Holy Heck. What a trip. Empty beaches. Tall trees, canyons full of ferns that made it feel like a rain forest. Redwood National Park did not disappoint. Did you know that redwood trees get most of the water they need from the northern California fog? Because of their height, they are the tallest trees in the world, ground water alone isn’t enough so they’ve adapted to get water via fog. And there was plenty of fog in the mornings.
Redwood National Park was the first leg in our ten day roadtrip. It also was our longest travel day. It involved a morning flight, a taxi to our RV, a trip to the grocery store, and then a 6.5 hour drive to our campground. Phew. Everyone was exhausted and once we pulled into the campsite and climbed into our beds, we knew renting an RV was the right move for this trip.
Our first and only night at Elk Prairie campground had us come in around 11pm and go straight to sleep. The biggest concern we had before the trip was the safety of the girls while sleeping, i.e. making sure they didnt fall off the bed. So with a full size bed in the back of the RV and a dining table that converted to a full mattress, Mary and I each took a kid with us to bed keeping them on our inside against a wall/window to prevent any falling. It worked out real well and no one fell. The first hurdle was cleared!
It was interesting waking up in Redwood as we arrived in complete darkness. We lifted the shades and walked outside to a much cooler climate (around 60 degrees) and a landscape that was dense and lush. With the trees being so tall and the canopy so thick, you had to look straight up into the sky to see through the growth. After a quick breakfast and some wandering around the campground, we headed out to the Visitor Center to get our bearings. It was right next to Elk Prairie and it didn’t disappoint because we saw two huge elk in the meadow. This was seconds after Mary said, “It’s too late in the morning, we won’t see anything…”
We got the intel from a volunteer who worked at the Visitors Center about driving to Fern Canyon. It was along the coast and you had to drive five miles on a dirt road that was pretty narrow. RVs longer than 24’ were not allowed, but you could take your Prius on it even though the potholes were the size of dinner tables. Weird. After clearing the forest, we came down on the Pacific Ocean and Golds Bluff Beach. We found a parking spot and unloaded the Kelty Kids Carrier and the whole crew.
We started with everyone walking on the totally empty beach. Coming from Southern California, an empty beach pretty much doesn’t exist, even in winter, so it was awesome to only hear the sound of crashing waves. The girls loved it. They were dressed in layers because it was a breezy and cooler than what we are used to, but they rolled around and played with sticks and rocks. We walked about 20 minutes before we tossed them in the Kids Carrier and trekked the rest of the way to the entrance to Fern Canyon.
Fern Canyon was a completely unique site. It was a long canyon that had walls at least 30’ high covered in ferns and other plants. Even though it was crowded, it was such a serene experience. The clouds also broke while we were there and it created incredible lighting through the tall redwoods and other trees. Oddly enough, as Mary and I walked out in amazement, another small party had a person poll the group, “So did you think it was worth it?” We just laughed…. and by the way the answer is YES!
After Fern Canyon, we decided to take the main road back to our car instead of walking on the beach. We caught some “trail magic” when a nice older couple named Tom and Anne offerd us a ride to our parking lot. So the four of us piled into the backseat of their Prius for about a mile. It was an incredibly kind gesture and was a recurring theme during our trip – when people aren’t at their job and out in nature, they are usually happier. I know I am.
We tried to check out Lady Bird Johnson Redwood Grove. She was the First Lady when Redwood National Park was dedicated as a national park and came out for the ceremony. Unfortunately, Lady Bird Grove did not allow RVs to park so we had to scrap it. We kept heading north on Highway 101 to our next campsite at the northern end of the park. Along the way, we came across this stunning view of False Klamath Cove. I mean, come on!
After that photoshoot, we cruised up to Jedediah Smith Campground along the Smith River. We set up shop and did some exploring around the campground. It was a really cool place surrounded by redwood trees. There were also lots of kids on bikes and scooters playing for the girls to be intrigued by their activity. We set up a fire and used it as a time to try and teach the girls about how to behave around a fire. They did great the entire trip and kept their distance from it at all times. They also were very observant. By the end of the trip, Quincy was using the long tongs to move around sticks and tinder near the fireplace and both girls were finding little twigs and placing them in the firepit to get ready for the fire. They’re so smart.
The next morning, we wandered down to the Smith River where we met a father and son who were fly fishing. They also alerted us about some wild blackberry bushes around that had some delicious berries. We picked them and the girls ate them. All of them. We then found a quiet spot along the river to let Quincy and Leona splash around. They picked up rocks and tossed them in and would have stayed there all day if they could. It’s always such a healthy reminder that simple things can be so fun to a young child.
After that, we packed up and headed north to Oregon to visit Crater Lake. More on that leg of the trip soon.
We like to list our favorite moments at each park and reference a line from the movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” where they talk about the quintessential cover photo. Here are the quintessence moments according to…
Sean: The Smith River was a cool place- tall trees and old growth forest, a peaceful river. We also got a bit of sunshine to show up so it was the perfect combination. Really a beautiful few hours of peacefulness.
Mary: I loved Fern Canyon so much. It had so much life and was so vibrant, the pictures don’t do it justice. Walking into Fern Canyon, there was this amazing smell that I can’t quite place – something like a florist crossed with Christmas. For the first day of our trip where we were out of the RV, this was a perfect kick-off spot.
Pleasant and unpleasant surprises
The first pleasant surprise was that the girls slept quite well in the RV. It was something that we were nervous about and they did great. Everyone slept hard almost every night.
The second pleasant surprise was how excited the girls were when the carriers came out. This continued throughout the trip, to the point that they would point at them and get frustrated if you didn’t put them in fast enough. They’re on their way to being some little hikers in their own right as well.
Some unpleasant surprises included our drive on Route 36 from I-5. It was a very slow drive on a road with some aggressive switchbacks that sometimes had us driving at 10 mph. We also saw a pretty bad accident where cars collided head-on around a cliffside bend. Scary stuff. We’d consider an alternate route to the coast if we make this trip again.
The second unpleasant surprise was that we didn’t get to see as many redwood groves as we wanted. We had some parking restrictions with the RV and timing just didn’t work out.
All in all, an amazing place that warrants more of our time. It was so diverse and so breathtaking.