Note: this post contains affiliate links. Shopping through those links supports Right Kind Of Lost at no extra cost to you, for which we are eternally grateful!
The Prairie Creek grove and Cathedral Trees at Redwood National and State Parks is one of the best places to experience the redwood forest. Combining the Karl Knapp Trail (formerly Prairie Creek Trail) and Cathedral Trees makes a wonderful 3.4-mile loop that showcases the beauty and magic of the redwood forest.
Finding the trailhead, Karl Knapp Cathedral Trees Loop
The trailhead for the Karl Knapp Trail and Cathedral Trees Loop is to the right of the Prairie Creek State Park visitor center. A large informational sign points the way. Once you walk past the sign, stay to the right for the Karl Knapp Trail.
The trail was recently renamed and used to be called the Prairie Creek Trail, so some older maps, guide books, websites, and signs may still say Prairie Creek Trail.
I used the “Hike the Parks, Redwood National & State Parks” guide book published by Mountaineers Books and a National Geographic topographical map, which still use Prairie Creek Trail as the name.
Karl Knapp Trail (Prairie Creek Trail)
The hike begins with a boardwalk that takes you straight into some large tall redwoods. You can look down on Prairie Creek. The trail then becomes a dirt path, and you are surrounded by moss-covered trees above a carpet of ferns. The path snakes around under some very tall redwoods. Take notice of how dark the forest is at this point.
Along this portion of the loop, the Karl Knapp Trail parallels Prairie Creek treating you to the occasional view of the creek. You are also surrounded by towering redwoods and blankets of ferns. At one point the trail goes under a fallen redwood with an archway cutout to allow hikers under. This is a great way to see these giants from a different angle.
At mile 1.37 the Karl Knapp Trail Access No. 1 intersects. You want to go right on this spur trail toward the parkway. And at mile 1.44, the trail crosses the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway.
Foothill Trail to Cathedral Trees Trail
Once you cross the road, turn right on the Foothill Trail Access No. 1. To complete the Karl Knapp Trail and Cathedral Trees Loop, follow the Foothill Trail Access No. 1 south for a short way. At mile 1.66, you come to the Big Tree wayside.
After you admire the Big Tree, follow the signs to the Cathedral Trees Trail. Take the Circle Trail from the Big Tree wayside. The trail begins to climb a little, and at mile 1.75 you come to the Cathedral Trees Trail.
Cathedral Trees Trail back to the Foothill Trail
Where you hiked along the valley of Prairie Creek on the Karl Knapp Trail, the Cathedral Trees Trail takes you higher into the slopes of the Coast Range. It climbs a little bit along the base of the mountain, giving you a different perspective.
The trail snakes along up and down the contours of the hill. It then begins to drop in elevation. At mile 2.2, you cross the Cal Barrel Road. It continues to snake down toward the valley of Boyes Creek.
At mile 2.6, you come to the Cathedral Trees and the intersection with the Rhododendron Trail. You want to go right at this point. From here the Cathedral Trees Trail follows along Boyes Creek. The trail is fairly level and has a thick understory.
Right around mile 3, you come to the intersection with the Elk Prairie Trail. Here you want to continue straight, or slightly to the right.
The trail continues to follow the creek, and just a little bit farther it enters a clearing where you get an amazing view of a redwood tree. Because the redwoods grow mostly in the thick forest, it can be hard to stand back and take the entire tree in. Even the Big Tree was obscured in some places by the leaves of other trees.
At mile 3.15, the Cathedral Trees Trail meets back up with the Foothill Trail. Here you want to go straight or slightly left. You come out across the road from the Prairie Creek Visitor Center. So you simply cross the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway back to your vehicle.
Karl Knapp and Cathedral Trees Loop
Hiking the Karl Knapp and Cathedral Trees Loop is a great way to experience the magnificence of the redwood forest and the Coast Range. It takes you deep in the thick forest, surrounding you by this amazing ecosystem. It showcases the creeks and hills, as well as the towering redwoods and lush understory.
- 3.4 mile lollipop loop
- Elevation gain and loss 427 feet
- Dogs not allowed
- Backcountry camping not allowed