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Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, 45 miles north of Eureka in the heart of redwood country, is a unit of Redwood National and State Parks and is designated as a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve. It encompasses over 14,000 acres of forest, meadows, and lush fern canyons, and a 10-mile-long beach. Services include a visitor center...
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, 45 miles north of Eureka in the heart of redwood country, is a unit of Redwood National and State Parks and is designated as a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve. It encompasses over 14,000 acres of forest, meadows, and lush fern canyons, and a 10-mile-long beach. Services include a visitor center with nature museum, campgrounds, picnic areas, and 75 miles of interconnected hiking and biking trails that also connect to other trails in the redwood parks system. The trails range from easy to strenuous, and several are accessible, including Foothill, Prairie Creek, and Revelation Trail, which was designed for blind people. Elk Meadow day-use area, some three miles from the visitor center, is one of the best places to observe majestic native Roosevelt elk, or wapiti (a Shawnee name that means "white rump"). You can view them from the comfort of your car, from picnic tables overlooking the meadow, or from an observation platform. Davidson Trail leaves from Elk Meadow, and park personnel told me that it may be accessible to some wheelchair riders.

Life flourishes in the seemingly quiet redwood forest, from birds perched in the sunlit branches high overhead to animals burrowing in the ground. You may see banana slugs, rough-skinned newts, gray foxes, Swainson's thrushes, brush rabbits, Roosevelt elk, and if you're lucky, a threatened northern spotted owl.

If you are just passing through on Highway 101, you should spare a few minutes to drive the nine-mile Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, a gorgeous route that winds along Prairie Creek, through the park's magnificent redwoods. Even if you never get out of your vehicle, this is a stunning drive.

State Parks Advisory: Many of California's state parks are reducing hours of operation and limiting access to facilities because of budget cuts. We recommend that you consult State Parks' website and contact the park directly before planning a visit.

Trail/Pathway Details

Revelation Trail

Trailhead: Park road just past visitor center, or from Nature Trail

Length: Less than .5 mile

Typical Width: 4 ft. & above

Typical Grade: Level

Terrain: Firm

Description

Located between the visitor center and Elk Prairie campground, this quarter-mile loop trail was designed for visually impaired people––it encourages the use of all one's senses to experience the forest. A guide-wire helps you navigate, and print and Braille interpretive signs suggest that you smell the aromatic leaves of the California bay laurel, count your steps to determine the length of a fallen redwood tree, feel the soft bark of a redwood, and listen to the sounds of a nearby creek. Look for western hemlock, distinguished by its roots, which drape over logs—hence the nickname "octopus tree." A ramped redwood deck that surrounds a large redwood tree allows you to appreciate the tree's girth.

Nature Trail (aka Redwood Access Trail)

Trailhead: Behind visitor center

Length: Less than .5 mile

Typical Width: 4 ft. & above

Typical Grade: Level

Terrain: Firm

Description

If you're pressed for time or want an easy, family-friendly trail, follow the .2-mile accessibly designed Nature Trail, where the soothing sounds of a creek follow you through the giant redwoods. Ferns and salmonberry were plentiful on my visit in late spring. At the trail's end is a junction where you can either extend your trip another .2 mile on the Revelation Trail (see above) or continue on the Campfire Center Trail another .2 mile to Elk Prairie campground.

Prairie Creek Trail

Trailhead: Prairie Creek visitor center

Length: 2-4 total miles

Typical Width: 4 ft. & above

Typical Grade: Gentle

Some short slopes in the first half-mile may be greater than 1:12, and the cross-slope may be more than 2 percent.

Terrain: Moderately Firm

Obstacles: There is no traffic light or crosswalk at the Drury Parkway crossing, so it may be uncomfortable if traffic is heavy.

Description

From the moment you step into this lush old-growth redwood forest, you'll feel dwarfed and all your senses will be enlivened. Moist air prickles your skin, sweet birdsong accentuates the quiet, and every surface has something green growing on it: Moss covers the rocks, lichens hang from branches overhead, trees have sprouted on fallen trees, and a blanket of ferns gives the forest a manicured, garden-like appearance. I was thoroughly enchanted, and felt as though I was walking through a museum where nature was the artist and history was revealed in the ancient, sculpted trees.

On this partially level trail (there are some gentle slopes in the first half-mile or so), you follow close to Prairie Creek, crossing five accessible wooden bridges, but although you can hear the creek, you don't see it until .3 mile in. Due to heavy rainfall, the forest is lush with fern and a thick understory of Sitka spruce and tanoak. Little light penetrates the dense forest, but in places the white blooms of redwood sorrel brighten the dark green forest floor. At the first junction, at .1 mile, stay right. Along the way you will see many fallen redwood trees, providing a good perspective on the size of these giants; a park brochure claims coast redwoods are the tallest living thing on earth. At 1.2 miles you can turn right at the sign for Parkway and cross Drury Parkway to connect with the Foothill Trail, which leads back to the visitor center, for a loop totaling three miles. Or, according to the park map, you can continue on Prairie Creek Trail for another half-mile. We exited at Drury Parkway and took the Foothill Trail (see below).

Foothill Trail

Trailhead: Big Tree Wayside

Length: 2-4 total miles

Typical Width: 4 ft. & above

At its north end the trail narrows in places to about three feet; at its southern end to two feet.

Typical Grade: Gentle

Terrain: Moderately Firm

If you travel right at the trailhead you will be mostly on firm-packed dirt and gravel; to the left is worn asphalt that has buckled in places and can be bumpy. In some areas a thick layer of redwood duff covers tree roots; it can catch on a wheelchair's front casters or on crutches.

Description

Big Tree Wayside is the starting point for several trails, but only the Foothill Trail is indicated as accessible on the park map. From the parking lot, travel a short distance over asphalt to the junction with the Foothill Trail. If you turn right, the trail leads .75 mile to the visitor's center; turn left, as we did, to complete a hike of less than two miles round-trip. Along the first hundred yards, several interpretive panels provide information about protecting the redwoods. You then come to Big Tree, a giant coast redwood estimated to be 1,500 years old and measuring 304 feet tall and 21 feet in diameter. You will need no further convincing that we need to protect these grand old trees.

From here you can continue past Big Tree a few hundred feet to where the trail ends at Drury Parkway; tree roots make for a bumpy ride, and on our late April visit, it was muddy. Or you can do as we did and take the South Foothill/South Fork Trail as it travels farther into the forest, where slivers of sunlight filter through a thick understory and make the fallen trees, covered in dewy moss, glisten. The trail narrows in places to three feet. In about a half-mile you come to a fork; to the left the trail ends in a few hundred feet, at Drury Parkway. Here you can cross the road to connect to Prairie Creek Trail to close a nearly three-mile loop; there is no traffic light or crosswalk, but traffic moves slowly. Or you can continue on Foothill Trail, which slopes downhill to a wooden bridge that spans a creek (the slope may be greater than 1:12, with a slight cross-slope), but I had to turn around a few hundred feet past the bridge because a tree root blocked the way and the trail appeared too steep.

Retracing my route, I passed the Big Tree Wayside (where we began) to explore the southern end of the Foothill Trail, which leads to the visitor center. On this route I required assistance to get through thick mud at Cal Barrel Road and in several other places (the rainfall had been exceptionally heavy the previous winter), and encountered one section, a few hundred feet before the junction for Cathedral Trees Trail, where tree roots were challenging to navigate. The last several hundred yards before crossing Drury Parkway to reach the visitor center is rough terrain; the trail narrows to less than two feet wide, and I took a shortcut uphill through grass. It made for an exhilarating hike and I wouldn't hesitate to do it again with a willing assistant, but I don't suggest this section for a leisurely stroll.

Accessibility Details

The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.

Located at the park's main entrance, the visitor center has a nature museum with history exhibits about Roosevelt elk and the native Yurok people, whose ancient homeland encompassed the park.

Beach Wheelchair: Yes

Available for Gold Bluffs Beach, May-Sept. Reserve by calling (707) 488-2171, or have a ranger radio to Gold Bluffs Beach. At visitor center, Revelation Trailhead, Gold Bluffs Beach, and Elk Meadow. Big Tree Wayside has a designated space but no access aisle.

Accessible Restroom: Yes

Adjacent to Prairie Creek visitor center and at Revelation Trailhead and Elk Meadow. Those at Big Tree Wayside have a three-inch threshold at the entry but are otherwise accessible.
At Elk Meadow and adjacent to the accessible parking space at the visitor center; others are in a field across from the visitor center, on firm grass. The day-use area, just beyond the entrance station (fee to drive in), has accessible tables at the base of giant redwood trees; other tables, which you must navigate over a curb to reach, overlook a large meadow where Roosevelt elk often graze.

Reviewed by Bonnie Lewkowicz, April 18, 2011

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Southern end of Prairie Creek Trail
Southern end of Prairie Creek Trail (Leah Lewkowicz)

Features icon key

  • Beach Wheelchairs Available
  • camping
  • hiking
  • particularly good for families
  • picnic
  • wildlife viewing

Additional Information

View Map  
Website: www.parks.ca.gov
Managing Agency: California State Parks and National Park Service
Address: 127011 Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, Orick
Nearest City: Orick
Phone: (707) 465-7335
Fees: None
Dogs: In restricted areas
Dogs on leashes no longer than six feet are allowed within 100 feet of public roads, at parking and designated picnic areas, and at beaches accessible by road (excluding dune habitat). Not allowed on trails, at ranger-led programs, or in park buildings.
Public Transportation: Redwood Coast Transit
Useful Links: North Coast Redwood Interpretation Association

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