging from the redwood trees in Redwood Park California Exploring Redwood Park California with Kids


Heading even farther south from Arcata is one of the bigger cities of Humboldt County, and the heart of the Humboldt Redwoods, Eureka. Known as the “Queen of the West Coast,” Eureka boasts a stunning backdrop of ancient redwood forests and the Pacific Ocean. The city’s Victorian architecture, exemplified by the Carson Mansion and numerous other well-preserved structures, adds an air of timeless elegance to its streets. 

The city’s waterfront is a hub of activity, offering opportunities for kayaking, bird-watching, and scenic strolls along the boardwalk. Beyond its natural and architectural splendor, Eureka is a community known for its friendly and welcoming atmosphere. It’s a place where local businesses flourish, and a sense of pride in environmental stewardship runs deep.

The city hosts a variety of festivals and events throughout the year, celebrating its rich history, diverse culture, and the stunning landscape that surrounds it. The Eureka Inn is a functioning hotel with old-world decor and a retro pool area. The Carson Mansion is no longer open to the public, but you can walk past and admire the intricate Victorian building on your way to visit Old Town Eureka. 

Old Town district in Eureka

Eureka’s Old Town district, with its cobblestone streets and vibrant storefronts, invites visitors to step back in time and explore a thriving arts and culture scene. The entire section of Old Town Eureka is on the national registry of historic places. As you walk around you will notice that the Carson Mansion is only one of a large number of beautiful Victorian buildings. If you want to save your steps for later, there are also horse-drawn carriages in Old Town that would be happy to give you a lift.

Eureka, California, in Humboldt CountyEureka, California, in Humboldt County

Sequoia Park

My favorite destination in Eureka is Sequoia Park. Spanning over 67 acres, this park is a haven for locals and visitors alike. The park’s centerpiece is a stunning stand of towering coast redwoods, some reaching heights of over 250 feet, creating a cathedral-like atmosphere that invites quiet contemplation and awe. Meandering through the park’s network of trails, visitors can encounter majestic trees, lush ferns, and meandering creeks that together evoke a sense of tranquility and wonder.

Sequoia Park is not only a place of natural beauty but also a hub of community activity, featuring a duck pond, picnic areas, a children’s playground, and a popular gazebo where concerts and events are held. 

This park is located directly next to the Sequoia Park Zoo, which recently added this fantastic skywalk. For a fee, you can take a walk 100 feet up into the redwoods and experience the forest from a completely different perspective. We unfortunately were not able to do the skywalk on this trip, but I have it on my list for next time!

sequoia park in Eureka California - skywalk

Humboldt State Redwoods and Richardson Grove

Our final night in the land of the redwoods was another amazing one. Driving south on Highway 101 will take you to the entrance to The Avenue of the Giants. This is a windy stretch of highway that is lined on both sides of the road with beautiful redwoods and lush green ferns. Along the road, there are campgrounds, trailheads, gift shops, several state parks, and even Confusion Hill. This is a fun stop where you can walk through the Gravity House and have other wacky adventures.

We drove south through Humboldt Redwoods State Park and camped at Huckleberry Campground at Richardson Grove State Park. This park is a pristine natural gem that showcases the grandeur of ancient redwood forests. Covering 1,800 acres along the South Fork Eel River, the park is renowned for its magnificent old-growth redwoods, some towering over 300 feet in height and dating back centuries. As you wander through the park’s shaded trails, you’ll be enveloped in a world of towering giants, lush ferns, and tranquil streams.

Huckleberry Campground

Huckleberry Campground at Richardson Grove State Park is a tranquil retreat beneath the towering canopy of ancient redwoods. Located along the banks of the meandering South Fork Eel River, this campground offers a serene and picturesque setting for nature enthusiasts and campers seeking a respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

The campground features well-maintained sites for tents and RVs, many of which are tucked away in the shade of massive redwood trees, providing a sense of privacy and immersion in the natural world. With access to hiking trails, swimming holes, and the calming sounds of the river, Huckleberry Campground is a perfect base for exploring the awe-inspiring beauty of Richardson Grove State Park and experiencing the magic of the redwoods up close. In the summer, you can access a fun swimming hole in the river just a short walk from the visitor’s center. 

northern california redwood forest road trip with kids

The diversity of a California road trip

From Richardson Grove, it’s about a 3.5-hour drive to get to San Francisco. That’s material for another day! The entire state of California has so much to offer us as outdoor enthusiasts. The landscape is extremely diverse, from the northern end of the state to the southern end. While you may think of California as sunny, sandy beaches with surfers galore, the northern half of the state has a completely different vibe. You certainly don’t want to swim in the ocean water of Northern California without an extremely thick wetsuit. 

If you’re looking for a more serene, less crowded vacation destination, I hope you will take Northern California into consideration. If you’re heading north up towards Oregon, you’ll definitely want to check out this West Coast road trip post about NorCal and Oregon.  No matter what time of year you visit, be sure to pack a jacket and prepare for amazement!

Have you ever explored the California redwood forests?

About the author

Wendy is a married momma living in central San Diego, CA, raising 4 human kids, 2 goat kids, 4 chickens, and one grumpy cat. She enjoys gardening, hiking, camping, backpacking, going to the beach, and generally getting out-of-doors. Wendy is a family photographer and also works at several local elementary schools as the garden educator. She dreams of traveling to all 50 states and beyond, and believes that there is great beauty to be found in all parts of the earth, we just have to open our eyes to see it.

You can find more from Wendy online in the following locations:
Instagram: @wendycoxphotography
RWMC posts: Wendy Cox