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Fern Canyon at Redwood National and State Parks might be a short hike, but it’s a great choice when visiting the area. Although you will not see any of the park’s namesake along this trail, you will be treated to the quintessential green and thick forest of the Pacific Northwest.
Fern Canyon is like something you see in a fairy tale. It’s almost like someone took their finger and carved out a narrow slit in the terrain giving it vertical walls. Carpeted along the entirety of those walls are thick and lush ferns. The ferns catch the little bit of light that makes its way into the canyon making them seem like they are glowing.
On this trail, you can see a variety of ferns including five-fingered ferns, dark green sword ferns, and delicate lady ferns. The waters of Home Creek carved out the canyon as they rushed to the Pacific Ocean. Driftwood making its way to the ocean can be seen at the bottom of the canyon. This reminds you that the pristine beautifully decorated walls do see rushes of water occasionally.
The Fern Canyon Trail is a 1.1-mile lollipop loop. Be prepared to get your feet wet. The park’s website states that between June and September there are small footbridges to help hikers keep their feet mostly dry. The footbridges, combined with my waterproof boots, did the trick for me.
Finding the trailhead
The trailhead is at the end of Gold Bluffs Beach Road, just past the Gold Bluffs Beach Campground in Prairie Creek State Park. An $8 fee per vehicle was required when I hiked Fern Canyon. Credit Cards are not accepted.
To find the trailhead, head south from the Prairie Creek Visitor Center on Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway for 2.3 miles. Then turn right onto Highway 101 toward Eureka. Drive south for 3.7 miles and turn right onto Davison Road. You’ll drive for 3.6 miles and come to the fee booth. After you pay the fee, continue straight for 3.2 miles until the road ends at the trailhead.
Glimpses of the sea
The hike begins with a flat path and heads north. You start the hike walking in between the thick forest and the sandy, grassy areas at the beach. Through the trees and grass, you can catch glimpses of the Pacific Ocean.
The trail takes you into the forest of moss-covered red alder and Sitka spruce with a thick understory. Be on the lookout for elk as you hike through here.
Walking through Fern Canyon
At mile 0.2, you come to the lollipop portion of the loop. Here you want to turn right and hike straight into the canyon. I hiked the trail at the beginning of September and was able to spot the boards over the creek to find my way. I did not see trail markers or signs but had no problems finding the trail.
As you hike through the canyon, you feel a little like you might end up at a dead-end in a few places. But then the canyon curves and shows you that it keeps going.
Walking above the canyon
At mile 0.5 the trail turns to the left and begins to climb up and out of the canyon. This is the only steep part of this loop. Once you climb out of the canyon, the path levels out and you are again among the red alders and Sitka spruce. The trail swings away from the canyon for a little bit. And around mile 0.7 you come to an intersection with the James Irvine Trail. You want to continue straight here.
The trail swings back toward the canyon and treats you with glimpses of the canyon from above it. At mile 0.9, the trail drops back down to Home Creek and crosses it. This is where it rejoins the “stick” portion of the lollipop loop.
From here, you retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
Hiking Fern Canyon
Fern Canyon was one of my favorite hikes from Redwood National and State Parks. It is such a beautiful and unique place. It really showcases the rugged geography of the North Pacific coast and the beauty of the Northern California forests.
- 1.1 mile lollipop loop
- Elevation gain and loss 150 feet
- Dogs not allowed
- Backcountry camping not allowed