For Spring Break, Bay Area Families Outside took a field trip to the North Coast of California! We recognize that this is not considered the Bay Area, but it’s close enough that it’s a reasonable long weekend trip for Bay Area families.
We started our trip with the intention of camping at Patrick’s Point State Park, outside of Trinidad. We went up on Thursday, thinking the walk-up nature of the campsites (you can reserve them in high season) would work out. However, more people were perhaps on spring break than we had anticipated, and the campground was full. This is the kind of situation that causes great anxiety for one of the Bay Area Families Outside parents, but it may have worked out for the best. We continued up the coast, stopping at the visitor center for Redwood National Park and getting great support from the ranger there, who pointed out MANY campgrounds that were further up the coast.
We ended up pulling in to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and it was THE BEST. We were camped just across from Prairie Creek (in the Elk Prairie Campground)– there are sites that are actually ON the creek, but the sites that were open had a bit less privacy than the site we chose (picture above is from our campsite). (However, for future reference, in high season, we heartily recommend site #40– it was closed when we were there, but this site! Big! Next to the creek! Stunning!)
Prairie Creek also has multiple trails leading straight out of the campground. While there are a few trails at Patrick’s Point, we would have had to travel for more hiking, and we’re really all about the trails. On the evening we got there, we explored a bit of the ADA-accessible Elk Prairie trail (bringing a baby jogger?), until it met up with Davison trail.
The next day, two of us ran out the James Irvine trail until Fern Canyon and Gold Bluffs Beach (pictured above). Honestly, the choice of the James Irvine trail was a little random– we were motivated by figuring out running routes that led to Fern Canyon, which you can find a billion pictures of by doing a google image search on the web. Having noted that, if you visit Prairie Creek Redwoods, I would most HEARTILY recommend the James Irvine trail. It was quite frankly one of the most beautiful trails I have ever been on, and we saw not one single other person between our campground and Fern Canyon.
Our one misstep was not bringing waterproof shoes (rainboots or sandals that one can wade in) to explore Fern Canyon. Because of the amount of water, we ended up only seeing a bit of the canyon. If you go, bring shoes that can handle the water, or be prepared to wade. It was a little cold for wading, but I could see in the summer, this would work fine.
That afternoon, we checked out the Brown Creek trail, on the recommendation of this website, put together by a true redwood nerd. (All redwood hikes in California are catalogued by impressiveness, including distance/elevation gain. It’s a thing of beauty if you are a nerd who appreciates someone else’s obsession with acquiring a large body of knowledge about a specific topic- which we totally are here at Bay Area Families Outside.) That trail as well, left us gobsmacked. Huge, huge trees, and even though the trail is just off the Drury Parkway, you feel miles away.
If all the redwoods aren’t cool enough for you, elk freely wander in herds throughout the area! (Many signs remind you to leave them alone, but seeing them was pretty novel for us city folk.)
Frankly, this was one of the best camping trips we have ever done, and I cannot wait to return.
There are showers! But not very many stores/facilities nearby, so stock up in Arcata.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park will let you have dogs in the campground, but not on any of the trails. If you, like us, visit parks to see the trails, then it’s not a very dog-friendly place.
They have started shutting down the parkway (the road that runs through the park) on the 1st Saturday of every month, so if you plan your trip then, you should definitely bring bikes, so you can take advantage of the car-free road and bike for miles amongst the redwoods. Additionally, there is a 1/2 marathon in September, for those families amongst us with running people.
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