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lcometto
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PostWed Mar 25, 2020 6:52 am 
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A few weeks ago, I wrote a Trip Report on the major hikes in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. This time, I’m focusing a bit further south, on Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, another jaw-dropping forest that houses some of the largest redwood trees know/discovered. My explorations are part of a larger project to document the giant tree forests from CA to BC and the Redwoods portion is here: http://www.lucascometto.com/cascadia-california. Check it out!

Before the “shelter in place” orders were given up and down the west coast, I spent two long days exploring as much of Prairie Creek as the light would allow. I made sure to document both upland and lowland hikes east and west of the Drury Parkway, which bisects the park. This report discusses six hikes.

Prairie Creek Trail & West Ridge Trail (Zig Zag Trails)
The Prairie Creek Trail and West Ridge Trail are parallel trails connected by two shorter access “Zig Zag” paths that are best completed as an 8-mile figure eight hike. Starting at the park headquarters and traveling west of the Parkway, these trails are a perfect day hike introduction to the park’s various ecosystems.

Prairie Creek Trail
Prairie Creek Trail
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California Portfolio: <a href="http://www.lucascometto.com" target="_blank">www.lucascometto.com</a>
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California Portfolio: www.lucascometto.com

As its name implies, the Prairie Creek Trail follows the creek’s meander and crosses huge trees in the process. Here, from ground-level, the redwoods truly display their great size. The calming sound of the water is always nearby, and thankfully, often drowning out the noise of the cars traveling the Parkway. The southern half of the trail, in particular (south of Zig Zag Trail #1), is especially rich in megaflora and highlighted by grove after grove of old-growth giants. Yet two of the trails largest single-stem redwoods grow in the northern half, on hillsides close to the water: the Newton B. Drury tree (4th largest - pictured above) and Sir Issac Newton tree (8th largest - pictured below). Hemlocks, Sitka Spruces, and other variety of trees also grow interspersed along the banks and contribute interesting variety to this dense forest.

Prairie Creek Trail
Prairie Creek Trail

Above Prairie Creek, the West Ridge Trail provides a glimpse into the ancient redwoods from a unique, elevated perspective. The path straddles the ridge for its entire duration, which means that hikers can frequently look downward to either the James Irvine Trail westward or the creek eastward. The trees here are generally smaller than those in the lowlands but there are clusters of ancient candelabra-branched specimens. Perhaps the greatest benefit of the elevation is seeing truly how tall some of the trees are. The heights of the trees are typically obscured on lowland trails but the canopy is fully visible from the West Ridge.

West Ridge Trail
West Ridge Trail
West Ridge Trail
West Ridge Trail

Valley of the Lost Groves
Before the James Irvine Trail was redirected to protect the fragile environment around the Godwood Creek, it used to cross by some of Prairie Creek’s most unique redwoods. This old trail is increasingly overgrown but still very easy to follow and leads into a what is now the Valley of the Lost Groves. The steep decline in foot traffic has allowed vegetation to recover and the valley now has a wilderness character to it.

Valley of the Lost Groves
Valley of the Lost Groves
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California Portfolio: <a href="http://www.lucascometto.com" target="_blank">www.lucascometto.com</a>
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California Portfolio: www.lucascometto.com

Though hikers can only expect an approximately 30-minute walk before the trail unceremoniously ends at a marsh, the short path is one of the best experiences in the park. After initially passing by three big trees (the West Ridge Giant, James Irvine Giant, and Godwood Creek Giant), the trail arrives at a slender tree with many interesting burls named Knotty Lady (picture below). This tree, along with Mutant Redwood (picture one), located a few paces further on are absolutely iconic in their strangeness. Near trail end, there are at least three groupings of cathedral trees (also known as fairy ring trees), including the huge Titanic Cathedral (picture two), which developed when the trunk of a large parent tree disintegrated and newer redwoods spawned in a circular formation.

Valley of the Lost Groves
Valley of the Lost Groves

Foothill Trail & Cathedral Tree Trail
Similar to the Prairie Creek Trail on the opposite side of the Drury Parkway, the Foothill Trail is a flat, lowland redwood forest hike through impressive, giant trees. Unquestionably, the main highlight is the portion of the hike just south of Col Barrel Road that is home to the incredible Atlas Grove. Also known as the Rotary Memorial Grove, this collection of massive trees is anchored by Iluvatar, the largest tree in the park and the second largest single stem coast redwood, and Atlas, the ninth largest coast redwood.

Foothill Trail
Foothill Trail
Foothill Trail
Foothill Trail

Many of the other trees are named after Greek gods and mythology figures - appropriate given the feeling of insignificance and awe one feels exploring the Grove. With so many giants growing so close together, Atlas Grove is truly a beautiful reminder of how much of the redwood forests appeared before extensive logging.

Cathedral Tree Trail
Cathedral Tree Trail

The Cathedral Tree Trail serves as an extension of the Foothill Trail at its southern end and is recommended as an easy stroll. Hikers encounter more lowland forest giants in addition to beautiful moss-filled maple trees.

Brown Creek Trail
As its name implies the Brown Creek Trail, follows the path of the shallow creek as it flows south into the larger Prairie Creek. It’s a pleasant stroll past an assortment of big trees in a dense lowland environment and despite its short length, its one of the best representations of the park’s flora.

Brown Creek Trail
Brown Creek Trail

The path can be accessed either by hiking north on the Foothill Trail (recommended) from the Park Headquarters or directly from the Drury Parkway. Hikers can also extend the trail by connecting to the South Fork Trail and the Rhododendron Trail to form a nice 3.5-mile loop with elevated views.

Brown Creek Trail
Brown Creek Trail

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If I had another day, I would have completed the majestic 12-mile “Miners’ Ridge and James Irvine Loop” – another classic redwood hike. But for now, I’m satisfied in capturing the essence of this incredible place in these six hikes. Though Jedediah Smith Redwoods may have a more wilderness feel to it, Prairie Creek Redwoods has far more trails and its paths cross a number of terrains and environments, making this park the most complete of the four that make up “Redwood National and State Parks.”

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neek
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PostWed Mar 25, 2020 7:01 am 
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Obviously our Redwoods trip was cancelled, so all I have is your reports.  Thank you!!  I've taken some OK mountain photos, but my forest shots always look horrible.  Hope to figure out some of your secrets some day.
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PostWed Mar 25, 2020 7:41 am 
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Awesome!

Thank you for your reports....

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The General primarily backpacks solo.
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lcometto
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PostWed Mar 25, 2020 7:54 am 
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neek - one of the best tricks (or advice, rather) that I can give is to photograph forests in cloudy and overcast conditions. The shadows and highlights of a sunny day are too extreme for most cameras to handle.

General - thank you for the kind words!

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JustJoe
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PostWed Mar 25, 2020 9:54 am 
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Thank you once again Icometto for this fantastic photo essay! Probably a good thing to rest on day 3 as one could get a sore neck looking up at those giants all day. lol.gif   Can't wait to do some field investigations of that region myself. 

Keep up the good work! up.gif
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Pef
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PostWed Mar 25, 2020 10:32 am 
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pics are a real treet, thanks for posting
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Brushbuffalo
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PostWed Mar 25, 2020 6:29 pm 
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I love your reports and especially pictures of these gigantic trees!
lcometto wrote:
Prairie Creek Trail
Prairie Creek Trail

What is that humongous hunk above your head? Some kind of  burl?

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Passing rocks and trees like they were standing still
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lcometto
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PostWed Mar 25, 2020 8:12 pm 
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Brushbuffalo, believe it or not, it's a massive burl. I read on another website that the burl is estimated to weigh more than 40,000 pounds!

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PostWed Mar 25, 2020 10:28 pm 
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damn!
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Sculpin
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PostThu Mar 26, 2020 8:06 am 
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lcometto wrote:
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California Portfolio: <a href="http://www.lucascometto.com" target="_blank">www.lucascometto.com</a>
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California Portfolio: www.lucascometto.com

So are those the world's biggest stump sprouts?   eek.gif

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Between every two pines is a doorway to the new world. - John Muir
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lcometto
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PostThu Mar 26, 2020 10:38 am 
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Sculpin, they sure look like, don't they?! I counted three "fairy ring" trees in that valley but this set was the largest.

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olderthanIusedtobe
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PostThu Mar 26, 2020 1:46 pm 
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The big trees are awesome.  But a trip to Prairie Creek Redwoods SP is incomplete without the short jaunt up Fern Canyon IMO.
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lcometto
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PostThu Mar 26, 2020 1:55 pm 
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olderthanIusedtobe, I couldn't agree with you more. I simply ran out of time. Next visit though...

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olderthanIusedtobe
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PostThu Mar 26, 2020 3:21 pm 
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lcometto wrote:
olderthanIusedtobe, I couldn't agree with you more. I simply ran out of time. Next visit though...

up.gif

On my only visit there I did nice loop w/ the canyon, up thru the forest and finished on the beach.  Nice sampler platter.
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