We’re a family who loves spending our vacation days in the wilderness, and few places are as wild and beautiful as the Northern California and Southern Oregon Redwoods. However, we prefer hiking into isolated backcountry sites to campgrounds, and while the Redwoods feature some of the most stunning scenery I’ve seen, the trails are short in length, without ample backpacking options.
Because of this technicality, we passed over this region far too long. At the end of May, we decided to rethink the Redwoods, creating an itinerary for ourselves that included multiple short day hikes sandwiched by a fun cabin stay at the Crescent City/Redwoods KOA.The Redwood groves in this area pocket coastal forests between Eureka, California and Brookings, Oregon. If they had a ‘Redwood capital’, it would be Crescent City, California, which can be accessed either from the coast along Highway 101 (from north or south) or via the scenic Redwoods Highway (Hwy 199) from I-5 in Southern Oregon.
Either route will drop your family into increasingly beautiful scenery. Along less than 20 miles of coastline, the Rogue, Smith, and Chetco rivers all flow into the ocean, all of which feed Redwood groves with nutrient rich flood waters. The forests here are damp, with a ground cover of ferns and moss and nurse logs that invite kids to explore and parents to breathe deep and feel rejuvenated.
We started feeling the effects of the magical Redwoods as we drove down Highway 101 past Gold Beach and Brookings, watching the Pacific crash from the car windows. For our introductory hike in the Redwoods, we detoured to drive six miles inland up the Chetco river to Alfred Loeb State Park to try the Redwood Nature Trail. We hiked several looped miles, gaping at the tall trees, pointing out banana slugs and salamanders, and climbing over root systems, then piled back in the car to check out our digs for the next two days: a deluxe cabin at the Crescent City/Redwoods KOA.
As a family who prefers isolation to crowds, we’ve been unsure about KOAs in the past…until we started trying them in earnest a year ago. What we discovered: KOAs have changed since I was a kid. Each location is different, but most now offer a combination of resort amenities paired with natural offerings like pretty campsites and rustic lodging that can be perfect as a ‘base camp’ for an outdoor-focused trip.
The Crescent City/Redwoods KOA is situated on a grassy field and Redwood grove (yes, really!) just a few miles from the hikes we’d planned. The RV spots and check-in area are in the open field, but drive down the narrow dirt roads that weave among the Redwood grove, and you’ll find lovely tent camping sites and rustic cabins that are on par for beauty with the best state park campgrounds in the area.
We stayed in a deluxe cabin, which upgraded us from the standard amenities of the rustic cabins (electricity and heaters) to include a full bathroom with shower and a kitchenette (with microwave, sink, mini fridge and coffee maker). The main room included a queen bed, and a cozy annex housed a built-in bunk bed. We also had a TV (not necessary) and WIFI (very convenient for writing down thoughts for this review!). Our little patio included an outdoor fire pit and picnic table, plus covered porch.
Unlike the standard cabins, deluxe cabins are located in the RV loop, which made me long to be tucked away in the woods. However, the kids liked being steps away from the bike rentals and game room (with ping pong and fusbol), and we had a nice field to look out over. We spent our first night settling into our cabin and grilling dinner, then the subsequent day hiking additional Redwood trails, playing in the ocean, and walking along the Smith River. Every trailhead and beach was within 25 minutes of the KOA. Every time we returned to the campground, the kids scattered to play ping pong, explore the wooded loop, where they climbed on nurse logs and Redwood stumps, and visit the goats and chickens in the KOA petting zoo.
- Redwood Nature Trail: This trail is actually a trail network of multiple loops that wind upslope of the Chetco River. You see multiple redwoods and other pines, as well as a clear, cold creek. Be sure to pay attention to which turns you take in order to find your way back to the start, as it’s not as well marked as we would like. Directions: from Highway 101, turn east at Constitution Way to North Bank Chetco Road. Go 7.5 miles to Alfred Loeb State Park. The trailhead is half a mile past the entrance.
- Simpson Reed Grove Trail: One of the most stunning trails through old growth redwoods, this trail is less than one mile and is easy to follow and well-marked. There’s an extra loop, the Peterson Memorial Grove, that extends the hike if desired. Also nearby is Stout Grove, an even shorter trail with breathtaking views. Directions: from Highway 199 (Redwood Highway), find the trailhead just before Jedediah Smith State Park, right off 199.
- Boy Scout Tree Trail: One of the longer hikes in the area, the Boy Scout trail is 2.8 miles. It passes through the Valley of the Giants to conclude at the Boy Scout Tree and Fern Falls. If you have a full day to explore one trail, this is the one. Directions: From Highway 101 South, take Elk Valley Road to Howland Road to the trailhead. The drive is 25 minutes from the Crescent City/Redwoods KOA.
Head just a few miles north from the KOA on Highway 101, and you’ll be in Oregon. Our favorite beaches include:
- Harris Beach State Park: this beach is characterized by plenty of beach access and sandy space with large rock formations. There are picnic areas as well. Find it right off Highway 101 north of Brookings, Oregon.
- Whaleshead Beach: Whaleshead is just a bit further north of Harris Beach, with parking on the east side of the highway and a pedestrian tunnel to the beach. Kids love the creek that runs into the ocean and lots of rock formations.
River Access worth exploring:
Head up Highway 199 just past Jedediah Smith State Park, and swim (in summer) in the Smith River. Families will find swimming holes directly off the road at pull-outs. The Chetco River also offers great wading and swimming at Alfred Loeb State Park east of Brookings. Look for the day use area at the campground.
No matter what you do in the Northern California and Southern Oregon Redwoods, plan to stay at least 2-3 days to get a feel for this region.
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Disclosure: This post was written in partnership with KOA. All activities were planned by us, and all opinions are our own.