If you have an hour, take a walk on Prairie Creek Trail, just east of the Prairie Creek visitor center. You’ll be rewarded with massive trees and perhaps the colorful sight and haunting sound of a varied thrush.
On your way to the parking lot near the center, you’ll have an excellent chance of seeing Roosevelt elk.
Roosevelt elk in the marshes
If you have half a day, drive 7 miles out Davison Road (mostly dirt) and take the 0.7-mile walk into Fern Canyon. Note: Permits are required May 1st to September 30th in order to visit the Gold Bluffs Beach Day-Use Area including the Fern Canyon Trailhead via Davison Road. Expect elk, wind, waterfalls, and a dune-covered beach.
If you have a full day, hike a 9.4- to 11.6-mile-long loop that starts at the visitor center and takes you through a splendid redwood forest to Fern Canyon, and possibly out to Gold Bluffs Beach.
There’s surf and turf for cyclists on the 19-mile-long Ossagon Trail Loop. The route starts at the north end of the park at milepost 132.9 on Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. Head down a steep hill to the beach on the Ossagon Trail. Pedal along the Coastal Trail/Beach Road past the park kiosk. Head southeast on Davison Road. Turn left on the Streelow Creek Trail and left again on Davison Trail, which leads back to the parkway. Head north on the parkway to the start.
Gold Bluffs Beach is a spectacular (and sometimes foggy or windy) place to camp and explore the sand dunes and sea life along 10 miles of the California Coastal Trail. The beach was named for gold found here in the 1850s. Would-be miners eagerly sailed up to Trinidad from San Francisco. Disappointment came quickly when the gold proved hard to extract.
Among the treasures you might find here today are western snowy plovers, great blue herons, and peregrine falcons. Offshore, look for dolphins, harbor seals, Steller sea lions, and Pacific gray whales. From one beach parking lot, a 0.7-mile-long loop leads to one of the most popular destinations in the park, Fern Canyon. Don’t miss that otherworldly walk.