Copyright 2015 by M. D. Vaden
The Elk Prairie trail is basically encompasses the elk meadow or prairie at Prairie Creek Redwodos State Park. Much of it passes through forest, and much is out in the open. There are no jaw-dropping stands of huge redwoods, but there are some big ones in a few places. The scenery is all pretty. The snippet of map below shows the proximity. You can double-check the map at the visitor center, the star on the map.
One other well-known site ranks this trail as 1 Star only.
I think the Elk Prairie trail experience will simply depend on time of year and time of day. On a 5 star rating system, this has the potential for 2 stars, may 3 stars. Let me describe two scenerios, and think on it.
Suppose you go in August when there are the most visitors and the most vehicles on the parkway (not tons). Sure .. you may get that traffic sound you read about, and there will be a good amount of activity in some spots. For half the hike you will be back in the forest a distance so road sound is subdued. Its not like being right off highway 101. The 35 mph paved parkway will be several hundred feet away or more much of the hike. This would be the closest to the 1 star rating we may read elsewhere.
On the other hand ... suppose you go in mid-autumn, winter, or early spring, like I just did. I was parked by the roadside waiting to meet someone who arrived in the area from South Africa. It wasn't raining yet, but light rain was in the forecast. Only 2 or 3 vehicles passed by in the 15 minutes I waited. The sound was insignificant ever where I was parked.
So now imagine this same autumn season, into winter and early spring, say November to May. How about a cool day, overcast, and maybe even a weekday when many people are working 8 to 5 jobs in the city. There will hardly be any traffic. The air is crisp and fresh. Hardly anybody is in the entire park anyway. And if you enjoy some out in the open walks along the edge of the prairie, this could be better than a 2 star trail for you.
I find the section in the redwoods intriguing, where you peek out from the hidden space with a view across the open to the other side. There may be Elk grazing out there at times.
Aside from a detailed description with play by play action, the photos below convey where the trail is. The Redwoods distant from the man on the bench are where the trail passes through the forest for a good part of its length. The other photo is opposite, showing what you will see from under that canopy as you peer across meadow, parkway, and much more meadow, toward forest on the other side.
You can make this into whatever kind of hike you want. You can go back and forth the same way and remain mostly in forest, return the opposite side coming back from near the campground in the open, or even return on the parkway if there are elk you want to photography.
Its not the 5 star James Irvine trail, but the Elk Prairie trail offers a feel in some spots I can't forget.
1st image, the trail is far in the distance under the redwoods across the meadow from the man on the bench, about 1/4 mile away. 2nd image, just how tiny the wood fence appears, indicates how far back the hike is from the parkway. The grassy area is about 1 mile long north to sout. 3rd image, red outline shows approximate path of the trail beginning and ending at the visitor center.