Fern Canyon Trail in Prarie Creek Redwoods State Park – Just Go Travel Studios

Fern Canyon Trail in Prarie Creek Redwoods State Park

California Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park Redwood National Park


If you are visiting Redwood National and State Parks along California’s north coast, the Fern Canyon Trail is not to be missed! Located in a remote area of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, spectacular Fern Canyon is a shady, green paradise. Hike through a narrow canyon, carved out by Home Creek, where the surrounding walls are draped in ferns and mosses.

Fern Canyon Trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

The 50-foot cliff walls drip with moisture and support an array of exquisite ferns, some whose ancestry can be traced back 325 million years! While you won’t see any real dinosaurs here, it is no wonder why the canyon was chosen as a filming location for Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World and BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs

Although it does take some time to get out to Fern Canyon, it really is worth the trip if you have a vehicle that can handle some seriously bumpy roads!

 


HOW TO GET TO FERN CANYON

Fern Canyon Parking area in Redwood National Park

Fern Canyon parking area, courtesy of the National Park Service

From Highway 101, turn west onto Davison Road (located 2.5 miles north of Orick or 18 miles south of Klamath). Davison Road provides access to the Elk Meadow Day Use area (a good last stop for a bathroom before heading to the trail!) and Gold Bluffs Beach.

Beyond Elk Meadow, Davison Road is unpaved, narrow and windy in spots. NOTE: Trailers are not allowed on this part of the road and RVs longer than 24 feet or wider than 8 feet are prohibited.

Follow the unpaved Davison Road for several miles through a redwood forest until you reach the Gold Bluffs Beach Entrance Kiosk. Pay the $8 day use fee (cash or check only). If you are a frequent National Park visitor like us, then you are in luck! The entrance fee is waived for holders of the America the Beautiful National Parks annual pass.

After passing through the entrance station, be prepared for a bumpy ride for the last few miles to the end of the road! We were informed at the entrance station that the drive required a couple creek crossings, which wasn’t a problem for our SUV. However, it was a rough ride! Road conditions vary by time of year and could be impassable for vehicles with low clearance. Be sure to check current road and trail conditions on the park website before heading out to the Gold Bluffs Beach area. 


PARKING AND TRAILHEAD FOR FERN CANYON

Parking lot for Fern Canyon trail in Redwood National park

The parking lot and access to the trailhead for the Fern Canyon Trail is located at the end of Gold Bluffs Beach Road just north of the Gold Bluffs Beach campground. The dirt parking lot holds about 50 vehicles, so parking shouldn’t be a problem. However, late morning and early afternoon tends to be the busiest time of day. If you prefer avoiding crowds in the canyon, plan for an early morning or late afternoon arrival.

The parking area also provides access to Gold Bluffs Beach and several trails including the California Coastal Trail, James Irvine Trail, Friendship Ridge Trail and the Ossagon Creek Trail.

The actual Fern Canyon trailhead is located about 1/4 mile from the parking area. Follow the California Coastal Trail north from the parking lot to reach the mouth of Fern Canyon and the start of the trail. 

NOTE:

  • There is no parking for RVs at the Fern Canyon Day Use area.
  • Picnic tables and porter potties are available near the parking area, but there is no running water.
  • Be sure to bring drinking water and food into the park.
  • Dogs are not allowed on trails in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

ALTERNATIVES FOR REACHING FERN CANYON

If you prefer to make a day trip of your excursion to Fern Canyon, the trail can be accessed via a moderate 5-mile hike on the James Irvine Trail which begins at the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park visitor center. Alternatively, hike in via the California Coastal Trail or Friendship Ridge Trail. 


FERN CANYON LOOP TRAIL: DISTANCE, TRAIL SURFACE AND ACCESSIBILITY

  • Distance.  0.6-mile loop with 118 feet elevation gain (1.1-mile lollipop loop than includes the access trail)
  • Trail surface. The trail travels along a creek bed and footing includes dirt, gravel, and water. Fallen trees in the creek bed require some scrambling (over and under). During the summertime, wooden planks are installed over some creek crossing areas.
  • Accessibility.  Although the trail is not steep, it is not wheelchair or stroller accessible due to the uneven terrain and obstacles. However, it is family-friendly, and kids will love all the scrambling and water crossings!

Fern Canyon Trail

        PREPARATION FOR HIKING THE FERN CANYON LOOP TRAIL

        The Fern Canyon loop trail is short, so you don’t need to pack much for the hike.  However, there are a few essentials that we recommend:

        • Layers. Mornings and evenings along the northern California coast tend to be foggy and cool; so be prepared with long sleeves, pants and a raincoat, just in case.
        • Shoes.  This trail is short and relatively easy, but it is wet.  During warmer months, river sandals work well. Otherwise, wear a waterproof hiking boot or other shoe you can get wet.
        • Bug repellant. Bugs weren’t a problem during our July visit, be we hear they can be a nuisance during the summer months. Never a bad idea to have mosquito repellant on hand!

        FERN CANYON WEATHER AND BEST TIME TO VISIT

        The Fern Canyon Loop Trail is open and accessible year-round. However, the remote location is susceptible to weather conditions. Winter rains periodically flood the canyon (and the access road to the Fern Canyon Day Use area) and hikes can be limited. Be sure to check the weather forecast and the park website for current road and trail conditions.

        The U. S Climate Data website shows average high and low temps and precipitation for Orick, California. November through April tends to be the wettest time of year and some of the ferns brown in the winter. We recommend visiting June through September when the creek isn’t running as high and the canyon is lush and green.  

         

        HIKING THE FERN CANYON LOOP TRAIL FROM THE FERN CANYON DAY USE AREA


        Fern Canyon hiking map

        Fern Canyon Loop Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service


        From the parking area, follow the California Coastal Trail north to the turnoff for Fern Canyon.

        Fern Canyon Trail

        Fern Canyon Trail

        While it is a loop trail, we recommend bearing right and first making your way into the canyon (ignore the wooden sign at the base of the stairs that leads uphill towards the James Irvine Trail).  Again, it’s just our opinion, but going this way allows you to enter the canyon and be awestruck immediately.

        James Irvine Trail Sign

        Hard to believe this stunning canyon was carved by modest Home Creek! Over millennia, the creek eroded though the coastal bluffs and sedimentary soil creating a canyon, where vertical walls covered in ferns lend a prehistoric feel to the environment.

        The quarter mile hike though Fern Canyon zigzags back and forth over the streambed of Home Creek. During summer, foot bridges are installed over deeper parts of the creek, so we stayed pretty dry. However, it is generally passable year-round if you have waterproof boots, good balance (or hiking poles) and don’t mind walking through water.

        Hiking in Fern Canyon on Foot Bridges

        Be sure to stop and check out the hike’s namesake as you travel up the canyon. Some of the walls with the densest concentrations of ferns are located near the mouth of the canyon.

        Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

        As the width of the canyon narrows (to less than thirty feet in spots!), the obstacles increase. Scramble over and under downed trees until the trail turns sharply to the left and climbs a series of wooden steps to the rim of the canyon. (NOTE: Instead of ascending the steps, some choose to make the hike an out-and-back, returning the way they came and following the creek back downstream).

        Hiking in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Fern Canyon

        We chose to see what the forest above and the rest of the loop trail had to offer! At the top of the wooden steps, turn left at the junction with the James Irvine Trail to continue on the loop. The trail meanders along the canyon rim and through lush, shady forest. Fern Canyon redwoods aren’t quite as impressive as in some other parts of the park. However, this area is still quite beautiful and peaceful, as many people skip this part of the Fern Canyon hike.

        Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

        Fern Canyon Trail

        A short distance from the junction, you’ll pass an unmarked spur trail that leads down to a meadow. {It looked tempting until we spotted three large elk in the meadow! So, we decided to stay on the main trail and give them some space. Elk are wild and unpredictable and common in the Fern Canyon/Gold Bluffs Beach area. DO NOT approach them on foot.}

        Elk on Fern Canyon trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

        Hiking in Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

        The loop trail rejoins its start back at the mouth of Fern Canyon. Return the way you came on the California Coastal Trail back to the parking area.

        Fern Canyon trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

         

         

        ABOUT THE FERNS IN FERN CANYON

        The vertical walls of Fern Canyon support several different types of ferns. Some of the species that thrive in this area have been dated back 325 million years! The most prominent fern in the canyon is the velvety, five-finger fern which clings to the moist canyon walls. It is easy to identify with its distinctive appearance. Another common species is the dark, green sword fern which grows on the canyon floor and in shady areas. Sword fern leaflets resemble tiny swords with their pointy, triangular shape. Also present in the canyon are lady, deer and chain ferns.

        Ferns in Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park


        FERN CANYON TRAIL: TOP LIKES AND DISLIKES

        Likes:

        • Unique hike.  If you are looking for a one-of-a-kind, magical hiking experience, Fern Canyon is an emerald gem!
        • Quick and Family-Friendly.  The Fern Canyon hike is short and terrific for families.  Even at a slow pace, you can finish it in less than an hour.

        Dislikes:

        • Crowds.  This hike is extremely popular and draws attention from many park visitors.  Therefore, the trail can be busy. Don’t let this scare you away, though! Just arrive early like we did!
        • Rough access road.  We took it slow over the rough sections and didn’t have any trouble in our SUV. However, the road may pose a problem for cars with low clearance and is inaccessible for those towing trailers or driving larger RVs.

        THINGS TO DO NEAR FERN CANYON

        There are so many great things to do and see near Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Our recommendations include:

        • Walk out to Gold Bluffs Beach from the Fern Canyon Day Use area or stop at any one of several access point along the Beach Road. It was quite windy and cool on the day of our visit but would be a great spot for a picnic on a warmer day.

        Gold Bluffs Beach in Redwood National Park

        • Drive on the Newton B Drury Parkway. Make a stop at the Elk Prairie Visitor Center for park information and other hikes, if you haven’t already. Some short and easy hikes include The Cathedral Trees Trail, the Big Tree Circle Trail and the Elk Prairie Trail.
        • If you are looking for a great moderate hike, try the Trillium Falls Trail from the Elk Meadow Day Use area.
          • If you are headed south, be sure to visit Redwood National Park! The Lady Bird Johnson Grove is a must-do! Looking to get away from the crowds? Get a permit for the Tall Trees Grove Trail at the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center in Orick. 
          • Headed north? Check out the Coastal Drive in Klamath!

          Visitor Center in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

           

          FURTHER INFORMATION ON REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS AND THE SURROUNDING AREA

          • If you are looking for further information on hiking in Redwood National and State Parks, we recommend checking out “Northern California Hiking Trails” from John Soares. He has several guidebooks on the parks and detailed descriptions for a ton of trails in the area!

          FURTHER INFORMATION ON REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS

          Vintage Redwood National Park Poster

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          • Redwood Ranger on

            Great post on Fern Canyon. It’s my favorite place around Redwood National Park. Here’s more about the dinosaurs that have roamed it, in modern times. ; )
            https://redwoodcoastparks.com/fern-canyon-dinos/


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