Fern Canyon—a short but exquisite passage between fern-strewn walls—is an otherworldly hike in California’s Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, a subset of Redwood National Park. Enveloped by overwhelming greenery, it’s no wonder that this jungle-like canyon was a shooting location in Jurassic Park: The Lost World. Pack your sandals or water shoes, as the hike follows the wandering stream of Home Creek; for those content to stay dry, wooden planks offer passage over the deepest sections.
The Fern Canyon hike is situated at the end of Davison Road, a lengthy, unpaved drive through redwood groves and dense thicket. (Note: The road leaves California Route 101 at the Elk Meadows Day Use Area, situated just outside Redwood National Park near Orick, CA.) Check the road conditions ahead of time: there are two river fords along the way that are usually passable for all cars but potentially hazardous after heavy rains. Parking at the trailhead is only a stone’s throw from the ocean, where a sandy beach offers a fine place to watch the sunset. (Note: There is a day-use entrance fee to enter Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.)
The hike begins on the Coastal Trail, a 70-mile path that extends from Crescent Beach up north to Skunk Cabbage Creek to the south. Here you will cover only a flat and easy walk that skirts a grassy field on the left for 2/10 mile. Take a right at the first significant stream crossing—this is Home Creek, the winding waterway that carved Fern Canyon.
Immediately the path crosses two wooden bridges and enters the mouth of the cool, moist canyon. Tall trees along the left bank lean in unison over the creek at a 60-75 degree angle. Beyond, hikers enter a mythical world where the imagination wanders—fern-coated walls 30 feet high, gradually closing in as the gently-flowing creek brushes up against the sides. Fern Canyon boasts eight different kinds of its namesake plant—including five-fingered, sword, and lady fern varieties.
Being an active flash flood zone, there are a number of minor obstacles in the canyon. Use careful footing as you climb over boulders and fallen logs. At one point on the hike, the shady canyon narrows to 30 feet, producing a sense of intimacy amid the vivid green landscape.
As of July 2017, roughly ¼ mile down the canyon, a large tree jam offers a fun challenge for kids and adults alike: duck under the fallen tree branches? Or climb up and over the daunting tree trunk?
Beyond the tree jam, there a couple additional logs that must be surmounted, then the canyon widens and the ferns gradually dissipate. A narrow dirt path weaves through an island of low shrubs, then spits back out into the creek. Look off to the left for a shady exit route; this is a spur to the James Irvine Trail, which offers an alternative route back to the Coastal Trail and parking area. It is often closed, however—which of course allows you another run at Fern Canyon, retracing your steps through the majestic channel.
Allow at least 45 minutes to an hour for this 1-mile, out-and-back hike. You won’t want to rush it.