Few places in the world can rival the uniquely magnificent scenery in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in northern California. Fern-covered canyon walls and flowering meadows intermingle with misty forests populated by mammoth coast redwoods, the world's tallest trees. RVers will find unmatched beauty and lots of opportunity for adventure at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
The park, located along the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, has an extensive trail network that lets hikers of all skill levels explore the area's rich temperate rainforests. Three other parks, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, Redwood National Park, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, join Prairie Creek Redwood State Park as part of a cooperatively-managed National Park Service and California Department of Parks and Recreation.
Summertime is the busiest time to visit Prairie Creek Redwood State Park, as well as the most temperate time of year to visit. Summer temperatures range from 40 to 75 degrees, and visitors can expect fog in the morning and evening. The park is open year-round, and winter visitors can expect colder temperatures ranging from 35 to 55 degrees and consistent rain from November through May.
Prairie Creek boasts two beautiful, and very different, campgrounds. The quiet, tent-only Gold Bluff Beach Campground sits on the park's western edge, just a stone's throw from the Pacific Ocean. The RV-friendly Elk Prairie Campground is located right off of the 101 and sits underneath a towering canopy of Redwoods.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is located 50 miles north of Eureka, California, and 135 miles southwest of Medford, Oregon. The park's main campground and visitor center are located right off the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, which itself branches right off of the famous 101. The parkway has a few winding sections, but it's relatively flat, paved, and well-maintained throughout.
Visitors using RVs, motorhomes, and trailers need to be aware of vehicle limitations in and around the park.
Major highways (like the 101) near the park don’t have vehicle restrictions, but access roads leading to the visitor center and the Elk Prairie Campground do have limitations. These roads allow a maximum motorhome length of 27 feet and a maximum trailer length of 24 feet. Davison Road, which leads to the Gold Bluff Beach campground, prohibits trailer traffic. Vehicles more than eight feet wide and 24 feet long are also advised to avoid this road.
Most other roadways within the park do not allow motorhomes, RVs, and trailers. Park officials and park maps can advise visitors which roads have travel restrictions.
If you're parked at the Elk Prairie Campground, you'll find yourself within easy walking distance of several trailheads. Gold Bluff Beach campers also have easy access to several trailheads, though the campground itself is more remote. Both campsites have mostly back-in sites, though maneuvering shouldn't be much of a problem, so long as your rig is under the length limit.
If you're planning on exploring more of the park (or the nearby parks and forests), you'll most likely need to drive. Trailheads usually have ample parking. Some roads, especially within the National Forests, can be gravel, winding, and steep. Leaving your trailer behind at the campground is usually a good idea.
Gold Bluff Beach Campground is a quiet campsite located just a stone's throw from the ocean. Set in a gorgeous, secluded location, there's plenty of sand and surf, but dunes block some of the winds coming off the Pacific.
The road to Gold Bluff Beach is gravel and narrow. Long trailers are not allowed, but that won't even be applicable for most campers - Gold Bluff Beach is a tent-only campground. Spots are reservation-only campground Memorial Day through Labor Day, and a first-come, first-serve campground during the rest of the year.
Gold Bluff Beach's lovely sites are all primitive. Although there are no hookups or a dump station, the campground has potable water, restrooms, and showers available for guests on-site. Wildlife, frequent the area, so please keep pets leashed and use the bear-resistant metal lockers provided at each campsite. Generator use is permitted during certain hours.
Reservations can be made up to six months in advance over California's online state park booking system.
Elk Prairie Campground is a reservation-only campground from approximately Memorial Day through Labor Day. This campground sits in groves of coastal redwood trees.
Wildlife, such as black bear and Roosevelt elk, frequent the area, so guests are asked to keep pets leashed and use the bear-resistant metal lockers provided at each campsite. The campground can accommodate motorhomes up to 27 feet and trailers up to 24 feet in length. There are no hookups or dump stations in this park, but water spigots, restrooms, and coin-operated showers are available within the campground.
Elk Prairie's campground has access to hiking and biking trails, picnic areas, and firewood sales. Generator operation is allowed only between 10 AM and 8 PM. Campsites can be reserved online up to six months in advance.
Spaces at Elk Prairie and Gold Bluff Beach are available by reservation only during peak season, but during the off-season (Labor Day through Memorial Day) sites can be taken on a first-come, first-served basis. Given the park's popularity, showing up early in the afternoon is advisable, especially if you're looking to grab a spot over the weekend.
The Elk Prairie campground also has several designated hike-and-bike spots, all of which are first-come, first-served.
Many of California's state parks feature specially designated "hike and bike" campsites. These primitive spots are reserved for those traveling on foot or by bike. Gold Beach has some gorgeous hike and bike spots just south of its main campground, all of which are first-come, first-served.
If you'd like some extra creature comforts while visiting Prairie Creek, you can reserve one of the park's lovely cabins. The cabins are on the edge of scenic Elk Prairie, which is so-named because its rich grasses are frequently grazed on by elk.
Cabins are ADA-accessible and have heat, electricity, and bunk beds (bedding is not included). Each can sleep up to six guests. Outside, each cabin has a picnic bench, grill, and fire pit.
The cabins are also located right by the main Elk Prairie Campground, so guests have access to the amenities there. Several trailheads are just a short walk away. Like the campsites at Elk Prairie, cabins can be reserved online, up to six months in advance.
There is no better way to immerse yourself in the redwood forest’s grandeur than to explore the area on foot. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park's extensive trail network boasts 75 miles of footpaths. The hikes range from short and easy nature walks to strenuous and difficult day hikes.
If you only have a little time to explore, try the Prairie Creek Trail, located just east of the Prairie Creek Visitor Center. This trail takes you along a creek, and it’s only 1.5 miles from the visitor center to Big Tree, a favorite stop within the park.
If you are an avid hiker, try hiking part of the California Coastal Trail. Two sections of the 1,200-mile trail run through Prairie Creek. The park's most famous trail (and rightfully so) is the one-of-a-kind Fern Canyon Loop. This short but spectacular path takes hikers through a narrow canyon, the walls of which are completely covered in ferns. The lush, primeval scenery is incredible, even by Pacific Northwest standards.
Looking to add some stamps to your National Park Passport book? In 1994, the National Park Service and California State Parks agreed to work cooperatively and manage the Redwood Parklands together. Redwoods National Park and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park are jointly managed and located right next to each other. That means that you can visit two parks in one!
Stop by the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park Visitor Center and get your passport stamp, shop for souvenirs, learn about park programs, exhibits, and discover everything the park has to offer. The visitor center is open year-round, but hours vary depending on the season.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, kids can take part in Prairie Creek Redwoods' Junior Ranger Program. The program offers games, campfire talks, forest walks, crafts, and other events geared toward helping kids learn about the park's unique ecology and history. Kiddos can earn an official Junior Ranger badge for their hard work!
Families visiting any other time of year can also have an educational experience. Pick up an adventure guide from the visitor center and embark on a self-guided treasure hunt. See how many different tree and plant species you can find with Redwoods bingo.
Mountain bikers will enjoy riding 19-mile-long Ossagon Trail. This moderate bike trail loops riders through some of the most scenic areas of the park. From the redwood forests to the beach, this path takes bikers over creek crossings, across swampy sections of the beach, and down paved and single-track dirt and gravel roads. Riders should bring their own bikes and helmets as there are no rentals available at the park. Always prepare for changing weather conditions -- rain gear is highly recommended at just about any time of year!
Gold Bluffs Beach isn’t just a beach campground; it’s home to many different species of animals. Visitors can come to this often foggy and windy beach and explore the seaside while looking for wildlife. Walk the dunes and search for great blue herons and peregrine falcons, or search off-shore for harbor seals, dolphins, steller sea lions, and even Pacific gray whales.
The misty redwood forests also host a tremendous variety of living creatures. Pacific giant salamanders (which can grow up to a full foot long!), northwestern salamanders, red-bellied newts, and Pacific tree frogs all thrive in the park's damp environs. Larger native fauna include Roosevelt elk and black bear.
Although there are many scenic drives in the park, the Newton B. Drury Parkway, paved, ten-mile drive through the park’s spectacular old-growth redwood forest, is perhaps the most popular. The drive is open from sunrise to sunset and takes approximately 20-30 minutes (one way) to complete. Shutterbugs will absolutely want to bring their cameras along -- this drive presents some truly remarkable photographic opportunities.
If you want to get even more up close and personal with the park's towering redwoods, hop out at one of the convenient trailheads located along the drive. Some of the stops along the way include the Big Tree Wayside and the Ah-Pah Interpretive Trail. While you are enjoying the scenery, look and see if you can spot one of the park’s resident Roosevelt Elk.