Escape crowds at these 6 enthralling, lesser-known redwood parks

From pygmy redwood forests to walk-in camping, these places offer a variety of cool experiences

Three people stand at the base of a giant redwood
California State Parks Backpacking Adventures guides summer trips through the pictured Portola Redwoods State Park and other redwood parks of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Photo by Vivian Chen has long showcased more than 100 national, state, and local redwood parks in California as well as a few in Oregon. To help narrow your choices as summer approaches, consider these favorite, off-the-beaten-track parks as chosen by Save the Redwoods League staff members if you’re seeking splendor with more of the parks to yourself.

Listed from north to south:


A boardwalk on the left side leads through a scrubby forest of short trees.
Redwoods that could be hundreds of years old are only 10 feet tall in this pygmy forest in Van Damme State Park in Mendocino County. Along with redwoods, pines and cypresses are a mere fraction of the height they would be in a normal forest. The stunted trees are the result of poor soil and limited drainage and root movement. Photo by mlhradio, Flickr Creative Commons

River, coast, pygmy forest, and history

Van Damme State Park is 3 miles south of the charming town of Mendocino, where the Little River crosses Highway 1. The park is a great place for hiking, biking, birding, jogging, kayaking, and watching salmon spawn. Its trails include a quarter-mile-long wheelchair-accessible boardwalk to view stunted redwoods and other conifer trees in a pygmy forest. Camping spots include nine hike-in sites in a beautiful redwood forest. The 1930s-era visitor center was once a recreation hall for the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Hendy Woods State Park is a state park of California, USA, located in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County, known for its old-growth coast redwoods.
Flat trails lead through the ancient redwoods of Hendy Woods State Park. Photo by Mike Shoys.

Easily accessible ancient forest

In Mendocino County in the heart of the Anderson Valley winemaking region, Hendy Woods State Park’s easy trails lead through spectacular ancient coast redwoods along the Navarro River. The area is warmer than most redwood parks along the coast, making Hendy Woods popular for swimming in the summer and canoeing and kayaking in late winter and early spring. Our staffer also likes the nearby wine-tasting opportunities. The park offers many wheelchair-accessible features, including campsites, a cabin, the half-mile All-Access Trail, and day-use area.

Bluffs lead down to a dark sand beach at sunset. Rock formations rise from the ocean.
Rock formations are highlights of Sonoma Coast State Park, which also offers walk-in camping among redwoods. Photo by Nikita, Flickr Creative Commons.

Dramatic coast and quiet camping

Sonoma Coast State Park offers several beaches separated by dramatic rock bluffs and headlands spanning 17 miles from Bodega Head to Vista Trail, about 4 miles north of Jenner in Sonoma County. Beachcombers, anglers, sunbathers, and picnickers can reach the beach from more than a dozen points along coast Highway 1. Look for lounging harbor seals on the beach near Jenner. Pomo Canyon Campground offers 21 first-come, first-served primitive campsites in lovely redwood canyon along a seasonal stream. These walk-in campsites are within a quarter mile of the parking lot, away from the din of traffic. Our staffer has always been able to find a last-minute campsite, even on weekends.

A dirt path leads from the foreground to the midground. A scenic vista of mountains and forest lies in the background.
Indian Tree Preserve in Novato is a place for scenic views, cool breezes, and redwood stands. Photo by Ben Amstutz, Flickr Creative Commons.

Cool retreat for hot days

In Marin County, locals love Indian Tree Preserve west of Novato as a shady place to beat the heat. Breezes from the west, as well as the north-facing slopes cloaked in oak, bay, and madrone will keep you cool in summer and early fall. Big Trees Trail lives up to its name: Hike through stands of redwoods and mature woodlands that open up to scenic views of Stafford Lake. On a clear day, look for Mount Saint Helena at the edge of Lake County. Biking, horseback riding, and dog walking are favorite activities here.

You don't have to go far for great hikes and beautiful redwoods, like these in Purisima Creek Redwoods OSP. Photo by Julie Martin.
Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve showcases a lush, second-growth forest. Photo by Julie Martin.

A verdant forest overlooking Half Moon Bay

Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve lies in the Santa Cruz Mountains overlooking Half Moon Bay in San Mateo County. The centerpiece is Purisima Creek Canyon, with its towering second-growth redwoods, rushing creek, and understory of ferns, berries, and wildflowers. Visitors love hiking, biking, and horseback riding here. Magnificent views of the coast and Half Moon Bay are highlights from the northern part of the preserve.

Old-growth redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains

Also in San Mateo County, Portola Redwoods State Park is one of the few old-growth redwood parks in the Santa Cruz Mountains that didn’t burn in the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex fires. Here you’ll find a deeply shaded redwood forest, offering a hushed getaway from nearby Silicon Valley. Eighteen miles of trails follow meandering creeks, where giant coast redwoods stand tall among ferns and huckleberries. Portola also protects some of the most remote and scenic redwoods in the region: Peters Creek Grove. Hiking, camping, backpacking, and picnicking are favorite activities in the park.


About the author

Since 1918, Save the Redwoods League has protected and restored redwood forests and connected people with their peace and beauty so these wonders of the natural world flourish.

bear reading the blog
Get the latest redwood updates in your inbox

Leave a Reply