Explore Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park's Fern Canyon
Winding through the westernmost reaches of California's Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Fern Canyon is one of the West Coast's most extraordinary sights. Cloaked in lush ferns and bright green mosses from head to toe, its primeval look and feel conjures up visions of a time well before humans walked the Earth. Its walls, more than eighty feet tall in places, are a testament to the power of mother nature and the steady westward flow of crystal-clear Home Creek. Today, a short, flat trail weaves its way through the canyon for all to admire its unique beauty and truly one-of-a-kind atmosphere.
Trailhead elevation 35'
Don't miss Camping at Gold Bluffs Beach Campground
Hiking to Fern Canyon
There are two ways to access Fern Canyon. The first and much longer 10 mile option starts from the James Irvine Trailhead at the Prairie Creek Visitor Center. The second option, which we'll discuss in this article, starts from the Fern Canyon Car Park along Davison Rd and runs about a mile in round trip length. It's fairly obvious where to go once you've parked, but head north (left out of the parking area) along the dirt and gravel road for about a quarter mile to reach the easy-to-spot entrance to Fern Canyon on your right.
As you head upstream along Home Creek the canyon walls rise and narrow, becoming more densely fern covered with every step. Slight bends in the canyon leave you wondering what's ahead. Moss covered fallen trees rest against and between the canyon walls, and strategically placed wooden footbridges help to keep your feet dry in areas that tend to puddle.
Home Creek is fairly tame in the summer and fall months, generally requiring no special footwear, but during winter and spring or after heavy periods of rain you may want to consider bringing water shoes. Within a quarter mile or so the canyon walls grow to nearly eighty feet high, now completely blanketed in various species of ferns and mosses. It's exceptionally beautiful.
While Fern Canyon is spectacular in every sense of the word, it is a bit short lived. At roughly a half mile the canyon walls begin to wane and you're eventually presented with a mess of tree trunks, limbs, and other large debris brought down into the canyon from mother nature. It's here that we recommend turning back and making this one into an out-and-back hike rather than continuing on the loop. The views beyond here just aren't as impressive in our opinion. Plus, heading back gives another chance to walk through the most beautiful section of the trail.
Those who choose to complete the loop will be presented with more of a forest setting with the occasional overlook of Fern Canyon.
Choosing to hike to Fern Canyon from the Fern Canyon Car Park requires a permit during certain times of the year. This permit gives you access to both the Gold Bluffs Beach Day-Use Area and Fern Canyon. Information on how to obtain a permit can be found on the NPS website. The way around the permit is to spend the night at the highly coveted Gold Bluffs Beach Campground, one of the most scenic campgrounds in the country, located a mile down the road from the Fern Canyon Car Park.
Its sandy campsites are sandwiched between towering bluffs and the Pacific Ocean providing campers with drop dead gorgeous views in every direction. Sites 7, 9, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, and 19 face the ocean making them the most desirable, especially sites 7 and 19 which have slightly more privacy. The photo above was from our last trip when we had site 12 during the week. Surprisingly, we had little company. Online reservations are accepted, but plan well ahead of time as sites tend to go fast.
If you're looking for more things to do nearby, don't miss out on the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail thirty minutes away in Redwood National Park. Head there early in the morning and there's a good chance it'll be foggy. It's one of the finest trails in the world to view redwoods up close. The Trillium Falls Trail in Redwood National Park is also an exceptional trail to view redwoods and about ten minutes from the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail.
A few other things worth mentioning. A scene from Steven Spielberg's 1997 blockbuster The Lost World: Jurassic Park was filmed in Fern Canyon. It's the scene when Dieter Stark gets pummelled by a bunch of tiny dinosaurs. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is part of the greater Redwoods National and State Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site. Contrary to what you may read about Fern Canyon and Gold Bluffs Beach, they are not part of the popular Lost Coast Trail. That trail begins from Matthole Beach some 120 miles south. Lastly, there are several Fern Canyon trails in California, so just make sure you're going to the one inside Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.