Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: April 2023

The coastal redwoods are primarily found along the coast in California and are home to the tallest trees in the world. They were extensively logged to the point where today only five percent of the original old-growth redwoods remain. Thanks to conservation efforts, the Redwood National and State Parks were established to protect large sections of old-growth forests from private logging companies.

After spending the previous couple of days driving along the Oregon coast, we crossed into northern California where we planned to walk among the giant trees at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. This park, along with Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast and the Redwood National Park are managed cooperatively by the National Park Service and the California State Parks. Combined, they protect nearly half of all the old-growth redwood forest remaining in the state.

To get to Prairie Creek, we first had to drive through Del Norte Coast. There are a few trails in this state park, but most of them are challenging and we were feeling a bit tired and achy. Instead we enjoyed the scenic drive through the tall trees. Part of the highway was under construction and the road was reduced down to one lane in a few spots, so it took us a bit longer than anticipated to get there.

We turned off onto Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, located in the heart of Prairie Creek. It’s a 10 mile scenic drive that provides access to many of the hiking trails in the park, along with a number of pullouts to admire the big trees.

It didn’t take long for us to make our first stop along the scenic parkway. We pulled over at the trailhead for the Ah-Pah Interpretive Trail (0.6km round trip, rated easy). The trail follows along part of an old logging road and ends at the sign for the Merriman Grove. The park has removed most of the road through this area, along with several other old logging roads in an effort to restore and rehabilitate the forest. This is in large part because logging roads were found to change the natural flow of water, leading to erosion and landslides.

We stopped at the next pullout, which provides access to the Brown Creek Trail (3.9km round trip, rated moderate). The trail weaves through the forest of tall towering trees and waist-high ferns. At the junction there’s a turnoff for the South Fork Trail to the right. We turned left to continue along Brown Creek Trail. This portion of the trail follows along a creek and there’s a couple of bridges that criss-cross back and forth to the other side of the water.

The trail leads to Carl Schenck Grove, which contains 40 acres of redwoods dedicated to the founder of the first school of forestry in North America. There’s a short trail that loops through the grove where there’s a series of numbered posts with names to honour the pioneers in American forestry.

We then headed to the visitor centre. From there we planned to hike part of the Prairie Creek Trail and the Cathedral Tree Trail to form a longer loop (4.7km round trip, rated moderate). The Prairie Creek Trail was recently renamed the Karl Knapp Memorial Trail, which was a bit confusing as the trail map referred to the former name while the trail signs referred to the latter.

The path criss-crosses the river a few times and meanders through an old growth forest that features some of the tallest redwoods in the world. Some of the trees are over 100 metres (or 300 feet) tall. There are even a few trees that have an opening that you can stand inside and a few spots where a large tree had fallen over the path and a tunnel has been carved out to walk through.

The nice thing about visiting early in the spring, besides the fact that the trails weren’t busy, was that the trilliums were in bloom. As with everything in the Redwoods, the trilliums are much larger and taller compared to the ones we have back home in southern Ontario.

We weren’t sure where the turnoff was for the Cathedral Tree Trail. But it turns out we overshot it by quite a bit. After passing Corkscrew Tree, we came out to the main road. We crossed over to the other side and walked north until we found an access point. It turns out this access point leads to Brown Creek Trail, which we hiked earlier. But it also connects with the Foothill Trail, which would get us to where we needed to go. The path continues to wind through the forest, providing more opportunities to enjoy the lush landscape. There were some gradual ups and downs, but for the most part the path is relatively flat.

Foothill Trail leads to the Big Tree. It is estimated to be over 1,500 years old. It reaches a height of 87.2 metres (or 286 feet) and has a circumference of 22.7 metres (or 74.5 feet).

We then came across a junction with a turnoff for Cathedral Tree Trail, which leads back to the visitor centre. This trail was a bit more rough and rugged compared to the other ones we hiked with uneven terrain. After passing Cal Barrel Road, the trail connects with the Elk Prairie Trail. But we made a beeline back to the visitor centre to take a break and check into our campsite.

There aren’t many options for accommodations in the Redwoods, and the hotels that are nearby were pretty pricey. So we decided to splurge and stay in a cabin at the Prairie Elk Campground, located within the park just behind the visitor centre. It was more than double the price of the yurts we stayed in during our drive along the Oregon Coast and cost more than any of the motels we stayed at during our entire road trip along the Pacific coast, but it meant that we didn’t have to drive far to stay someplace else.

But the cabin was very rustic, perhaps a bit too rustic even for us. There were no chairs or table inside. There was a set of bunk beds, but no mattresses. To be fair, the website did mention all this, but we totally missed it. We’ve stayed in several cabins in Canada and the no mattresses or furniture situation was new for us. Oh, and the heat didn’t work. There really wasn’t much we could do but laugh.

We were all hiked out for the day, but still had a few hours of daylight. So we decided to check out Redwood National Park and take the scenic drive along Bald Hill Road. The road starts off paved and is filled with lots and twists and turns through the forest. The trees here are younger as much of this area was logged intensively. The park was created in 1968 to give the forest an opportunity to regrow. Efforts are underway to remove the old logging roads and plant more trees.

There are a few access points to some of the hiking trails in the park along this road, including some overlooks. As we reached a higher elevation, the road turned into gravel and led through open grasslands and meadows. The road becomes paved again and we saw recent signs of logging on either side of the road. This is when we realized that we had officially left the park, so we turned around.

We headed back to our cabin at the Prairie Elk Campground to have dinner. We then layered all our clothes down on the wooden frame of one of the beds before putting our sleeping bags over top in the hopes that it would provide some comfort.

Needless to say, we didn’t get much sleep and woke up feeling a bit grumpy and very achy. But today was a new day. After making breakfast (which we ate in the car), we packed up and hit the road again just as the sun was starting to come up.

It was time to start heading back towards Seattle, but not before making a few additional stops along the way.


93 thoughts on “Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Oh I know. I feel like most of my pictures don’t even do the coastal redwoods justice as it’s hard to capture the size and scale of many of the towering trees. It also makes you wonder what the forest would have looked like if it wasn’t logged so intensively.

  1. Rose says:

    Aren’t the Redwoods just the most gorgeous trees?❤️🌲🌳 We visited them a bunch of years ago, and I’m still in awe every time I look at our photos.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Agreed, the coastal redwoods are very impressive. I was worried about tripping and falling because I couldn’t help but look up towards the sky to see just how tall they were. It was a very humbling experience to walk amongst the giant trees.

  2. kagould17 says:

    The Big Tree made me smile. In Wellington Botanical Garden, the signs gave the Latin name Sequoiadendron Giganticus and then the English translation “Really Big Tree”. Your cabin looks very rustic indeed. Thanks for sharing Linda. Allan

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The Big Tree seems aptly named! It’s incredible just how wide, tall and old it is. But it does make you wonder what this area would have looked like if it wasn’t logged so intensively. And yah, that cabin was a total let down, especially given how expensive it was. But we should have read the details more closely prior to booking. Lessons learned for next time. But it turns out it wasn’t even the worst night sleep of our trip. More to come on that later. Thanks for reading. Hope you had a wonderful weekend. Linda

  3. Pennsivity says:

    Those trees, they must make you feel as if you’re walking amongst giants, …and so precious they are in the World, ..totally wish there were Ents,(LOTR) to oversee them , … “When Summer lies upon the world, and in a noon of gold, Beneath the roof of sleeping leaves the dreams of trees unfold; When woodland halls are green and cool, and wind is in the West, Come back to me! Come back to me, and say my land is best!” … couldn’t resist sharing an Ent quote, …✨👏✨🦋✨

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      For sure. I couldn’t help but feel small and a bit insignificant while walking amongst those tall towering trees. It certainly puts a lot of things in life into perspective. I love that you made reference to the Ents and even included a quote. I’m a huge Tolkien fan.

  4. John says:

    The trees are magnificent! I’ve never been there, thank you for the photos! It’s a bit ridiculous that the beds were not complete, who wants to sleep on a board!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Right!? We’ve slept in a lot of yurts and cabins across Canada and the whole no mattress thing was a new one for us. Considering how much we paid to stay the night, we were definitely expecting more. But then again, I guess we should have read the details more closely. I didn’t have the greatest sleep, but it turns out it wasn’t the worst sleep of our trip either. That came a couple of nights later when we were staying in a different cabin just outside of Portland. While it came fully furnished with mattresses, the people next to us kept us up so late with their music that we ended up leaving and found a motel to stay in instead. Oh, and the cabin was infested with stink bugs. I’m so over camping!

  5. wetanddustyroads says:

    Good thing that the redwood forests are protected. Those trees Linda … it’s unbelievable how tall they are! Your photos are stunning and that big tree – well, it’s really big! Oh yes, the cabin is very rustic … I understand why it wasn’t a very pleasant night 😬.
    Your post reminds me of a hike we did in a Redwood forest in Rotorua in New Zealand in 2019. After reading your post, I now realise how privileged we were to walk among these tall trees as well.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      No kidding. It was amazing to hear about the collective efforts from the community to save and protect the remaining old-growth redwood forests. It makes you wonder what this area would have looked like if it wasn’t logged so intensively. It’s incredible just how tall some of the trees were. It was hard to pay attention to the trail when all I wanted to do is keep looking up towards the tops of the trees. The cabin was not quite what we had in mind, but hey, at least it makes for a funny story! We have yet to make our way to New Zealand, but when we do, we’ll be sure to check out the Redwood forest there.

  6. Lynette d'Arty-Cross says:

    Very rustic cabin, indeed! After a night like that, the squeaking from my joints would have been audible! The giant trees are amazing, and I shudder every time I think that these huge trees, along with Douglas fir and other types (plus their ecosystems) stretched all the way up the west coast. Now there’s always a fight to protect what’s left (outside of the parks).

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The cabin was a little too rustic for our taste, but we managed to make it through the night. And believe it or not, it wasn’t the worst camping experience we’ve had. At least it was quiet. From what I understand, even protecting some of the remaining old growth Redwoods in California was quite the struggle. I understand the importance of logging, but it makes you wonder about how sustainable it is. I guess the same can be said about anything that we extract from the land.

  7. gsilvosa63 says:

    This is part of my bucket list. We were at Yosemite but I didn’t get enough of it. Snow made it impossible to get to some of the places there. Hopefully, it’ll be a better trip when we go there. Thanks for the heads up in your article. Have fun!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We initially wanted to travel along the Pacific coast from Seattle to San Francisco, but the cost to drop off our rental at a different location was outrageous. Plus we weren’t sure whether we’d have enough time to explore Yosemite. So it looks like we’ll be returning to the west coast too at some point! Hopefully you’ll have better luck with the weather and conditions. If there isn’t snow, then there’s typically fog.

      • GeoDel PhotoTravelogue says:

        That’s true. We also thought of driving along the west coast but the cost is prohibitive. We might plan for a loop drive so we end up where we started. That will be a lot of planning!

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        That’s what we ended up doing. We contemplated just driving back along the Pacific coast to Seattle as the views are outstanding, but it was nice to explore a few different areas, even if they weren’t as scenic. But you’re right, it does require a bit more planning.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Oh yet, there are ferns everywhere in the Redwoods! There is one place called Fern Canyon, which is just covered with ferns. Scenes from The Lost World: Jurassic Park were filmed there. Driving there is apparently a bit dodgy and there’s a high risk of getting your feet wet while hiking, which is why we didn’t attempt it, but it sounded pretty neat.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Something to add to the list for next time! Because we’ll definitely be back someday. Hopefully with water shoes and a more reliable car that can handle unpaved roads.

  8. elvira797mx says:

    Wow! Wow! Wonderful forest looks like magical, those old trees are enchanting, love the cozy cabin too, can be a romantic place to stay, drinkung some cinnamon tea. Linda your photos are amazing! Thank’s for share your experience. Have a lovely weekend!
    Take care. Elvira

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. It did feel very magical and humbling to walk amongst all those tall towering trees. It was also very peaceful and quiet. We couldn’t have asked for better weather to be out in nature. Hope you had a wonderful weekend as well. Enjoy the rest of the week. Linda

      • elvira797mx says:

        Always a pleasure visit your blog, Linda. Thank’s for comment, sounds amazing. Yes, thank’s. Hope You as well had a wonderful weekend.
        Have a lovely rest of the week.
        Is everything ok about the fire, saw i’m the news.
        Take care.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Awww thanks. I’m so glad it’s Friday today and that the weekend is right around the corner. Thanks for asking about the wildfires. Last week was really bad with all the smoke and haze, but thankfully we’ve gotten quite a bit of rain this week and the air quality has improved a lot.

  9. Book Club Mom says:

    Hi Linda, these trees are incredible. We took a trip to the San Francisco area about 7 years ago and spent a morning at a redwoods trail. I like the solution to the tree that fell across the path – that seems easier than moving the whole tree! As for the cabin – it looks cute and it’s clean inside, but no mattresses, tables or chairs? Strange – glad you were able to see the humor in it.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was hard to capture just how tall many of the trees were. Glad to hear that you’ve seen them for yourselves. It’s such a unique experience to walk amongst them. And agreed, it was pretty neat how the rangers just cut a tunnel through a few of the fallen trees. Given how huge some of them were, there’s no way you could have climbed over top. Even walking around would have been quite the detour!

      Glad to hear we’re not the only ones that thought it was weird how the cabin wasn’t furnished. Lessons learned, we’ll read the fine print more carefully next time we book a cabin. So bizarre! But it actually wasn’t the worst sleep we had during our trip. That came a few days later when we were staying in another cabin (thankfully this one came fully furnished) where the noise from the group next to us forced us to abandon our stay and find a last minute motel instead. I think we’ve had enough camping for the year!

  10. says:

    Yep that’s a pretty basic cabin! We loved walking among the redwoods on our California road trip last year…our very first call after leaving my daughter’s house was Sequoia National Park, the first of our redwood locations. They are wonderful to see.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was pretty rough to sleep on a piece of plywood, but at least the cabin was clean and quiet. The Redwoods are pretty magnificent to see in person. I would have loved to explore more of the scenery and national parks in California, but we’ll have to save that for another time.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The Redwoods are pretty majestic. It was hard to capture just how tall many of them were. It was a very peaceful and humbling experience to walk through some of the old growth forests. The cabin situation wasn’t ideal. I was expecting more given how much we paid to stay there. But we survived.

  11. ourcrossings says:

    Wow, what a fantastic post, Linda 🙂 In my humble opinion, redwoods are one of the great wonders of the world. It’s mindboggling to think that there was once a time when they were growing unobstructed from Oregon down past Monterey. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment Aiva. I couldn’t agree more about the Redwoods. Seeing them in person was so awe-inspiring. We’re just hear for a blink of an eye in comparison to how old some of the trees are. It’s too bad many of the old growth forests have been logged intensively, but it’s great that places like this state park exist to allow the forest to flourish. Enjoy the rest of your week. Linda

  12. Bama says:

    It must have been amazing to walk among those giant redwoods. Just by looking at your photos, I think I would feel like a dwarf if I ever stand beneath those majestic trees. They somehow remind me of the Ent in the Lord of the Rings series! So sorry about your cabin situation though. It’s good that you could laugh it off.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      For sure. I couldn’t help but feel so small amongst all those tall towering trees. Even the ferns were massive. It was such an amazing experience. I’m actually surprised I didn’t trip from looking up so often. As a huge Tolkien fan, I must say, I love your reference to the Ents!! I did not love the cabin situation though and lack of mattresses. But we’ve survived worse! It makes me wonder why we still bother with camping though.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words and for leaving a comment. Seeing the Redwoods in person was such an awe-inspiring experience. It was quite the drive to get to northern California, but so worth it to walk among the giant trees.

  13. Ab says:

    Redwoods are such majestic trees and I’m glad there are conservation efforts to protect the remaining trees left in the world. They are so beautiful to look at and look at the size of those trunks and how tall they are!

    I had the blessing to visit a Redwood park during my San Fran trip back in 2011 and they are truly wonderful trees.

    That cabin, yikes, what an experience. Good thing you had clothes and a sleeping bag or I would’ve just slept in the car instead. 😆 Makes for a great story though!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Oh I know. It was amazing to hear the story behind the Save the Redwoods League and how they’ve been instrumental at protecting redwood forests. It’s crazy how only 5% of the original old-growth redwoods remain. It makes you wonder what this area would have looked like if it wasn’t logged so intensively. Glad to hear that you were able to see these gentle giants for yourself.

      Don’t even get me started on that cabin. At first I was a bit mad at myself for not reading the specifications of the cabin more closely before booking, but then again, I never would have thought that it wouldn’t have any mattresses (or other furniture). Lessons learned. Believe it or not, but this actually wasn’t the worst sleep we had on our road trip. A couple nights later we stayed in a different cabin outside of Portland. While it came with mattresses on the beds, the people next to us were blaring their music all night to the point where we decided to just pack up and find a motel instead. I am seriously starting to question why we bother camping anymore.

  14. travelling_han says:

    Those signs made me laugh, they are brilliant! I think I would be in awe of the giant redwoods, they are just in a league of their own aren’t they. The cabin sounds awful though, I’d have definitely been staying in the car 🙂

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The signs for the big trees are pretty great. It’s unbelievable just how tall some of them were. It was hard to capture their scope and size through pictures. The cabin was such a let down, especially considering how much it cost. I contemplated sleeping in the car, but it was supposed to get chilly overnight and figured it would be colder in the car than the cabin. I didn’t sleep the greatest, but it wasn’t the worst sleep I’ve ever had while camping!

  15. grandmisadventures says:

    That sign is fantastic! But the cabin, maybe not so much. And those big trees are stunning. There is something that makes you realize just how small and insignificant we are in the universe when you see trees that have been around for ages and are still towering above. 🙂

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Oh yah, the cabin was a total bummer. I probably should have read the details more closely because we could have packed our sleeping pads. Oh well, we survived the night and had a good laugh about it. I couldn’t agree more about the Redwoods. Being among those giant trees definitely puts things into perspective. It seems like we’re just here for a blink of an eye in comparison to how old some of the trees are.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. It was such an amazing feeling to walk among those giant trees. The cabin on the other hand, was a huge disappointment. I was pretty sore the next morning, but at least I managed to get some sleep. And it actually wasn’t the worse night we had on this road trip!

  16. Lookoom says:

    I can understand the desire to cut down these large trees, so much wood for so little effort, without realising that this ‘harvest’ will never happen again. Fortunately we are learning from our mistakes, creating parks to protect the trees that remain, but it took time to change before it’s too late.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Oh I know. The same can be said about Douglas firs and cedars in British Columbia. But you’re right, once we cut them down, it can take hundreds of years to regrow. This is something we’ll never see again in our lifetime and we’ll be taking that away from future generations as well. We can be doing a lot more in terms of creating more parks and protecting the environment. In Ontario for example, the government hasn’t created an operational provincial park in over 40 years.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was such an awe-inspiring experience to walk amongst the giant Redwoods. We practically had the trails all to ourselves, so it felt very peaceful. The tunnels through the trees were pretty neat. I’ve never seen anything quite like that before. The cabin situation was a bit of a let down though. Needless to say, it wasn’t a very comfortable sleep!

  17. NortheastAllie says:

    I am impressed at the height of these trees. They must have the perfect location and weather conditions there! Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos of the region as well.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. I’m surprised I didn’t trip and fall at any point while hiking as it was hard not to look up to admire just how tall the trees were. We really lucked out with the weather as this place is usually snowy in the winter and foggy in the summer.

  18. BrittnyLee says:

    Those redwoods are so beautiful ❤️. It’s incredible how massive they are. I’m sorry about your sleeping accommodations but I’m glad you enjoyed yourself anyway. Your photos are great 😃.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks! Spending time among the giant Redwoods more than made up for our crummy cabin. We’ve stayed in a lot of cabins over the years and I never would have guessed that we would have had to bring our own mattresses. What’s the point in staying in a cabin then!? Oh well, we survived the night and had a good laugh about it.

  19. Cheryl L Blount says:

    You made me exhausted with you prairie creek visit and the cabin rental sounds like a big let down. For anyone else contemplating this trip, if you drive a self contained small RV to visit, consider looking at Casino overnight parking as an option. We found Bear River Casino near Loleta and Fortuna south of this part of the redwoods and made that our overnight after visiting Prairie Creek State Park. We have a couple coastal CA posts on the blog and YT channel.

    Can’t wait to hear about your trip northbound!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was easy to lose track of time on the trail when you’re hiking through such an enchanting forest of ferns and towering Redwoods. The cabin rental was a total let down. It ended up being the most expensive spot we stayed at on our trip. And it didn’t even have furniture or mattresses. It was times like these that made us wish we had our own camper van. That’s a good tip about Casino parking lots. I’ll have to check out your posts. We were only able to make it as far south along the Pacific Coast as the Redwoods before having to turn around and head back to Seattle. So it’ll be nice to see what we were missing (and get ideas and inspiration for a future road trip)!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words and for leaving a comment. It was such an amazing experience to walk among the giant Redwoods. We couldn’t have asked for better weather to enjoy the great outdoors.

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