The southern part of the park offers a variety of distinct ecosystems, from impressive dunes to lakes and marshes, that provide pleasant year-round rambling as well. From the circular parking area at the end of Sand Hill Road, Gates suggests, take the Sweetwater Creek Trail for a 2.5-mile round-trip through grassy and forested dunes to the beach. On this trail you can also see restoration work being done by the Tolowa Dunes Stewards in partnership with the North Coast Redwoods District and Redwood Parks Conservancy. This group of dedicated volunteers removes European beach grass and other invasive plants, and provides educational programming such as native plant identification or salmon habitat walks.
To experience the dune trails, meadows, marshes, and long stretches of beach on the Tolowa Coast, mount a horse for a guided ride with Crescent Trail Rides, which operates year-round. The Smith River is renowned for salmon and steelhead fishing, and Lake Earl hosts a good population of cutthroat trout. The lake area is also known for waterfowl hunting from mid-October through January.
For vast ocean vistas beyond a protected marine reserve, head just south of the park to Point St. George Heritage Area. From the bluffs, on a clear day you can catch a glimpse of the reef and its historic lighthouse six miles offshore—take your binoculars for the best views and for spotting migrating gray whales. About 3 miles farther south lies Crescent City, the area’s largest town. Plan to spend some time exploring, dining, and shopping. Crescent Beach and Enderts Beach—a quick three-quarter-mile hike from the Crescent Beach overlook—are great places to beachcomb. For a bowl of Creole seafood stew, local microbrews, harbor views, and a sea lion chorus, head to Schmidt’s House of Jambalaya.
To pick up a comprehensive brochure on the park and learn more tips, stop by a visitor center in either Crescent City or inland at Hiouchi, near 10,000-acre Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.