hike: Fern Canyon

Located in Redwoods National Park near Gold Bluffs Beach, Fern Canyon is a unique hike through a creek with sheer canyon walls covered in ferns.

distance: 1 mile (roundtrip)
elevation: 150 ft. gain/loss
difficulty: easy, but be prepared to walk through creeks for a good portion of the hike.
best season: spring, early summer
parking pass: National Park Pass & timed entry permits from May 15th – Sept 15th
hike description: Redwoods National Park – Fern Canyon

The Hike

While camping at the Elk Prairie campground (highly recommended!), we decided to do one of the most unique hikes in the area – Fern Canyon. This can also be done as an 11 mile roundtrip hike from the Prairie Creek Visitor Center without a permit, but we decided to drive to Gold Bluffs Beach to do a much shorter hike and be able to check out the beach.

On the drive to the trailhead and just off Highway 101, pass the appropriately named “Elk Meadow Day Use Area”. There is no fencing to keep the elk here, but obviously they love this meadow. We saw about 20 elk grazing, paying no attention to us or anyone else who stopped to take photos.

Note that drive to the trailhead is on a rough road and requires driving through two streams near the beach. Check on current status of the road before heading here.

Redwoods National Park - Fern Canyon hike

We were early in the season for the Fern Canyon hike. Seasonal bridges are added in June, and we were here before Memorial Day, so we knew that we would be fording the creek for much of this hike. We were prepared for the conditions, with two of us wearing waterproof socks with trail running shoes.

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After the first 15 minutes, my feet were completely numb from the coldness of the water so I stopped and put on my wool hiking socks and then put the waterproof socks over them. Much better!

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There were a few spots with a lot of downed trees. Instead of attempting to climb over them, the ranger had advised us to go around on the sides. There were obvious paths to follow, so it wasn’t difficult.

Redwoods National Park - Fern Canyon hike

I’m not sure how many times we crossed the creek to reach the trail on the other side, but it was a lot.

Redwoods National Park - Fern Canyon hike

At the end of the canyon are stairs that lead to a loop trail back to the start of Fern Canyon. However, we wanted to continue hiking through the canyon as far as we could go. The hike in was so amazing that we preferred to go back the same way so we could continue the unique experience.

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Heading back through the canyon, we started to see more people beginning the hike. We continued to the beach and explored the Gold Bluffs campground there before returning to our camp at Elk Prairie.

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