On our recent 11-day trip to California, we did very little planning. For one, we stayed with my in-laws on the front end of our trip, then used their camper for the duration of our vacation. And the beauty of visiting somewhere you once lived is that it alleviates any stress on making sure you cram everything in. But one thing we did see that was totally new to both of us was the magical oasis of Fern Canyon.
Getting to know Fern Canyon
In truth, despite my vast knowledge of California and the multiple books I wrote on the state while a resident, Fern Canyon wasn’t even on my radar. The far north coast, often referred to as the Lost Coast or Redwood Coast, is about as remote as it gets in California and, thus, didn’t require many repeat visits from this guidebook author as very little changes there from year to year.
But right before we left for this return trip last month, Fern Canyon started popping up everywhere it seemed: from people I follow online having visited in the last month or so to recommendations from native Californians to, yes, Jurassic Park. We took all five DVDs of the Jurassic Park franchise to watch in the trailer just because, and lo and behold, the second, The Lost World, was shot in this very canyon!
What you need to know about visiting Fern Canyon
The town of Orick where Fern Canyon is located isn’t so much a town as a dot on the map along Highway 101 somewhere between Trinidad and Klamath. Just outside of the “town,” there’s a pull-off for Elk Meadow and Trillium Falls Trail. This is where you’ll exit to take the long, bumpy road to Fern Canyon and Gold Bluffs Beach.
Pro tip: If you are running low on gas, stop when you see a gas station and fill up right there, no matter the cost (and it will be high!). There are so few gas stations along this stretch of coast that you need to be prepared.
The road into Fern Canyon is less than ideal. It’s an extremely dusty, unpaved, eight-mile road to the trail entrance that will take you 30 to 45 minutes depending on your vehicle. We had dumped the trailer at the campground and drove it in the Tundra, and I’m so glad we did as the roads were tight and the turns hairy in parts.
While you won’t find the towering redwoods for which this area of California is known, the landscape is equally as impressive: Fern Canyon is located in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and hugged by sitka spruce and other conifers.
The main trail is a one-mile loop with an elevation gain of 150 feet. You also have the option of sticking to the bed of Home Creek where you will come across the leafy walls of Fern Canyon in just a quarter-mile.
And once you’re fully ensconced in the greenery that gives Fern Canyon its name, you’ll be glad you made the trek. Five-fingered ferns shimmer from the 30-foot cliffs that engulf you, and you’ll be left wondering how you can create such a zen oasis in your own backyard.
While we weren’t lucky enough to see them, a herd of Roosevelt Elk often roams wild in this area, so keep your guard up and hope for a very cool wildlife spotting in their natural setting.
What’s the best time to visit Fern Canyon?
When we arrived around 8am on a Wednesday, we were nearly alone in the canyon. On our way back out, though, it started getting busy. The best time to visit Fern Canyon is on weekdays and as early as possible to avoid crowds, especially as the canyon is relatively narrow in parts.
Summer weekends are almost always crowded, and you run the risk of the gravel parking being filled by 10am, so go early as parking at Fern Canyon is limited and it’s a very long walk from the main highway.
From June to September, the trail has wooden footbridges for walkers to cross Home Creek without getting their feet wet. Either way, it’s smart to wear waterproof footwear with good traction. I could have worn my Hunter boots and been fine walking in the creek even without the wooden planks.
What does it cost to get into Fern Canyon?
It costs $8 a vehicle for day use of Fern Canyon and the surrounding area, and you must have exact change. This is something we did not know, arriving with three singles and a Benjamin, but a lovely family behind us spotted us the difference. Because let me tell you from experience: A California ticket is something you don’t want to take home as a souvenir.
Are dogs allowed in Fern Canyon?
Dogs are not allowed in Fern Canyon sadly. Womp womp. California state parks are not pet-friendly, so if you’re traveling with a dog as we were, you’ll need to leave it behind in your hotel room, camper or car. The good thing is that this stretch of California is never very hot, and there’s a nice coastal breeze in the parking lot, so Ella was fine napping in the cab of the truck with a cracked window while we did the 30-minute trek in and out of Fern Canyon.
Dogs are allowed on Golds Beach
The consolation prize for Ella waiting patiently as we hiked Fern Canyon was an hour on Gold Bluffs Beach, where we were completely alone and she was allowed to roam the sandy shores. It’s rarely warm enough on the beaches of Northern California to actually swim, so bring a blanket and a jacket or layers in preparation for the cool coastal temps that await.
Is Fern Canyon kid-friendly?
The trail out to Fern Canyon is very kid-friendly. It’s relatively flat and short, so Fern Canyon is a great hike to make with a family of little ones.
For more California travel tips, see these posts:
- On Half Moon Bay’s Secret Beach
- Windswept + Wild: A Road Trip Down Highway 1
- A Detour to Point Reyes National Seashore
- A Magical Weekend in Muir Beach
- Planning a Family Vacation to Santa Cruz
- Sunny Days on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk
- Planning the Ultimate California Road Trip
- Art and Food in San Francisco’s Mission District
- Berkeley in Bloom: 24 Hours in the East Bay
- Skiing Lake Tahoe’s Heavenly Resort