Redwood National and State Parks, Crescent City, CA

SPECIAL REPORT • The West's untapped treasures
Lora J. Finnegan

"Ambassadors from another time" is how John Steinbeck described redwoods in Travels with Charley. Redwood National and State Parks contain thousands of such ambassadors. In fact, it's home to some of the world's tallest and oldest trees.

Shaped like a gnarled finger, the park covers some 105,000 acres and 37 miles of coastline near the California-Oregon border. Redwood National Park is unique, as it's managed in concert with Prairie Creek, Del Norte Coast, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Parks.

Bisected by U.S. 101, the park is easy to zoom through. Take your time and the place will quickly reveal its wonders: herds of elk, misty canyons, ancient trees.

Ranger Philip Rovai suggests I take the scenic, winding drive down Davison Road for a short walk up Fern Canyon as well as for the likelihood of spotting Roosevelt elk. First I join him on a hike into magnificent Stout Grove, by the Smith River's teal waters. Towering above us are coast redwoods, or Sequoia sempervirens, which can live up to 3,000 years. "Stand next to a massive redwood and just look up - you feel small in the world, like when you gaze up at the stars at night," Rovai says.

WHERE: Along U.S. 101 north of Eureka.

WHEN: Open year-round; April through October is best.

COST: $2 day use.

SERVICES: For maps, visit the Redwood Information Center off U.S. 101 south of Orick (707/464-6101, ext. 5265). There are 335 campsites ($12; 800/444-7275). For lodging, contact the Crescent City/Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce (800/343-8300 or www.northerncalifornia.net).

ACTIVITIES: In Prairie Creek Redwoods, hike the .7-mile Fern Canyon loop. From U.S. 101, take Davison Rd. (unpaved, but drivable) 8 miles to its end; en route, you may see Roosevelt elk. The 1/2-mile Stout Grove Trail is off Howland Hill Rd. in Jedediah Smith Redwoods.

CONTACT: (707) 464-6101 or www.nps.gov/redw.