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Redwoods, Elk, and Beer – Prairie Creek Redwoods Camping Trip Report

Redwoods, Elk, and Beer – Prairie Creek Redwoods Camping Trip Report

Old Jul 6th, 2010, 01:12 PM
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Redwoods, Elk, and Beer – Prairie Creek Redwoods Camping Trip Report

Day 1: Thursday

My husband and I left San Jose about 8:30am. We took Hwy 280 to San Francisco, 19th Ave through the city, and they headed over the Golden Gate Bridge. Beautiful day – clear views over the bridge. Then we followed Hwy 101 all the way to Prairie Creek Redwoods state park. The drive was very pretty, especially once we got north of Healdsburg.

We stopped in Hopland at the Blue Bird Café for an early lunch – got there about 11 or 11:30. Buffalo burgers and fruit basket pie, both were excellent. Mendocino Brewing Co is there as well, but it wasn’t open yet, so we had to give it a miss. We did have a Boont Amber from Anderson Valley Brewing Co. with lunch though, so we did get a taste of some local brew. Hopland is a nice little town with some good wineries in the local area as well.

Next stop was Willits – just for gas and a stretch though. It is a fairly nice-sized town with a good choice of restaurants and shops. The drive up to Eureka goes through some really gorgeous county with plenty of good stops. We had a long drive and needed to get to our campground while there was still plenty of daylight, so we filed ideas away for a future trip.

Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka was our destination for a late lunch. Their Downtown Brown is one of my perennial favorites, so this was a must-stop for me. The brewery-restaurant is neat – they have a big wooden bar and a bunch of tables in an old storefront in the middle of downtown Eureka. The beer was good and the food was pretty decent. I had the American Wheat beer and I think my husband had the 8 Ball Stout. We got a growler of Downtown Brown and some bottles of the 8 Ball Stout to take with us. The service at Lost Coast wasn’t great, which I hear is a common problem. Eureka itself looks like a fun town. I’d like to spend more time there.

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is about 45 minutes north of Eureka – we arrived at the park about 5:30, which was about 9 hours after we left San Jose. Including a bit of morning commute traffic, the actual driving took about 6.5 hours.

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is really beautiful – plenty of redwoods and ferns, large groves of mixed conifers and broad leaf trees, large prairies where the elk graze. We saw a large herd just outside the park boundary along Hwy 101 on the way in.

We stayed at the Elk Prairie campground, which is in the woods along Prairie Creek. There are about 70 sites, most for tents or small trailers without hookups. It is heavily wooded, so plenty of privacy at the sites. We stayed in Site #56, which was perfect. The site was right along the creek and had a great big tree between the site and the campground road. We could only see one other tent from our camp. There is a small loop of campsites right along a prairie that is open though – no tree cover or vegetation between sites. I didn’t care for those sites, but most were back in the trees and very nice. There are bathrooms and showers at the campground. Nothing fancy, but nice enough.

Day 2: Friday

I got up early in the morning and made a campfire and some coffee, then sat out and read my book. Very peaceful. The campground is a bit inland, so it isn’t as foggy there as right on the coast. The sun was out and it looked to be a beautiful day. After my husband got up, we had breakfast, showered, and headed out.

The plan for the day was to go to Gold Bluffs Beach and Fern Canyon. The turn off to this area is a few miles south of the Elk Prairie campground, off Hwy 101. The road is a narrow dirt and gravel road with a couple places where you have to ford small creeks, but we made it in our Mazda3 without any trouble.

Gold Bluffs Beach is a long, windswept beach with plenty of driftwood. There are also marshes with plenty of wildlife and beautiful displays of wildflowers. The campground is neat if you don’t mind the wind, although the sites are more open because it is basically on the dunes without much vegetation.

A short walk (maybe 1/4 mile) from the end of the road is Fern Canyon, which is one of the neatest places that I have been. The creek has created a canyon through erosion and the vertical walls of the canyon are covered in ferns. The canyon is fairly narrow and winds its way upstream. There are logs across the stream where people can cross back and forth as they make their way up the canyon. Because the creek is not deep, it is easy to just wade through the water too – we work our hiking sandals, which was perfect.

Back at the beach, we wandered around on some paths through the marshes. Beautiful windswept landscape with plenty of wildflowers. It was much cooler on the beach with the fog and the wind than it was back in the trees, so we didn’t stay as long as we might have otherwise.

On the way back to Hwy 101 is a prairie where we saw several elk grazing.
The town of Orick is a few miles south of the park, which is a convenient place to get supplies. There is a small store there and a gas station and then another larger store. Not much else going on in town though – couple of restaurants and souvenir shops.

The rest of the day was spent in camp just relaxing in the sun, hanging out along the creek, and reading.

In the evening we went to a campfire presentation given by a park ranger about the history of the Redwood state and national parks.

Day 3: Saturday

This was our day to go sightseeing around the local area outside the park. After breakfast we headed south on Hwy 101 toward Eureka. Our planned destination was the Mad River Brewing Co in Blue Lake.

On the way we saw several long stretches of beach along the highway and stopped at Patrick’s Point state park. This is a beautiful place with dramatic coastline, cypress forests, and meadows with plenty of wildflowers. We wandered around a bunch – out to the Patrick’s Point rock, which you can go out on, and then down and around along the cliffs and to an overlook. The weather was quite nice again – minimal fog and except for the wind, very mild temperatures.

Next we drove to Blue Lake to the Mad River Brewing Co. This is a neat little town, fairly quiet, much warmer than over on the coast. The brewery has a tasting room/bar, so we went in and tasted. They also do tours, but nothing was happening in the brewery that day. The brewers run the tasting room, which was great – they are quite willing to talk about the beer and answer all sorts of questions. We sampled most of the beers they had on tap including the barley wine, which was wonderful. They sell individual tastes rather than offering a set tasting, which we liked because we could pick and choose what to taste. We also really enjoyed the Black Ale and the Mad Belgian. They don’t serve food at the brewery, but Stardough’s Café is about a block and a half away. The people at the brewery invited us to bring sandwiches back and eat at the brewery, so that is what we did.

Stardough’s Café is a neat little place with only room for maybe 15 customers inside and out. They were grilling up tri-tip, so we got some tri-tip sandwiches. Sandwiches done to perfection and good conversation with the people running the café and other customers while we were waiting.

Back at the brewery, we ate our sandwiches and continued to taste. We also bought beer to take with us. People came in and out while we were there – a mix of locals and visitors. Everybody was really friendly and we had some good conversations about the beer and the local area and we got some recommendations for other breweries to visit.

Afterwards we walked down to the Mad River, which is about a block from the brewery. We took a path down to the river itself and had a nice walk. The river bottom is wide and rocky and the river is pretty shallow and slow there. Plenty of people were wading, swimming, and tubing. We put our feet in the river and relaxed in the sun for awhile.

On the drive back to our campground, we stopped in Arcada for groceries. It is a larger town than Orick, so we were able to find a larger store with more selection.

Back at camp, we had dinner and relaxed. We read for awhile and played backgammon. The camp quieted down around 10 pm – it wasn’t ever loud there, but by 11 most people seemed to have turned in.

Day 4: Sunday

This was our last full day of camping, so we relaxed quite a bit – just wanting to soak up as much of the forest atmosphere as possible. We had a full breakfast in the morning and lingered over coffee and a morning campfire. Then we went for an easy hike.

From the park visitor’s center, we took a trail along Boyes Creek and then a trail called Cathedral Trees through some magnificent redwood groves. There are quite a few intersecting trails, so people can make a loop as long or as short as they want to. We returned to camp along Prairie Creek through more large redwood groves. Very pretty.

The rest of the day was spent sitting in the sun, reading, playing in the creek, and playing backgammon. After dinner we took a walk out to the Elk Prairie to see if we could spot some elk, but we didn’t. We did see a deer, a rabbit, and quite a few birds through.

Day 5: Monday

Last day of the trip – time to head home. Because we had a long drive ahead of us, we got an early start. Basically just had some coffee and then broke camp.

We stopped in Samoa near Eureka for breakfast at the Samoa Cookhouse – the food was really good and I wished I could just keep eating. The biscuits and graving were wonderful. The food is served family style at large tables with a set menu – Monday it was eggs, sausage, home fries, biscuits and gravy, and toast. The building is old and crooked and they have a lot of old logging camp equipment on display and a lot of neat old photographs.

To continue our beer theme, we stopped in Fortuna at Eel River Brewing Company. They have a nice bar and restaurant with friendly staff. We got a taster set, which includes each of the beers that they have on tap. We liked the Triple Executation (or some name like that) - it is a dark English-style Ale. Very good. The Amber was tasty too and to our immense surprise, the Acai Berry Wheat was also really good. I expected not to like it, but it came with the taster set, so I tried it. We bought some to take home with us. Great people at the brewery – had some good conversations there.

We continued on our way down Hwy 101, taking the alternate route Avenue of the Giants once we got to that area. Really gorgeous drive. We stopped at various places along the way to enjoy the forest. After that we decided that we needed to get serious about getting home or we wouldn’t get home. So we had to zoom past all the other great scenery and parks rather than stopping at each on like we wanted to.

Our last stop was Bear Republic in Healdsburg. They have a brewery restaurant with a nice outdoor patio and the burgers were great. The beer was pretty good – I tried the hefeweizen, which was just ok and my husband got the brown ale which was really good.

We got home about 9 that night. It was a very successful trip and I expect that we will make additional trips up that way in the near future.
november_moon is offline  
Old Jul 6th, 2010, 02:44 PM
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Sounds like a great trip! Had to laugh at <After that we decided that we needed to get serious about getting home or we wouldn’t get home.>

Fern Canyon sounds really beautiful.
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Old Jul 6th, 2010, 04:28 PM
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Thanks for reporting back on your trip!!
MichelleY is offline  
Old Jul 6th, 2010, 06:09 PM
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Thanks for the report. I plan on visiting Prairie Creek and Patricks Point.
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Old Jul 6th, 2010, 06:54 PM
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Wow! Our group had a very similar experience this past weekend up in Humboldt. We didn't go up to the redwoods this trip but our beer intake seems like a copy of your itinerary. We had some of the best weather we have ever experienced in these parts.

Friday - Late dinner at Lost Coast Brewery after evening drive up from the Napa Valley.

Saturday - Lunch at Stardough's in Blue Lake, tasting at Mad River Brewery, afternoon swimming hole on Mad River upstream from the fish hatchery. Dinner at 6 Rivers Brewery in McKinleyville with view of the sunset from our table.

Sunday - Brunch at Moonstone Grill near Trinidad, Crabs game and Arcata plaza July 4th festival, dinner at the Plaza Grill with view of Eureka fireworks.

Monday - Breakfast at Seascape Restaurant in Trinidad Harbor, afternoon on the beach, late afternoon beer at the Eel River Brewing Co. in Fortuna. Thankfully, our designated driver got our group home safely.
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Old Jul 6th, 2010, 09:37 PM
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Sounds like you had a great time- maybe trip should be relabeled as "Brew Pub tour of Northern California"

I loved the Fern Canon too - one of my friends saw a HUGE bull there and some saw a bear ( I was fiddling with camera and didn't see anything.)

We also drove to the Lost Coast which was one heck of a long twisty drive but beautiful and another of my friends saw a zebra in a field - I missed it too. You would think I slept on the whole trip
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Old Jul 7th, 2010, 08:06 AM
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Glad you guys enjoyed the report.

Otis - Too funny that we were at some of the same places over the weekend. We might have been at Mad River Brewing at the same time because my husband and I hung out there for quite awhile. If you saw a very short couple - chicano man with long straight hair and a white woman with curly light brown hair that looks rather like a hobbit - that was us.

6 Rivers was also on our list of places to go, but we spent more time in Blue Lake than we thought we would and we had marinated skirt steak in the cooler back at camp that was calling our names Also, since I was the driver that day, I wanted to get back to camp where I could actually DRINK some of the beer we bought rather than just tasting.

sunbum - We now have a map of breweries of the west coast, so expect more along this same vein We didn't see any bears and certainly no bulls, but we did see a few animals on our trip - elk, deer, a rabbit, chipmunks, and a bunch of birds. I think I saw a marbled merlette, but I am not 100% sure. We did see bear tracks in the mud on a trail near Fern Canyon, but they didn't look fresh. We saw lots of elk tracks around there too.
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Old Jul 8th, 2010, 04:52 PM
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Our group was at Mad River right around noon. There were not many people there and I don't think you guys were there yet. Hanging out on the river was top priority so not much time was spent at the brewery. We wanted to go back there on Sunday or Monday but they were closed. The Steelhead ales are my favorite.
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Old Jul 8th, 2010, 08:44 PM
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Great trip report!

Always liked your beer recommendations, although I don't drink that much beer, but a good beer is a good beer.

Didn't know they made wheat beer on the West Coast, but we seem to have some wonderful small breweries willing to try anything.

Shouldn't your sign-on name be "The Hobbit"? (Just kidding!)
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Old Jul 9th, 2010, 10:04 AM
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Otis - I don't think we showed up at the brewery until around 2, so we definitely missed you. We stopped at Patrick's Point for awhile on the way.

easytraveler - I'm glad you enjoy the beer recommendations. Regarding the wheat beer on the west coast, it is becoming more and more popular. I've been seeing them everywhere lately - all 4 breweries that we visited had a wheat in fact. Some brewers have been offering wheats for awhile - Gordon Biersch has a heffeweizen that is one of their core offerings for example - but a lot more are getting into it.
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