The famous redwood forests of northern California and southern Oregon are so vast that several public preserves have been created over the years. In 1994, the U.S. Park Service and the State of California merged them under a better-manageable umbrella: Redwood National and State Parks. They encompass Redwood National Park, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park.
In all, the parks encompass approximately 132,000 acres (53,440 hectares). The area includes some 40 miles (64 kilometers) of Pacific coastline—a blend of rugged but spectacular bluffs and beautiful lagoons and beaches. The system also involves two rivers and prairie terrain.
Wildlife in the Parks
As the name implies, the parks are known for their towering coast redwood species. Some of these trees have existed more than 2,000 years. Their relatives may have been present in the Jurassic Period, as long ago as 200 million years.
They grow well above 300 feet (91 meters) high and as thick as 25 feet (7.5 meters) in diameter. Basically, a typical coast redwood is as tall as a city skyscraper more than 30 stories high. One redwood in the national park is slightly under 380 feet (114 meters) tall; it is the largest known tree in the world. These trees seem resistant to most common insect and disease threats.
The region receives steady rainfall (more than 100 inches a year, on average) and dense fogs from off the Pacific that support rich vegetation. It’s been estimated that as much as 40 percent of the local moisture is derived from ocean-generated fog. The parks’ situation is unique in its combination of climate and its elevation above sea level. No other environment on earth is the same.
Besides the redwoods, the parks preserve impressive Douglas firs, Sitka spruces, ponderosa pines and other trees. The parks also are noted for their varied wild flowering plants such as rhododendrons, blackberries, huckleberries and azaleas.
Within the mystic forests, visitors may encounter black bears and other wildlife. Offshore, they observe oceanic species including gray whales, sea lions, seals and multiple waterfowl.
Rangers lead tour groups through the parks from mid-May to mid-September, pointing out important features. Pacific Ocean overlooks are popular. Optionally, visitors can tour the forests by car. Some of the scenic roads are paved, including the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway through the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Others are unpaved, such as the Cal-Barrel Road and the Howland Hill Road. Generally, park byways are bicycle-accessible.
Preservation Measures Through the Years
Majestic, old-growth redwoods provided a vast store of building lumber for California settlers during the 1800s and early 1900s. The three state parks were created during the 1920s, the national park in 1968.
Early conservationists recognized the danger of extinction by lumbering if the redwoods were not protected by law. They succeeded in their efforts, though most of the redwood forests by then were obliterated. Only about four percent of the region’s original old-growth redwoods remain.
The Parks’ Human Legacy
American Indians have lived in the redwood region for thousands of years—and still do. Park managers strive to preserve not just the ancient forests but the cultural heritage of the people.
In summer, Yurok and Tolowa dancers perform at no charge. Dance leaders explain to visitors the significance of the dances in their cultures. Information centers display thousands of archaeological artifacts and modern arts and crafts.
Other Area Attractions
Visitors to the Redwood National and State Parks almost invariably combine their itineraries with visits to other sites of interest in the vicinity. They include:
* Crater Lake National Park
* Lava Beds National Monument
* Smith River National Recreation Area
* Lassen Volcanic National Park
* Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
* Tulowa Dunes State Park
Tourists also may want to see the Battery Point Lighthouse Museum and the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center in Crescent City, California.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated Redwood National and State Parks both a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve.