The Big Tree Loop
including the Prairie Creek and Cathedral Tree Trails
Length 3.2 mi · Climbing 190 ft
Starting at park headquarters, this loop takes the Prairie Creek Trail up to the Big Tree Area, then returns on the Cathedral Tree Trail. This loop connects the two areas of Prairie Creek with the biggest redwoods and makes a great introduction to the park.
Start at park headquarters and take the right-hand trail next to the large wooden sign that lists trail names and mileages. Cross the large scenic bridge across Prairie Creek, after the trail passes through an impressive redwood grove, weaving between huge trees. Turn right onto the first trail, which is the Prairie Creek Trail.
The Prairie Creek Trail is quintessentially Prairie Creek — huge redwoods line the trail, while below the rushing creek is lined with mossy, lichen-draped maples. The dense, lush greenery looks more like a jungle than a redwood forest. There's some noise from Drury Parkway, but especially on weekdays it's not intrusive.
Turn right at the first trail intersection. The right-hand trail is not marked, but after 50 feet there's a second intersection. Stay to the right again, following the sign directing you to the parkway.
At the parkway, there's a trail directly across from you that leads to the Big Tree Area. Instead of taking this trail, turn left and walk along the roadside pullout for a few yards to the Hunnewell-Donald Memorial Grove sign. Take the trail next to the sign. This route provides a much more interesting approach to the Big Tree Area, joining the Foothill Trail and passing through a grove of large redwoods before reaching the Big Tree itself.
From the Big Tree area, it's possible to return on the Foothill Trail, which follows a straight, flat old roadbed along the edge of the redwood forest, or on the more interesting Cathedral Trees Trail, which involves a little climbing but passes through superb redwood scenery. In fact, the Cathedral Trees Trail might be the best part of the whole hike. To take the Cathedral Trees Trail, follow the signs from the Big Tree, turning left and then right.
The Cathedral Trees Trail climbs past several groups of impressive redwoods before crossing Cal Barrel Road and descending to an intersection with the Rhododendron Trail. The trail then cuts through streamside brush before briefly emerging onto a meadow surrounded by giant redwoods. Finally, the trail approaches Drury Parkway. There's a tunnel under the parkway but it's easier to just climb an embankment to the left and cross the street.
© 2006–12 David Baselt