Big Tree Bonanza

Roosevelt elk, canyons draped in ferns and dripping with small waterfalls, oh … and the tallest trees on…

My Weekend Sherpa:

Want to do it Did it


Roosevelt elk, canyons draped in ferns and dripping with small waterfalls, oh … and the tallest trees on the entire planet! Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (located within Redwoods National Park) has all the fixings for world-class hiking. For a truly remarkable ramble, hit the trail early and go on an 11-mile semi-loop hike through the park’s greatest hits (shorter options are available). Don’t be scared by the mileage: This hike is not strenuous as far as terrain … it just requires you to allot a day for it. And it’s well worth your time!

You’ll start and finish on the James Irvine Trail. Hiking beside Godwood Creek and Home Creek, mighty coastal redwoods surround you nearly the entire time. Unlike some of the old-growth redwood parks in the Bay Area where you get a grove here and a grove there, the James Irvine Trail has miles of old-growth beauties the entire way … you simply can’t escape them. And you won’t want to! These behemoth trees soak in sun and mist with equal enthusiasm, so be sure to stop and look up every once in a while. Wayyy up.

At the hike’s halfway point you gain access to another park favorite: Fern Canyon. This canyon is so dramatic Steven Spielberg used it as a film location for Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World. Fifty-foot walls of bright green ferns hang like emerald silk, glistening in tiny waterfalls trickling into the canyon’s riverbed.

The canyon goes back about half a mile before you reach a network of giant fallen trees, tangled on the route. Use this as your turnaround point to rejoin the James Irvine Trail, or navigate around it and take a set of  stairs back up to James Irvine, which you’ll take back to the trailhead.

ROOSEVELT ELK BONUS: There are plenty of meadows in the area where you can pull over to view the magnificent wild Roosevelt elks.

This hike is a semi-loop of 11 miles. The parking lot to the trailhead is at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park visitor center just off US Hwy 101, along Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. Take the James Irvine Trail to Miner’s Ridge, then merge right on Clintonia Trail. Take this trail until the junction that connects back to James Irvine, and follow signage to Fern Canyon. Return via James Irvine. For a shorter 9-mile version, take only the James Irvine Trail to Fern Canyon and back. Be sure to pick up a map and get info at the trailhead visitor center. No dogs.


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