The one classic, must do it, hike at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is the loop hike out to Gold Bluffs Beach using the Miner’s Ridge, and James Irvine Trails. If you are camping at Elk Prairie campground you have lots of choices among trailheads you can access on foot by simply walking from you campsite. And this time of year, if you get started early enough, you can count on having the trails virtually to yourself. You can saunter through the ancient forest in absolute solitude with the morning fog still lifting. The deep woods of the north coast have an unforgettable character which invites ramblers to sharpen their senses, and heighten their awareness of their surroundings. Creeks flow with clear waters that provide a soft sonic embellishment, even though the vegetation springing from their depths is so dense that you cannot see them. Old wooden foot bridges seem to span beds of ferns, and leafy green plants, but actually conceal hidden drainages carved into the alluvial soils. Ancient sequoias, their bark weathered almost grey, and frayed from the elements, endure the ages to tower to the sky, their tall canopy supporting unseen life; endangered and even undiscovered species. And even still, young growth abounds to join the fray as they reach for the heights in search of sunlight somewhere above as though by faith. Even the fallen logs are teaming with life as ferns and shoots of all variety have deposited seed there, and adopted them as their home. Toads, slugs, and newts, wander about enthusiastically in great health, and small bird species populate the shrubbery. This area is a treasure for the ages, very nearly lost.
On this hike, we used the James Irvine Trail on the way out to the coast, which eventually brought us out to the inland side of Fern Canyon . A loop trail allows a route either along the top, or down inside the canyon to the creek bed covered in smooth pebbles and sand. The trail at the top doesn’t allow much of a view into the canyon, so the creek route is much more scenic. The route is obscure requiring lots of crossings and meandering along rocks endeavoring to keep footgear dry, and there’s a lot of fallen debris to climb over, or maneuver around, or underneath. If the water level is high you couldn’t do it at all without wading. We almost needed to wade through parts, but these efforts are worth it however, as the canyon is unique and beautiful. There’s about a half mile section with jagged, abrupt, rock walls absolutely covered in ferns. One section has nearly vertical smooth rock walls about 60 feet high thickly adorned with layers of five finger ferns. You will see people here though. There is an unpaved access road that brings visitors to within less than half a mile by vehicle, so expect to have company. I wouldn’t want to bring my car on that road, but an SUV or truck can handle it well. We hiked the canyon, and as we began hiking the coastal trail toward Gold Bluffs Beach, we began to hear some elk calls. We were hearing males trumpeting to each other, attempting to exert a claim over a harem of cows. One out on the marshy sands of the beach, while the alpha male was laying around in the trees with the cows grazing around. I was able to get a few pictures without getting too close. We had lunch at the picnic area there while observing the elk behavior right around the parking lot for Gold Bluffs Beach. We headed back by hiking up the beach road to find the Miner’s Ridge Trail. This route is an equally pristine and captivating trail through the living ancient forest. A fantastic unforgettable day.