Heading up Pacific Coast Highway in northern California is a much different experience than down south. Instead of the glowing sandy beaches and masses of people, passengers catch a glimpse of cloudier skies and much more green than can be found in Los Angeles. But the real draw of the north is the towering redwoods that line the coast and the beauty of the surrounding landscapes. Prairie Creek State Park is an ideal place to explore the outdoors with your little ones.
As you drive north on the 101, continue past the town of Orick for a few miles and make a left on Davison Road. Right there on the corner is Elk Meadow, a common hangout for these majestic animals. A large herd of Roosevelt Elk frequents the field, laying in or feeding on the swaying tall grasses in the field.
Elk can sometimes be aggressive, especially when they have their babies around, so don’t let your little one get too close. Grab a pair of binoculars to watch them from the parking area while you tell your child facts about these large animals. They can weigh up to 1,200 pounds and the subspecies found in the meadow is the largest in North America.
A walk through the woods
Get back in your car and drive a little further up Davison Road to the parking lot on the left. Walk along the paved path until you reach a sign directing you to veer right along the Trillium Falls Trailhead. Make your way toward the towering redwoods, being careful not to let your little one get nicked by the blackberry brambles that line the dirt trail. Past the blackberries, you will enter the cool shady realm of the redwoods. These towering, old-growth trees surround you as you follow the trail, walking over damp earth next to ferns and banana slugs as rays of sunlight try to break through the barrier of trees overhead.
The path winds for a half-mile until you reach a metal footbridge. You and your toddler can cross to the middle and look to the right for a glimpse of Trillium Falls, a waterfall cascading over the rocks and logs below. This is a great place to stop and explore. You can climb down below the bridge to hop across rocks where the waterfall is flowing slowly, or walk up a fallen log to reach the top of the falls. It is an ideal photo opportunity.
Although the trail continues in a loop if you go on, you’ll already have seen the highlight so it’s best not to tire your little one out here. Head back to the parking lot and continue on up the road.
A few miles up the road, you will reach the official entrance of Prairie Creek State Park. After paying the $8 entrance fee, continue to where the road ends and head up the trail. You have reached Fern Canyon, an unbelievably gorgeous canyon filled with ferns and thick mosses that climb the walls around you. Ferns can only grow in damp areas, and you will notice water dripping down the walls in tiny streams and a creek running through the canyon floor. This trail will provide your little one with a thrilling adventure as you climb over small rocks and wooden footbridges. Be sure to wear clothes that you don’t mind getting wet as you may have to splash through or hop over the stream in some spots.
This spot will be extra exciting for little Jurassic Park fans, as it was the setting for the second movie, The Lost World. If your child has seen the movie, guess where certain scenes were filmed as you go.
With fallen logs to climb on and big rocks to jump across in the middle of the creek, you and your toddler will have a very active day. Luckily, the water keeps it from getting too hot in the canyon. At the end of the trail, climb the stairs to hike back along the trail atop the canyon rim for a different view of Fern Canyon.