Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Top choice in North Coast & Redwoods

Male or bull Roosevelt elk (Cervus canadensis roosevelti) browsing on grasses near Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California

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Famous for some of the world's best virgin redwood groves and unspoiled coastline, this 14,000-acre section of Redwood National & State Parks has spectacular scenic drives and 75 miles of mainly shady hiking trails, many of which are excellent for children. Kids of all ages will enjoy the magnificent herd of elk here, which can generally be spied grazing at the Elk Prairie, signposted from the highway; the best times to be sure of seeing the elk are early morning and around sunset.

There are 32 mountain-biking and hiking trails through the park, from simple to strenuous. Only a few of these will appeal to hard-core hikers, who should take on the Del Norte Coast Redwoods. A few easy nature trails start near the visitor center, including Revelation Trail, Elk Prairie Trail and Prairie Creek Trail. Stroll the reforested logging road on the Ah-Pah Interpretive Trail at the park’s north end. The most rewarding hike is a spectacular 12-mile loop from the visitor center following the James Irvine Trail to Fern Canyon and Gold Bluffs Beach. Return on Miner's Ridge Trail, rising from the coast into primordial redwoods.

Unpaved Davison Rd provides access to the park's only fee area ($8 per car). Just past the Gold Bluffs Beach Campground the severely potholed road deadends at Fern Canyon, the second busiest spot in the park, where 60ft fern-covered sheer-rock walls are so unusual that they were used in scenes from Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World, as well as Return of the Jedi. This is one of the most photographed spots on the North Coast – damp and lush, all emerald green – and totally worth getting your toes wet to see on the 1-mile loop trail. Note that two creek crossings may prevent access to the last mile of the road in the winter rainy season if you don't have four-wheel drive. There are also no footbridges in the canyon between October and April, making rubber boots the only alternative to drenched feet.