Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park has around 60 miles of trails, giving access to varied landscapes including dense redwood forest, high ridges covered by fir trees, deep ravines, long grass meadows and Pacific Ocean beaches.
The centerpiece of Prairie Creek is Elk Prairie, a grassy meadow surrounded by giant redwoods standing heroically in the misty coastal sunshine. Often, a herd of Roosevelt elk grazes languidly on the golden prairie. On nearby Gold Bluffs Beach, more elk wallow in tidal rivers as waves wash vast empty beaches under redwood-capped bluffs.
Stepping under the redwood canopy, you’ll find the lushest forest of any old-growth redwood park. Every surface has something green growing on it: lichens hang from branches overhead, moss covers the rocks, and fallen trees have other trees growing on top of them. A deep and unbroken lawn of ferns gives the forest a manicured, garden-like appearance. Breaks in the canopy reveal glimpses of distant trees towering toward the sky. The colors are unusually light; the foliage and the ferns are a light pastel green, while the redwoods’ bark is a light grey.
There are, of course, plenty of great redwoods here, but the best ones are right around the visitor’s center, so you could easily see them without hiking the entire trail. That would be a mistake, though, since what really makes this hike great is the way it unfolds through a variety of environments, passing from a redwood-lined ridgetop, to a wide-open undeveloped beach, and finally through a lush creek valley.
Prairie Creek lacks a “main attraction” alluvial-flat loop hike to serve as a focal point and bring in visitors. The most popular attraction is Fern Canyon, which is the only part of the park that can get busy. Even on summer weekends the rest of the park is never particularly busy, and in the winter you can spend an entire weekend on the trail without seeing even one other hiker.
Walk north on the wide beach. Remarkably, no signs of development at all can be seen, and there usually aren’t any people around except near the campground and Fern Canyon. It can be a slow and tiring slog through deep sand, but this is one of the most memorable parts of the trip.
- Highlights: Beautiful redwoods, verdant forest, pristine beach
- Near: Crescent City, CA
- Distance: 15 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 800 ft
- Hike Time: 8 hours
- Difficulty: 6/10
- Trail Condition: Well maintained trail and road
- Camping Reservations: Reserve America
- GPX Download Link: >>CLICK HERE<<
- Dog Friendly: No
- Kid Friendly: Yes
Getting to the Trailhead:
From Crescent City: Hwy 101 (south) to Newton B. Drury Scenic Pkwy. (right) to Prairie Creek Rd. (right) to trail head.