Pets allowed
Not Allowed
Elevation Gain
680.00 ft (207.26 m)
Trail type
4.60 mi (7.40 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Arguably no other coastal redwood forest in the world creates the same sense of awe as Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Redwood National and State Parks, and the James Irvine Trail is one of the best. The height of old-growth coastal redwoods is unmatched by any other living organism on the planet. The James Irvine Trail passes exclusively through a redwood forest, putting you straight in the heart of a very old and enchanting ecosystem. However, the redwoods are not the only organisms that will catch your eye. Majestic elk and black bear are commonly seen roaming through these woods. During early morning hours sunlight often creates unreal beams of light piercing through the forest. At the end of the James Irvine Trail lies Fern Canyon, a stunning 50-foot deep canyon with walls draped in seven species of ferns and a calm creek cutting through.

A typical hike along the James Irvine Trail begins at the Prairie Creek Visitor Center and ends at Fern Canyon, though there are other options available. A backpacking trip along this trail with an overnight stay in Gold Bluffs Beach hiking/biking camp, just 1.5 miles south of Fern Canyon, is highly recommended. From the Gold Bluffs Beach backpackers can take the Miners Ridge Trail back to the Prairie Creek Visitor Center. This trip can also be done in reverse order or as a longer extended day hike. All backpackers are required to obtain a parking and backcountry permit from a Redwoods National and State Park visitor center prior to their trip. 

It is not uncommon to see Roosevelt elk grazing within the forest along the James Irvine Trail. These magnificent animals can weigh over 800 pounds and stand 5 feet at the shoulder. The lifespan for females is typically between 19 and 21 years, while males average 16 years. These large mammals have a diet that consists mostly of high quantity, low quality vegetation such as grasses, shrubs, and bark. Because of the large amount of food needed, they spend much of their time grazing. Mating season for the elk in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park lasts for six weeks in August through October. Gestation length for females is similar to that of humans at 8.5 months. Roosevelt elk are amazing creatures, but they can also be dangerous. Caution and a safe distance should always be maintained when viewing elk.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass

Not Required


Enchanting old-growth forest. Soft trail. Little elevation change.



Trailhead Elevation

153.00 ft (46.63 m)


Big Game Watching
Old-growth forest
Big Game Watching


Nearby Lodging + Camping


Fern Canyon should not be missed. Bring a pair of river sandals and walk through the middle of it. If you are taking the loop (combining the Miner's Ridge Trail with the James Irving Trail) it can be turned into an 11.6 mile hike. There is a dirt road between the two trails for a while and we encountered the aggressive elk on that dirt road. As there was a mountain on our right side and the herd on the left, we walked by as quickly as possible, but the main bull elk was challenging me and walking towards me. Suggest you avoid that situation if you run into it and instead walk way around the heard, even if you have to go down to the beach to do it.
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