Visiting this 14,000-acre/5,666-hectare park is like walking through a portal into a world where everything is giant and green—a rainforest where ferns arc over mossy trails in a dappled world of light and shadow. Start with a hike among the ancient redwoods on the 3.2-mile/5.1-km Prairie Creek and Cathedral Tree loop, which begins at Prairie Creek Redwoods’ visitor center. From your first steps, “lush” is the operative word.
"Visiting this park is like walking through a portal into a world where everything is giant and green."
Moss covers rocks, lichens hang from branches, clover-like redwood sorrel carpets the ground, and trees grow to gargantuan size. Be suitably awed and humbled, then step out of the bowers and head over to Elk Prairie, a grassy, golden meadow where you’ve got a great chance of seeing Roosevelt elk. These regal beasts are California’s largest land animals, weighing up to 1,100 pounds. Although they seem docile as they languidly munch on grass, it’s wise to give them some space, especially big males during the autumn rut. While at Elk Prairie, consider a walk on Trillium Falls Trail, a 2.5-mile/4-km loop through ancient redwoods.
Next, go for a drive. The paved, 10-mile/16-km Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, the scenic alternative to Highway 101, winds past silent groves that reach for the sky. Pull over for a quick walk to the aptly named Big Tree, and watch for more wild elk herds.
For the more adventurous driver, the unpaved Davison Road travels to Gold Bluffs Beach, a 10-mile stretch of waterfront where 1850s prospectors mined for gold dust in the sand. You can camp on the beach, but don’t forget to stake your tent—the wind can be fierce. Continue past Gold Bluffs to the end of the road and Fern Canyon trailhead. Here you have two options: a one-mile loop through spectacular Fern Canyon, or a longer walk on the Coastal Trail past three mini-waterfalls.