Hiking the Redwoods: Fern Canyon Trail

Hiking the Redwoods: Fern Canyon Trail

A bit of national park trivia for you today: Did you know that scenes from Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World (Affiliate Link) were filmed on the Fern Canyon Trail in Redwood National and State Park?

Cool, right? Jump back to the trailer for the 1997 movie and you can see why Stephen Speilberg found the dense, rainforest vegetation in this part of the park to be the perfect backdrop for his heart-pounding dinosaur scenes:

As big fans of the Jurassic Park series, we were anxious to hike the Fern Canyon Trail during our 2018 visit. It takes a bit of planning and a full-day hike to get there, but stepping into the canyon for the first time was well worth it. Today we’re sharing our tips on hiking the trail so you can also have “The Lost World” experience during your stay.

About the Fern Canyon Trail

Fern Canyon is a high-walled canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, in the central area of California’s Redwood National and State Parks. The canyon gets its name because the 50-foot high walls are covered in different species of native California ferns. All of the old-growth redwood forests in the area are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The trail through Fern Canyon itself is only a short 0.5-mile loop of easy terrain. However, it’s located in a remote part of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and only available after some more serious day-hiking. Thankfully, the route to and from Fern Canyon is just as stunning. Here’s the route we recommend:

John Irvine Trail to Fern Canyon Loop

The John Irvine Trail leaves from the Prairie Creek Visitor’s Center and is the route we recommend to reach the Fern Canyon Loop. The John Irvine Trail is a moderate 4.5 mile (one-way) hike to reach the canyon. Most of the route is flat with about 450 feet of total elevation gain.

With the added 0.5 mile loop for Fern Canyon, a stop at Gold Bluffs Beach, and then the return hike on the John Irvine Trail, we ended up hiking just over 11 miles.

The John Irvine Trail to Fern Canyon

It is long day-hike (about 6-7 hours) but not particularly strenuous. It’s possible to do the hike faster than that, but we found ourselves stopping to marvel up at the giant Coastal redwoods on the way. Some of the trees in this area reach a diameter of 18 feet.

Without a doubt, this was our favorite hike of our entire Oregon road trip.

The Fern Canyon Loop

When you arrive at the end of the John Irvine Trail, you’ll find two staircases to descend into Fern Canyon. While it’s a loop trail, we recommend going down the first staircase into the canyon. You’ll drop into the head of the gorge and then cross back and forth over the Home Creek riverbed as it flows out towards the ocean. It’s the best way to get the full Jurassic Park experience!

Photographing the Walls of Fern Canyon

In the canyon, stop to explore the ferns. Some of these species have been dated back 325 million years. Watch for velvety five-fingered ferns, dark green sword ferns, and delicate lady ferns as you climb over the ancient redwood and Sitka spruce logs in the riverbed.

When you reach the end of the canyon, there’s an option to hike out to Gold Bluffs Beach, a prime spot to view Roosevelt elk. After that, come back to Fern Canyon and climb up the second staircase to complete the rest of the loop.

The Fern Canyon loop will reconnect with the John Irvine Trail. Depart as you came back to the Prairie Creek Visitor’s Center.

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What to Know About the Trail

When to Go

The John Irvine Trail and the Fern Canyon Trail are both open and accessible year-round. However, they are in remote areas of the park and susceptible to weather conditions. Often times you’ll find closures in the area during the off-season when bridges may not be maintained. While it’s possible to visit in the winter, April to October is the best time to visit.

That being said, Fern Canyon is very popular among hikers in Redwoods. We recommend departing as early as possible from the Prairie Creek Visitor’s Center trailhead to have the beat the summer crowds.

What to Pack

Given the total length of the John Irvine + Fern Canyon Trail approaches 10 miles, we recommend packing gear for a full day hike. Be prepared for enough food and water for the day. We recommend packing a lunch to have on Gold Bluffs beach (watch the shore for harbor seals, whales and dolphins!)

Also, there are no bathrooms between the Visitor’s Center and Gold Bluffs beach. Plan accordingly to practice Leave No Trace methods on the longer day hike.

Where to Stay

If Fern Canyon tops your list of hiking in Redwoods, there are some good options for nearby camping. The Elk Prairie campground in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park offers the closest camping to the trailhead. We stayed at the Jedediah Smith Campground, which added a 1 hour drive to the start and end of our hiking day.

For nearby lodging options, check out the gateway communities of Crescent City, Klamath, and Trinidad, California.

Fern Canyon Trail Alternatives

While we recommend the John Irvine Trail to hike out to Fern Canyon, there are a few other options to consider when planning your trip:

  • If you’re not a fan of out-and-back hiking, it’s possible to add length and difficulty by changing the hike to a loop hike. Rather than hike back on the John Irvine, instead hike the Gold Bluffs Beach section of the Coastal Trail and then link up with Miner’s Ridge Trail. The park ranger we talked to about hiking the area described this route as a much more strenuous return trip as it follows an uneven ridgeline used by miners in the 1800’s.
  • If you’re traveling with kids or are limited to shorter hiking distances, it’s possible to reach the Fern Canyon Trail from a much shorter hike via the trailhead at Gold Bluffs Beach. Drive to the end of Davison Road in Prairie Creek Redwoods, park at the beach lot and then walk the short 1/4 mile to the mouth of the canyon. This is not the most scenic route to see the canyon, but an option for those who are not interested in a full-day hike.


THE PARKCHASERS

THE PARKCHASERS

Greg & Amy
Chasing a visit to all 400+ units in the NPS
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