Planning the Perfect Visit to Redwood National Park

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If you’re planning a visit to Redwood National Park, you probably already know that it preserves redwoods, the tallest trees on Earth. What you may not know is that it also preserves 40 miles of Pacific coastline, inland forest and more. While seeing the redwood trees should certainly be your first priority, allowing time for a few other sights will complete your experience at Redwood National Park.

Additionally, the park lies right along the famed US Highway 101, better known as the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). If you’ve ever dreamed of driving the PCH, you will certainly do that when visiting Redwood National Park.

Lady Bird Johnson Grove
In the Lady Bird Johnson Grove in Redwoods National Park.

One of the best ways to plan a visit to any national park is to look at the map. When looking at the Redwood National Park map, you’ll see that several state parks are included. In 1994, the National Park Service and California State Parks decided to jointly manage the redwoods parklands. Thus, you’ll often see the park named as Redwood National and State Parks.

So, when visiting Redwood National Park, you’ll also (likely) visit Prairie Creed Redwoods State Park, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. Don’t worry too much about whether you are in the National Park or a state park, though. It really is basically all the same.

For simplicity, I will refer to the park as Redwood National Park. Understand that will include parts of the state parks as well.

Simpson-Reed Grove
Simpson-Reed Grove

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How Much Time to Spend at Redwood National Park

When we visit a National Park, we often try to spend as much time as possible to ensure that we fully experience all that the park has to offer. That is especially true when visiting a park that we think we might not return to. Additionally, if you get bad weather or other unexpected wrinkles, it allows you flexibility. So, when I looked at the Redwood National Park map, my first thought was that we’d want four or five days at the park.

Ah Pah Interpretive Trail
Grant checking out an interpretive sign along the Ah Pah Nature Trail.

The park stretches roughly 50 miles, north to south, along the California coast. You’ll see quite a few places of interest and hiking trails on the park map. Knowing that we like to do at least a couple of longer hikes and build in some rest time, I worried that only having a day or two wouldn’t be enough.

Ultimately, I ended up arranging our itinerary to have four full days at Redwood National Park. We really only spent about 2.5 days exploring, though. And, honestly, we probably could have been perfectly content with just one to two days.

So, I’d say give yourself at least one full day at Redwood National Park. Two days would give you a little more time to get in more scenic drives or time exploring the coast. If you are interested in doing any long hikes or just want flexibility, add a third day. 

Bald Hills Road at Redwood National Park
Bald Hills Road

Honestly, though, you can get a good sense of what this park offers in as little as half a day. That said, I don’t think that is enough time to fully appreciate everything the park offers. Still, if that’s all the time you have, you can see and experience quite a bit.

What to See and Do at Redwood National Park

Since Redwood National Park is “long and skinny” along the coastline, you’ll explore the park either northbound or southbound. Either direction would be just fine – it really just depends on where you are staying (more about that below). 

From the north end, start your visit at the Hiouchi Visitor Center, which is 9 miles northeast of Crescent City. On the south end of the park, stop at the Kuchel Visitor Center, which is right on the beach. Be sure to pick up a park map and newspaper, check out the exhibits and talk to a ranger about your plans for your visit.

Kuchel Visitor Center at Redwood National Park.
The Kuchel Visitor Center

Even if you’ve done your research ahead of time, the rangers will always have the most up-to-date information. In our case, we were able to get the full details on a large road closure on Hwy 101. Only basic information was available online. Getting the details from a ranger certainly made our visit a lot more enjoyable, as we were able to plan around the road closure.

A ranger can also help you determine which sights to prioritize based on the amount of time you have and your particular interests. As much as I aim to do that in this article, conditions change and your interests may be different from mine. And, I can admit, that the rangers are definitely the true experts on the park!

Once you have a map and updated information, it’s time to start exploring!

Simpson-Reed Grove (and Walker Road)

Just down the road from the Hiouchi Visitor Center, within Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, be sure to check out Simpson-Reed Grove Trail and other redwood groves along Walker Road.

The Simpson-Reed Grove is right at the corner of Hwy 199 and Walker Road. There is a nice figure-8 loop through the redwood forest that is very easy to walk. Each loop is about a 1/2-mile, making for an easy one-mile stroll altogether. While the loop is not paved, we did see a couple of visitors in wheelchairs who seemed to be navigating the terrain just fine.

The Simpson-Reed Grove at Redwoods National Park.
Simpson-Reed Grove

We also enjoyed the drive farther down the unpaved Walker Road. The road takes you through additional redwood groves. You’ll find several places that you can park and explore along the way. While unpaved, most of the road is fairly easy to navigate, until you get to the very end. At the far northern end, by the Smith River, the turnaround point had some extremely large divots that were difficult to maneuver even in our four-wheel-drive F-150. 

If you have limited time, this is a grove that is very easy to reach and can be explored fairly quickly. 

Drive Howland Hill Road and Explore Stout Grove

In terms of unpaved scenic drives, Howland Hill Road is a nice one that is very easy to handle in any vehicle. If you’re short on time, just driving the road will give you more great views of the redwoods.

Howland Hills Road is a nice scenic drive at Redwood National Park.
Driving Howland Hill Road

If you’re ready for another stroll, check out Stout Grove, near the east end of Howland Hill Road. Be careful, though, and make sure you’re actually at the correct trailhead. We accidentally started at the trailhead for the River Trail, which does eventually take you to Stout Grove but adds on about a 1/2-mile of rocky, uneven terrain that just wasn’t worth the effort to us.

Stout Grove should be easily accessible directly from Howland Hills Road – just look for the turnout, it should be clearly marked. Here, a 1/2-mile trail leads you through an impressive stand of redwoods. The trail through the grove is clearly marked and easy to navigate. Take as long as you want to wander through and marvel at these impressive trees! 

When visiting Redwood National Park, Stout Grove is a fantastic stop.
Bonnie walking through the Stout Grove.

Overall, we liked Stout Grove a bit better than Simpson-Reed. Something about it just seemed a bit more open and had more variety.

Coastal Drive

As you head south on Hwy 101 towards the southern end of the park, take a detour over to the coast and drive the Coastal Drive. You’ll exit the Pacific Coast Highway on Klamath Beach Road, just south of the small town of Klamath. Watch the signs, which will loop you onto Alder Camp Road and the one-way Coastal Road, before returning to Klamath Beach Road.

At the intersection of Alder Camp Road and Coastal Drive, be sure to stop at High Bluff Overlook. This really is an impressive view of the Pacific Ocean and the rocky coastline. There’s even a few picnic tables if it’s time for lunch or a snack.

Coastal Drive at Redwood National Park
View from the Coastal Drive

Continuing north on Coastal Road, take a few minutes to check out the World War II Radar Station. From the outside, these buildings appear to just be a homestead and barn. Inside, radar equipment monitored the area and anti-aircraft machine guns stood ready to defend against enemy attack.

As you continue down Coastal Drive, you’ll get a few more fantastic views of the coast and the mouth of the Klamath River.

Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway

As you approach Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park be sure to exit Hwy 101 and take the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. This is yet another opportunity to explore more redwood trees up close and see a few specific trees that are uniquely interesting.

Even if you don’t have time to stop, this really is a fantastic drive. As wonderful as the PCH is, the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway wins for this particular stretch. 

Ah-Pah Interpretive Trail

At the northern end of the Scenic Parkway, the Ah-Pah Interpretive Trail provides an interesting overview of the logging that was previously done in this area. In fact, it was the outcry over the amount of logging in the area that eventually led to the creation of Redwood National Park.

Ah Pah Interpretive Trail
Along the Ah Pah Nature Trail

Several exhibit signs along the 1/2-mile out-and-back trail show how the park has removed old logging roads and is doing what they can to encourage regrowth of the forest. This is a fairly quick and easy trail that not only features several redwood groves but also provides good insight into the logging of redwood trees.

Corkscrew Tree

As you continue down the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, you’ll find several pullouts with trails that you can get out and explore. Stop at as many or as few as you like. Roadside signs point out several areas of interest and the trails that connect them to help you plan your exploration.

Corkscrew Tree at Redwood National Park
The Corkscrew Tree along the Prairie Creek Trail.

One quick and easy stop is at the Corkscrew Tree. With just a very short walk from the road, you’ll find several trees wound around each other in a corkscrew. I’ll be honest, the pictures of this really don’t do it justice, so hopefully, you will be able to stop and see it for yourself.

Of course, there are plenty of other interesting trees in the area. Explore for as long as you’d like! If you’re short on time, though, you can see the Corkscrew Tree with just a 5 minute stop.

Big Tree Wayside and Circle Trail

Just a minute or two down the road, you’ll find another magnificent tree, aptly named the Big Tree. The Big Tree measures 286 feet tall, with a diameter of almost 24 feet! It is estimated to be about 1500 years old. A large platform partially surrounds the tree, offering plenty of space to take pictures.

The Big Tree is a must-see when visiting Redwood National Park
Big Tree

Of course, the Big Tree is not alone in this grove, as it is surrounded by plenty of other big trees! Take the Circle Trail for a short walk through this grove. The Cathedral Trees Trail and Foothills Trail provide longer hikes and connect to several other trails.

As I’ve said before, there are plenty of opportunities for both short and long walks through the redwoods.

Elk Prairie Visitor Center

At the southern end of the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, you’ll find the Prairie Creek Visitor Center. If you haven’t had a chance to stop at a visitor center yet, or just want more information on the southern end of Redwood National Park, be sure to stop and chat with a ranger. There are also a few exhibits and a small bookstore.

Elhorn Tree at Prairie Creek Visitor Center in Redwood National Park.
No, this tree isn’t growing antlers. A bull elk got its antlers stuck and died. The tree grew up around the antlers.

Several hiking trails start here at the Visitor Center. One short trail that connects the visitor center with the far end of the parking lot is the Revelation Trail. The park developed this trail specifically for the visually impaired but is a great trail for everyone. Various exhibit signs encourage you to use all your senses as you explore the park.

Revelation Trail at Redwood National Park.
Bonnie checking out an exhibit on the Revelation Trail.

This area at Prairie Creek is also a good place to search for Roosevelt elk. While they look very similar to the Rocky Mountain elk that you may have seen at other parks, Roosevelt elk actually are the largest subspecies of North American elk. These once-endangered mammals are now abundant in the area and are commonly seen around Redwood National Park.

Fern Canyon 

If there is one thing you should do at Redwood National Park where redwood trees are not the main attraction, it is to hike Fern Canyon. The hike itself is an easy-moderate one-mile loop down by the coast. Getting to the canyon takes a little effort, though.

Fern Canyon at Redwood National Park.
Fern Canyon

We chose to drive to the trailhead, which is at the end of Davison Road. This is an unpaved road off Hwy 101, just south of the southern end of the Newtown B. Drury Scenic Parkway. Most of the drive is fairly easy to navigate. There are a couple of places where you have to ford a small creek, though. 

If you are driving a vehicle with very low clearance, this may not be a road you want to attempt. When we visited in 2021, water levels were fairly low, though, so we saw plenty of sedans in the parking lot. Definitely check with a ranger on the road conditions but from our experience, most cars should be able to make it.

Fern Canyon at Redwood National Park.
Selfie in Fern Canyon

The other option is to hike to the canyon from the Elk Prairie Visitor Center. This requires a 10-12 mile roundtrip hike, which will likely take you the better part of a full day. Honestly, in hindsight we kind of wish we had done the long hike. We ran into some hikers at another trail who said this was the easiest long hike they had ever done. If we ever return to Redwood National Park, that will probably be first on our list of things to do.

Hiking through Fern Canyon

The hike through Fern Canyon kind of felt like a baby version of hiking the Narrows at Zion National Park. Of course, I say that having never actually hiked the Narrows! Still, you are following a small creek up into the canyon. Basically, the water is the trail and you have canyon walls, covered with ferns and other plants, on either side of you.

Get our tips for visiting Zion National Park in the winter.

Fern Canyon at Redwood National Park.
During the summer months, the park puts out footbridges to make crossing the creek a bit easier.

Note, though, that I said a “baby version” of the Narrows. First, you are following a creek, not a river. So, while your feet might get a little wet, it shouldn’t be anything to worry about, especially during the summer months.

In the summer, the park actually puts down “footbridges” to guide the path up the canyon. That means that you really don’t have to worry about getting wet at all. In fact, after talking to a ranger, we decided to just wear our waterproof hiking shoes rather than sandals or water shoes and did just fine.

As you reach the “end” of the canyon, the trail loops uphill and you can return via a trail that looks down on the canyon. Of course, you could always just turn around and return the way you came.

Fern Canyon at Redwood National Park.
Above Fern Canyon on the loop trail.

While viewing the redwood trees should certainly be your first priority at Redwood National Park, hiking Fern Canyon should be your second priority. We both really enjoyed this easy hike. It is not only interesting and unique, but it is also a nice contrast to the inland redwood groves. 

If you have extra time, I think it would be fun to do this as a full-day hike from the Visitor Center. Driving out to the trailhead certainly saves you time, though.

Trillium Falls Trail

Most of the trails at Redwood National Park are relatively flat and easy. If you are looking for something slightly more strenuous, check out Trillium Falls Trail. The trailhead is located off Davison Road, not far from Hwy 101. 

Trillium Falls Trail
Trillium Falls Trail

We hiked the full loop, which is nearly three miles. For a shorter hike, you can go straight to the waterfall and back, which would be about a mile roundtrip. If you complete the loop clockwise so that the waterfall is at the end, you’ll have a long section of uphill but it’s generally not too steep. 

Throughout the hike, you’ll see several different redwood groves and a nice variety of other plants. In particular, we saw quite a few thriving nurse logs. If you aren’t familiar with the term “nurse log,” it’s basically a dead log that supports other plants. 

Trillium Falls
Trillium Falls

The waterfall is not large but is still nice. And it adds a little variety to the hike instead of just looking at redwoods. Overall, we really enjoyed this hike as something slightly more strenuous but still relatively short. 

Bald Hills Road

Continuing south on Hwy 101, Bald Hills Drive is another scenic drive that we encourage you to take. The real draw here is not the redwood trees, though there are plenty of them along the first half of the road. Keep going until you reach the “bald hills,” which are rolling hills that are NOT covered in trees!

Bald Hills Road at Redwood National Park
Bald Hills Road

What we enjoyed here are the views! It’s just amazing how quickly the view changes from thick forest to open meadow. And, of course, with that, the temperature increased about 10 degrees almost immediately.

Continue driving as far as you like. The farther you go, the better the views.

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

About 2.5 miles down Bald Hills Road you’ll find another nice redwood grove, the Lady Bird Johnson Grove. The 1.5-mile loop trail winds through yet another impressive stand of redwoods and Douglas fir, along with other lush undergrowth.

Lady Bird Johnson Grove of Redwoods
A plaque commemorating Lady Bird Johnson inside the grove with her name.

The grove is named for First Lady Lady Bird Johnson because she visited this site in November 1968 for the dedication of Redwood National Park. About halfway through the loop, you’ll find a marker for the dedication and a couple of exhibit signs.

This particular trail felt a bit lusher and rainforest-like than some others. Of course, that could be because we did the hike in the morning while it still had a nice layer of coastal fog. Either way, it’s a great hike that is slightly more strenuous than some of the others, having about 200 feet of elevation gain.

Lady Bird Johnson Grove of Redwoods
In the Lady Bird Johnson Grove in Redwoods National Park.

I don’t know that this particular grove is necessarily better or worse than any of the others. But, its proximity to other highlights of the park makes it a good grove to visit if you have limited time. 

Tall Trees Trail

Continuing down Bald Hills Road, you’ll find the access road for the Tall Trees Trail. The location of this grove, along Redwood Creek, allows for plenty of water and protection from winds. As a result, many trees exceed 350 feet in height.

But, you have to plan ahead for this hike. This road and trail are only accessible with a permit. The park issues 50 permits per day, so be sure to apply as far in advance as you can. All requests must be made by 9:00 am two days in advance. 

Tall Trees Trail at Redwood National Park
The trail to Tall Trees Grove has a few switchbacks.

To access the Tall Trees Grove, you’ll hike downhill about 1.3 miles, dropping roughly 700 feet in elevation. At the bottom, a one-mile loop trail meanders through the grove. You’ll then have to hike back up those 700 feet! 

The information online makes this elevation change sound much more difficult than it actually is. Of course, we’ve learned that difficulty level varies greatly in different parks. In a park where most trails are very flat and easy, even a little bit of elevation change is noteworthy. Still, if you are used to hiking with elevation change, you should be able to handle this trail.

Tall Trees Grove
Gazing up at the trees in Tall Trees Grove.

I’ll be honest, we enjoyed this hike but it really was nothing special. Yes, the trees are tall… in fact, the tallest tree in the world is here. But it really is difficult to tell that these trees are any taller than any other grove of redwood trees. For us, perhaps the best part of this hike is that it wasn’t terribly crowded.

If you have the time and you want a more strenuous hike, this is a good option. If you can’t get a permit or just don’t have time, there are plenty of other options that are just as good, if not better.

Tidepooling

If you’re ready for a break from all the redwood trees, head over to the coast and do some tidepooling. If you’re not familiar with tidepooling, it’s where you look for marine invertebrates in the small pools of water that are left among the rocky coastline at low tide. 

Tidepooling when visiting Redwood National Park.
Bonnie hunting in the tide pool below the Battery Point Lighthouse.

There are several places to do some tidepooling at Redwood National Park. Check the park website or ask a ranger for suggestions. Also, be sure to look up a tide chart. We got one at our campground. I’m sure you could get one online or at one of the visitor centers. 

We chose to head over to the lighthouse in Crescent City. This was the easiest location for us to get to at low tide. And, it is a large, easy to reach area. We found several starfish, tons of snails and a few crabs. 

Tidepooling in Crescent City while visiting Redwood National Park.
A starfish hiding under a rock in a tide pool.

Honestly, we had better finds a few years ago in Olympic National Park but we also didn’t spend a lot of time tidepooling at Redwood National Park.

Read more about visiting Olympic National Park.

Safety is the biggest concern when tidepooling. The rocks can be very slippery, so move slowly and carefully. You don’t want to injure yourself or the animals. Also, be sure to watch the tide carefully. The hour before low tide is the best time for tide pooling. Once the tide starts coming in, the waves can be dangerous.

Tidepooling really is a great activity, though! If you can time it right, I encourage you to add it to your Redwood National Park itinerary.

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway

If you have extra time, you can drive the Pacific Coast Highway north or south as far as you want. Or, Redwood National Park could be just one stop on your PCH road trip!

We ended up driving south on the PCH one afternoon. We made it down to somewhere near Trinidad. Along the way, we found a few scenic vistas and overlooks. At one of them, near Trinidad, we spotted a large group of sea lions on the beach!

Sea lions on the Pacific Coast near Redwood National Park.
We spotted these sea lions hanging out on a sand bar from scenic overlooks along the Pacific Coast Highway.

This was the first time we’ve seen sea lions out in the wild and it was really fun to watch them! Thankfully, we had binoculars and a camera with a good zoom lens.

Construction on the Pacific Coast Highway

Highway 101, the Pacific Coast Highway, is the only road through Redwood National Park. There are a few side roads to various stops, but the main thoroughfare is Hwy 101. Most of the road is just a two-lane highway. As such, when there is road construction you’ll likely experience delays.

During our visit, there were several small areas where the road was limited to just one lane, with either a flagger or a traffic signal monitoring traffic flow. These offered only small delays of maybe a few minutes. 

Unfortunately, there was one section, between Klamath and Crescent City, where crews were working to repair the road after a large landslide. The landslide actually caused a complete closure of the PCH for at least a couple of months in early 2021. 

During our visit, we had to be prepared for a minimum of a 30-minute delay. And, the road was completely closed for up to two hours at a time several times throughout the day. After we left, the California Department of Transportation adjusted the work times to have closures up to four hours at a time! 

Obviously, this is only a temporary work zone, though I have no idea when they expect work to be complete. That said, with only one road running North to South, this could easily happen again in the future.

As always, just be sure to check the park’s website for alerts and information before you arrive.

Where to Stay 

When planning a visit to Redwood National Park, figuring out where to stay is not necessarily an easy task. While there are a few campgrounds inside the park, none offer RV hookups. There are no lodges in the park.

Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City, CA.
Battery Point Lighthouse

We stayed in Crescent City, which is on the north end of Redwood National Park. Crescent City is not a large town but it does have decent options for lodging, restaurants and other supplies. And, it is very convenient to visit the northern end of the park. Of course, it’s a bit of a drive to the southern end, especially with the massive construction project during our visit.

The smaller town of Klamath is reasonably close to the center of the park. And, we did see a couple of hotels and several RV parks that looked decent. This is a small town, though, and I’m not sure what kind of options there are for food or other supplies.

Crescent Beach
Crescent Beach from the Crescent Beach Overlook

On the southern end, Orick is closest to the park. Trinidad, McKinleyville and Eureka are a bit farther away. Of these, Eureka is the biggest city but also the farthest.

If your itinerary is taking you through the park, you might do one night on the north end and another night on the south end. For those with more time, staying in Crescent City or Eureka will offer the most options but also will require the most driving.

Read TripAdvisor Reviews and book a hotel in Crescent City.

Village Camper Inn

We spent five nights camping at the Village Camper Inn in Crescent City. The campground had several different areas, with a couple of them obviously housing permanent residents. The area we were in appeared to be mostly short-term visitors. 

Campsite at the Village Camper Inn in Crescent City, CA
Our campsite in Crescent City

Overall, we enjoyed the campground. The sites were fairly close together, with no trees or other separation from your neighbors. Honestly, though, the weather was so cool and misty that we didn’t spend a lot of time outdoors. 

If you’re looking for a place to stay in an RV or even a tent, Village Camper Inn is a good option. Just be prepared to do a bit of driving to get to the south end of the park. It’s a nice drive, though, so we didn’t mind it too much. I wouldn’t want to do it more than two days, though.

Read our in-depth campground reviews here.

Where to Eat

There are no dining options within the campground. I don’t think we even saw snacks for sale at any of the visitor centers. If you are planning a full day in the park you’ll definitely need to bring lunch and some snacks with you.

The Chart Room in Crescent City
Half a grilled crab sandwich and clam chowder.

We did find a couple of good restaurants in Crescent City, though.

Since you’re on the coast, you might as well get some seafood. The Chart Room is a good place to do just that. Grant really enjoyed the grilled crab sandwich and clam chowder. I opted for fish tacos, filled with Pacific cod and topped with cabbage. Also be sure to check the floating docks just outside the restaurants, as they are a popular hangout for sea lions. 

If seafood isn’t your thing, head over to SeaQuest Brewing for a drink and/or a meal. SeaQuest offers a good variety of beer, which I sampled with a flight. In terms of food, the cheese curds appetizer was fantastic! 

SeaQuake Brewery in Crescent City
Beer and cheese curds at the SeaQuake Brewery in Crescent City.

There is also a good grocery store and a Walmart so you can get what you need for a picnic lunch in the park.

Final Thoughts on Visiting Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park is one of those interesting parks that you can get in a fairly thorough visit in just one day. You could also keep yourself occupied for three or four days (or more) if you really wanted to. 

Big Tree
Selfie by the Big Tree

The park has a wide variety of places to see redwood trees, all of which are great. Do you necessarily need to visit all of them? I don’t think so. While the redwoods never get old, one grove of trees really is not all that different from another grove. Just explore however many you can in the time that you have.

In addition to walking through a couple of redwood groves, hiking through Fern Canyon should be at the top of your Redwood National Park itinerary. With additional time, enjoy the drive down Bald Hills Road and along the coast as well. There certainly is no shortage of good views along the Pacific Coast Highway!

Whether you spend a few hours or a few days, Redwood National Park is an interesting park with a lot more variety than you might initially think.

 

Travel Resources
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What if I want to rent an RV?

We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
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We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.

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