Times change, but the tallest living trees in the world still tower over the grasslands of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (one of three state parks located within the jurisdiction of Redwoods National and State Parks). Transport to the Jurassic Era on a 6-mile loop hike past peculiar giant coast redwoods hollowed into cathedrals and twisted into gargantuan octopus shapes (relatives of the redwoods did actually thrive during the Jurassic Era!). From the Prairie Creek Visitor Center, follow signs for Prairie Creek Trail and continue along a flat creek bed sheltered by stately behemoths standing in primordial gravitas.
Fallen ferns and lush green foliage line a path that crosses a wooden bridge to the Big Tree junction at about 1 mile. Turn right and cross Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway for a 0.2-mile round-trip detour to Big Tree, a particularly wide 1,500-year-old stunner. Back at the junction, continue along Prairie Creek Trail for 0.5 mile, where another short spur on the right leads past Corkscrew Tree, an eye-catching anomaly that coils skyward on four braided trunks. Back on Prairie Creek Trail, snake further along the forest floor through fallen moss-covered Tunnel Log. At the junction, turn left onto Zigzag Trail #1 and ascend via sharp switchbacks to ridgeline redwood uplands before another left onto West Ridge Trail, which undulates back to the visitor center.
CAMP: Fall asleep to roaring surf at one of 24 campsites nestled in coastal grassland at Gold Bluffs Beach Campground. A 1.5-mile stroll down the road leads to Fern Canyon, a 50-foot-tall gorge coated in seven kinds of ferns, which was used as a backdrop for Jurassic Park II: The Lost World. Restrooms and solar showers are available, as well as a picnic table, firepit, and food locker at each site.
EAT: Dig in at Orick’s Palm Café & Motel, an overlooked highway diner with phenomenal pie. The coconut cream is heavenly! Take your slice to go and enjoy it at Elk Meadow or on the benches in front of the visitor center, prime viewing grounds to glimpse dense herds of Roosevelt elk—Prairie Creek’s largest mammals, exceeding one thousand pounds!
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park map and info. Camping $35/night; day-use fee $8/vehicle. Reserve a site. National Parks pass waives day-use fees. Dogs allowed on campgrounds and Gold Bluffs Beach, but not on trails. Palm Café & Motel is on Hwy. 101 in Orick, 5 miles south of the park.