If you’ve never walked between fifty foot walls of ferns, than you haven’t experienced a hike like Fern Canyon Trail. This short trek transports you through a cool moist canyon with fortress-like walls covered top to bottom in enchanting ferns. The trail starts just inland from a vacant stretch of the North Coast of California, and then turns inland into the lush shady forest housing Fern Canyon. The hike can be done as a 1.1-mile lollipop loop with 150 feet of elevation gain, but it is most enjoyable as a one mile out and back with 75 feet of elevation gain. Turn around at the top of Fern Canyon and replay the most exciting portion of the hike.
From the Fern Canyon Day Use Parking area north of Gold Bluffs Beach Campground, proceed north on California Coastal Trail to the turnoff for Fern Canyon. Hang a right and make your way up the center of the fern furnished canyon. Expect your footwear to get a little wet from here. This trail crisscrosses a steady creek, and while there are several wooden footbridges, it is difficult to escape without at least one wet toe. Wear scandals, and enjoy.
Plank bridges in Fern Canyon
Fern Canyon narrows to a width of less than thirty feet. The level bottom is boxed in by stout vertical walls. Water seeps from behind the tapestry of ferns to create a lush microclimate. You might find hiking up Fern Canyon like walking through a hedge maze, but there are no crossroads to be concerned with. The course is clear and the only obstacles are the meandering creek and downed trees strewn around the canyon.
Eight different species of ferns thrive in Fern Canyon. The easiest to spot is five-finger fern. Not only is it everywhere in the canyon, but it has an unmistakable multi-finger design. Sworn fern is also common. It has a pointy triangular shape, and can be spotted at the base of the canyon walls in low-light areas. This fern is common in redwood forests throughout the region.
Five-finger ferns on the wall of Fern Canyon
After a quarter mile in a fantasy world of ferns, the trail exits the left side of the canyon up a series of wooden steps. Turn around here and head back down the canyon, or of you prefer, see what the forest above has to offer. After leaving the canyon, hike a tenth of a mile to Friendship Ridge Trail and turn left. From here it is 1/4 mile through a pristine pine forest back to the mouth of Fern Canyon. A short distance from the junction you will pass an unmarked spur trail on the left. This track crosses a small meadow to the rim of Fern Canyon. You can enjoy a nice view down the trench from here before backtracking to the main trail.
Fern Canyon Trail provides a short unique hike. There are bathrooms and beach access at the trailhead, as well as nearby camping. Dogs are not allowed on trails in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. There is an $8 day use fee to enter the park but no permit is required to explore Fern Canyon. The dirt road between the 101 and the trailhead passes through a redwood forest that enhances the experience of visiting Fern Canyon.
To get to the Trailhead: From the 101 Freeway, 2.5 miles north of Orick and 18 miles south of Klamath, turn west on to Davidson Road. Follow this road for four miles through a redwood forest to the park entrance station. Continue another two miles to the trailhead at the end of Gold Bluffs Beach Road.
Trailhead address: Gold Bluffs Beach Road, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Orick, CA 95555
Trailhead coordinates: 41.400618, -124.06571 (41° 24′ 02.22″N 124° 03′ 56.55″W)
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