The gateway to the North Coast Redwoods
HIGHLIGHTS: A four-hour drive from San Francisco, Richardson Grove State Park features stunning coast redwoods more than 300 feet tall and a national “wild and scenic” river (the South Fork of the Eel). Its huge redwoods include a bat-roosting tree, walk-through tree and chandelier-shaped trees. Established in 1922, the park was one of California’s first redwood parks. It began at 120 acres—only a quarter the size of Muir Woods National Monument today. With the help of Save the Redwoods League and other generous donors, the park has grown to 1,800 acres. Richardson Grove is liveliest in the summer, when it opens its visitor center and nature store and offers campfire programs, Junior Ranger (external link) activities, and guided nature walks.
ACTIVITIES: Hiking (on 9 miles of trails), picnicking, swimming, catch-and-release fishing and camping amid giants.
- The South Fork of the Eel River is popular for swimming and sunbathing in the summer and for salmon and steelhead catch-and-release fishing in the winter. Anglers 16 or older need a valid California fishing license.
- A deep, picture-perfect swimming hole lies just beyond the Dawn Redwood Group Camp north of the visitor center. South of the visitor center, there’s a riverside picnic or “day use” area where the waters are shallower—and better for young children. Some visitors enjoy floating from one swimming spot to the other with inner tubes. Use caution: while the South Fork of the Eel is placid in summer, it can be swift in the rainy season. No lifeguards are on duty. Children should be supervised at all times. Also avoid swimming late in the season if there’s a buildup of blue-green algae.
Just for Kids
- At the Richardson Grove Visitor Center, you’ll find hands-on displays, friendly docents, and a schedule of activities. Most of the park’s ranger- or docent-led programs (including campfire talks, nature walks, and Junior Ranger programs) start up on Memorial Day weekend and end after Labor Day. Aimed at kids age 7 through 12, these programs offer games, crafts, hiking and exploring with other children.
- Redwood EdVentures (external link) offers fun for the entire family. Go on a self-guided treasure hunt in many North Coast redwood state parks, including Richardson Grove. Find the final clue and win a cool patch!
- To enhance your visit, get a copy of California State Parks’ Adventure Guide (external link). Download the guide, pick it up at the visitor center, or call 916-653-8959 to order a copy. It’s applicable to any state-park visit.
- Before heading to Richardson Grove, explore the Redwoods Learning Center. It offers fun, redwood-themed activities, classroom tools, and ways to get involved in redwood protection. Redwoods bingo, anyone?
VISITOR CENTER: Built between 1928 and 1930, Richardson Grove Lodge was the hub of entertainment for the first tourists here. Now it’s the park’s visitor center. A free one-hour pass is available. Hours of operation vary; call (707) 247-3378. Open from mid-May to mid-September.
CAMPGROUNDS: Richardson Grove has three family campgrounds, with a total of 169 sites, as well as one site for hikers and bicyclists and one group camp for 9 to 40 people. Some sites are open only in the summer. Huckleberry and Madrone family campgrounds and the Dawn Redwood Group Campground are open year-round. Oak Flat Campground is open mid-June through mid-September. RV access: Trailers up to 24 feet; campers/motorhomes up to 30 feet.
For more information, contact Reserve America at 800-444-7275 or online (external link).
TRAIL: Richardson Grove State Park has 9 miles of trails. Bring water, appropriate clothing, and a park map.
- Grove Interpretive Trail (0.3 mile loop, level): Starting at the visitor center, the Grove Interpretive Trail (aka the “race track” trail) is a good place to start any exploration of Richardson Grove. Heading south on a wide, level path, you’ll pass huge old-growth trees, including a “chandelier tree” with reiterated trunks branching several hundred feet above the ground. Signs describe the colorful history and ecology of Richardson Grove.
- North of the Visitor Center (less than 1 mile): Skyscraping ancient redwoods stand north of the visitor center, too. A handout at the visitor center explains what to look for at several numbered stops. At the far end of that short loop, you can continue through an underpass and head down the Exhibit Trail on the other side of Highway 101. Among its attractions are a colossal fallen redwood that dates back to 700 A.D.: “Beginning with a fire injury in 1147, this tree was again scarred by fire in the 16th, 18th, and 19th centuries,” explains an interpretive sign. “Fires continued to weaken the tree until March 12, 1933, when the tree finally gave up the fight and fell.” Touch the tree’s rings, and imagine the centuries gone by.
- Lookout Point, Tanoak Springs, and Durphy Creek Loop (4-mile loop): To sample Richardson’s diverse habitats, take a 4-mile jaunt on the Lookout Point, Tanoak Springs and Durphy Creek trails. From Madrone Campground, head up the Lookout Point Trail. When the trail forks, stay left, enjoying redwoods and Douglas-firs on the way to Lookout Point. A brief stretch on the trail to Hartsook Inn will bring you to the Tanoak Spring Trail, which heads upward to a forested ridge. From the ridge, the trail descends to Tanoak Spring. Then hike down to Durphy Creek, where the trail levels out among redwoods. When you hit the park road, turn right to return to the trailhead. Great for seeing both streamside redwoods and upland habitat.
- Lookout Point Loop (2.4-mile loop, 340-foot elevation gain): The Lookout Point Loop is the most scenic part of the longer hike described above. The route starts in the main redwood grove and loops through ancient redwoods at a higher elevation. It’s interesting to compare the two. Check out Redwoodhikes.com (external link) for more hiking details.
- Woodland Loop (1.6-mile loop, 500-foot elevation gain): The Woodland Loop starts near the ranger station and Huckleberry Campground. To enrich the hike for children 7 to 12, ask at the visitor center or go online (external link) to get a self-guided Quest guide. You’ll return with newfound knowledge of huckleberries, live oaks, madrones, nurse logs, fairy rings, and more.
- Toumey Trail (3.8-mile loop): Start the Toumey Trail between campsites 123 and 126 at the Oak Flat Campground (also the start of the Settlers Trail Loop). Enjoy big trees near the river, then climb up to Panorama Point. From there, switchback down to Kauffman Springs. The trail descends to the swimming hole at the north end of the park. Cross the northernmost bridge, follow park roads south to the southernmost bridge and you’ll arrive at Oak Flat Campground. Because the bridge to Oak Flat Campground is removed in the rainy season, this route is accessible only in the summer.
- Settlers Trail Loop (0.7 miles): Begin Settlers Trail Loop between campsites 123 and 126 at the Oak Flat Campground (also the start of the Toumey Trail). When the trail forks, turn right, eventually crossing Settlers Creek. When you reach the campground again, walk north on the road to your starting point. Because the bridge to Oak Flat Campground is removed in the rainy season, this route is accessible only in the summer.
MUST-SEE UNIQUE FEATURE OR SEASONAL HIGHLIGHT: Just south of the visitor center, the Grove Interpretive Trail describes the colorful history and the ecology of Richardson Grove.
HIDDEN GEM: A colony of Yuma myotis insect-eating brown bats, hangs out near the Richardson Grove visitor center. Look for their home, a hollowed-out tree near the start of the Grove Interpretive Trail.
FEATURES ACCESSIBLE TO PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: Nature Trail, restrooms, parking, showers. No designated wheelchair-accessible campsites, but several may be suitable. Call 707-247-3318.
DOGS: On leash in developed areas. Not on trails.
ENTRANCE FEE: $8 for day-use vehicle entry; no charge to walk or bike into the park.
MORE INFORMATION: The Richardson Grove State Park brochure offers information on the park’s natural and cultural history as well as tips for planning your visit. You also can call the Richardson Park Ranger Station at 707-247-3318 or visit the state park website (external link).
California’s Redwood Coast website (external site) offers resources to help plan your trip to Humboldt County.
- If you have an hour: Get a free, one-hour pass at the visitor center, and admire the tall trees on the gentle Grove (aka “race-track”) Interpretive Trail.
- If you have half a day: Hike the Woodland Loop, and (in summer) take a dip in the South Fork of the Eel River.
- If you have a full day: Sample all the park’s habitats by hiking the Lookout Point-Tan Oak Springs-Durphy Creek Loop. Set up camp and (in summer) take a dip in the river, cook a hearty meal, and gather for an old-fashioned campfire program.
On the drive to the park, Regan Ranoa, Outreach Manager, loves to stop at Bluebird Cafe (external link) in Hopland (along 101 heading north to Mendocino or Humboldt) for pie.
STOP: One Log House (external link) for gifts, coffee and fun photo-ops.
Bob Hansen, former President at The Yosemite Fund, suggests staying or dining at the historic Benbow Inn (external link). The Benbow has a great restaurant, bar and outdoor plaza and offers deals off weekends for events like a murder mystery, etc.
FAVORITE HIKE: Lookout Point loop (external link) is the best hike in Richardson Grove. It starts in the park’s impressive main grove, and then climbs to a fine old-growth upland grove.
DON’T MISS: Regan recommends going farther north and exploring the Avenue of the Giants. Check out our 50 ways to celebrate the parkway!
Tell us your favorite stops, hikes, places to eat, and more when visiting this park!
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