When we first planned our 2018 visit, I can honestly say the wildlife in Redwood National Park was not even on our list. We booked campsites and day hikes to stand under towering trees, not to spend the week with binoculars in hand. Yet some of our most memorable experiences in Redwood included watching the critters that call this park home. One of our highlights was filling out a ‘Rare Wildlife Sighting Log’ at the ranger station for a black bear we spotted on our last morning in the park.
So, where are the best places to see wildlife in Redwood National Park? Three popular places to see large mammals (Roosevelt elk, black-tailed deer, black bears, marine mammals) are Gold’s Bluff Beach, Elk Meadow, and the Elk Valley/Humboldt Road Area.
Before we talk about each location, let’s first unpack what types of wildlife you’re likely to spot in Redwood National and State Parks:
Getting to Know the Wildlife in Redwood National Park
Redwood National and State Park’s wildlife and plant species are so unique, the parks have been designated a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve. Visitors can find more than 60 different species of land mammals and some incredible marine mammals.
Some of the most popular include:
- Ungulates: Roosevelt elk, Black-tailed deer
- Rodents: Mountain beaver, Allen’s chipmunk, woodrats
- Seals and Sea Lions: Stellar Sea Lion, California Sea Lion, Harbor Seal, Elephant Seal
- Whales & Dolphins: Gray Whale, Humpback Whale, Killer Whale, Harbor Porpoise
While more rare, it’s also possible to spot carnivores with ranges that border and include the park. These include bobcats, mountain lions, coyotes, and black bears.
3 Best Places to See Wildlife in Redwood National Park
1. Gold Bluffs Beach
Located within Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in the mid-section of Redwoods National and State Parks, Gold Bluffs Beach is a popular spot to see both land and marine wildlife. One of the more remote beaches, it’s a long stretch of golden sand available only by hiking or traveling down an unpaved road.
During our September visit, we hiked to Gold Bluffs Beach as an add-on to our Fern Canyon hike. We were the only people out on the beach when we stopped for lunch. During the short time we were there we spotted male and female Roosevelt elk walking along the sand dunes of the beach. As we ate, we were treated to a harbor seal and a pair of porpoises fishing just offshore.
From November to December and from March to April, Gold Bluffs Beach becomes a popular location for whale watching as well.
There are two ways to reach Gold Bluff’s Beach: hiking or in a vehicle.
Hike from any of the trails leaving the parking area at the Prairie Creek Visitor’s Center that head to the beach. The James Irvine and Miner’s Ridge Trails both offer chances to see Roosevelt elk (and some gorgeous old-growth Redwoods) along the way.
Gold Bluffs Beach can be reached by vehicle from Hwy 101 via Davison Road, a six-mile, 15 mph, rough dirt road. Note there are size restrictions on vehicles and no trailers of any kind allowed on Davison Road.
2. Elk Meadow & Elk Prairie
While you’re in the Prairie Creek Redwood State Park, another popular place to spot wildlife is the Elk Meadow/Elk Prairie areas in the southern part of the park. Roosevelt elk can be spotted here all times of the year. They are especially visible in the early hours of the morning and in the late evening just before sunset.
During the spring, this is a popular location to see mothers with calves. In the fall, the elk congregate in the grassy areas of Elk Meadow for
Elk Prairie is located off the Newton Drury Scenic Parkway in Prairie Creek Redwood State Park. Follow the Parkway off Hwy 101 and watch for wildlife in the meadows as you reach the visitor center and campgrounds. There are viewing platforms in several areas along the road.
Located along Davison Road (off Hwy 101, 3.5 miles) on the way towards Gold Bluffs Beach, Elk Meadow has good parking and visibility for elk viewing.
3. Klamath River Overlook
If marine wildlife catches your eye, then the best place to stop is the Klamath River Overlook. A resident population of grey whales can be spotted here year-round, with large migrating populations visiting in the months of November to December and March to April. The overlook is high off the water, however, the lower overlook/beach area can be reached on a steep 1/4 mile trail.
While you’re at the overlook, watch for sea lions, other whales, and the incredible population of sea birds that call Redwoods National and State Parks their home.
Follow the signs for the Klamath River Overlook near the town of Klamath, California. Leave Hwy 101 on Requa Road and follow the road until you reach the overlook. On the south banks of the Klamath River is the Coastal Drive Loop, a scenic drive in Redwood. Follow Klamath Beach Road to the High Bluff overlook for another chance to see whales, sea lions, and pelicans.
Other Places to Check Out Wildlife in Redwood National Park
While the mammal watching in Redwood National Park is outstanding, so are the opportunities to spot some rare and endangered species. During your stay, consider these other places to check out wildlife in the park.
- Tidepooling – The rocky shores of Redwood National and State Park offer some of the best tide pool habitats in all of the National Park Service. Endert’s Beach, the Damnation Creek Trail, and the mouth of Wilson’s Creek are some tide pool hot spots in the park. Check the tide schedule at one of the visitor’s centers when you arrive for best viewing times.
- Bird Watching – One of the amazing facts we saw posted in Redwood National Park: There are more than 280 species of birds that spend time in the park (either resident or migratory). There are only 800 species that live in the United States! The diversity of bird watching in Redwood National and State Parks is impressive. Visitors can spot coastal sea birds (cormorants, loons, sea ducks), beach and shorebirds (gulls, terns, pelicans), wetland birds (bald eagle, herons, egrets) as well as species that are endemic to the Redwood forest habitat. Stop by any of the ranger stations when you arrive and pick up a bird watching list. You’ll be surprised how many you can spot in just a short visit to the park.