Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California  (rachel_thecat via flickr)

Together with the adjacent Redwood National Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is classic Northern California redwoods country, arguably the grand dame of redwood parks. The coastal ecosystem abuts these ancient forests, making for a fascinating overlap of plant and animal species and two distinct visitor experiences. Damp and regular coastal fogs contribute to a lush understory, and between the 300-foot canopies and the dense forest floors, some groves at Prairie Creek can feel downright claustrophobic. A few are purposely left off the maps to protect them from over-visitation, such as the famed Atlas Grove, home to several of the world’s largest coastal redwoods. Prairie Creek certainly rewards explorers with curiosity and patience.

Hiking and Backpacking
The park has 75 miles of hiking trails, ranging from gentle interpretive loops to strenuous climbs. The Rhododendron Trail is a moderately steep seven miles that can be joined with the Brown Creek or Cathedral Tree trails to make a varied, full-day loop. The path takes its name from the bursting lavender-colored buds that speckle the underbrush in May and June.

Scenic Driving
Prairie Creek is bisected by the Newton B. Drury Scenic Byway, a ten-mile corridor that’s the primary route through the park. The road feels more like a tunnel through the cool forest, flanked by redwoods on both sides for much of its length. Take a break at the Big Tree wayside and walk a hundred-yard trail to see Big Tree, a particularly impressive, 304-foot specimen with a 21-foot diameter. Nearby, the Drury Byway crosses the prairie and drainage for which the park is named. Keep binoculars in the glove box, as this is a great spot to see Roosevelt elk, especially around dusk. If you’re just driving through for the day, you’ll pay an $8 day-use fee at park entrance stations.

The park’s two frontcountry campgrounds are similarly dramatic, if a little crowded. Seventy-five sites at Elk Prairie are shared with grazing ungulates, elk, and black-tailed deer. The 26 sites at Gold Beach are right on the water, situated so you could conceivably spot a seal, a mink, an osprey, and a deer simultaneously. At $35 a night, campsites are reservable at Elk Prairie and first come, first served at Gold Beach.

For backpackers, the park offers two primitive, walk-in sites at Ossagon Creek and Miners Ridge. At Ossagon, three sites amid sand dunes and beach grass are less than two miles off the road but can be accessed via a number of longer trails. The three sites at Miners Ridge are on a bluff overlooking the beach—a great spot for dramatic sunsets. Backcountry permits are available for $5 (per person, per day) from the Prairie Creek Visitor Center.

Published: 13 Apr 2009 | Last Updated: 22 Feb 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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