Redwood National and State Parks: Fern Canyon

Lady Fern

Friday, September 13 was a travel day. It was time to strike camp and continue on from Redwood National Park to Lassen Volcanic National Park. But first, we had time for one more morning adventure at Redwood: Fern Canyon, located at the northern end of Davison Road, just a couple miles from the campground. Like the campground, Fern Canyon is in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, part of the patchwork of co-managed state and federal lands that comprises Redwood National and State Parks.

Gold Bluffs Beach

We didn’t have to vacate our campsite until noon, but we still got an early start for Fern Canyon so that we wouldn’t be pressed for time later. Several times in the past we’ve miscalculated how long a morning adventure would take only to have to hurry to strike a camp.

Coffee in hand, we started up the road around 8:45am.

Roosevelt Elk

We had gone barely a quarter of a mile when we encountered a huge Roosevelt Elk bull who crossed the dirt road in front of us. We pulled over and watched as he grazed along the road.

Roosevelt Elk

American Crow

Ten minutes later, we’d reached the end of the road and had parked near the picnic area and trailhead. A crow greeted us. A man returning to his vehicle alerted us that there were a lot of elk around. Then some women returning from the direction of the beach confirmed that there was a huge elk just down the trail. So Sean and I went to have a look.

Elk, where are you?

Roosevelt Elk

Oh, whoa, there you are!

Roosevelt Elk

Sure enough, there was a great big Roosevelt Elk bull munching grass between us and the beach. We kept our distance so as not to disturb his breakfast and returned to the parking lot and trailhead.

The entrance to Fern Canyon is 0.1 miles along a broad path from the trailhead.

Creeping Buttercup

Mouth of Fern Canyon

Fern Canyon is a short, narrow gash in the bluffs that line the coast south of the mouth of the Klamath River. Its one hundred fifty-foot walls are moistened with seeps that allow for lush plant life, but the occasional flash flood washes away most trees.

We had a decision to make as we arrived at the 0.7-mile loop trail that accesses Fern Canyon, start by walking up the canyon and then climbing up and out of it or begin clockwise up onto the the bluff and descend into the canyon. We chose the latter, saving the canyon itself for the finale of our short hike.

The trail onto the bluff connected to a whole series of trails in the heart of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

It was a brief climb up, and then the trail led us east and inland just north of Fern Canyon.

Coast Redwood

Coast Redwood

The hiking guide recommended continuing a bit up the trail beyond the turn off into Fern Canyon to a bridge with a view, but it didn’t feel like this was the bridge. But there wasn’t another bridge. So we said, meh, and turned back toward the canyon descent. Either way, there wasn’t anything to regret about wandering about a bit in a Redwood forest.

Coast Redwood

Coast Redwood

From the top of the descent it was half a mile back to the parking area.

Coastal Monkeyflower

Not sure what that fur clump was from…

The trail descended quickly into the canyon and a thicket of alder.

Side seeps and trickles fed modest Home Creek, which had carved the canyon.

Hairy Woodpecker

Douglas Fir

The upper reaches of the canyon were filled with the debris of trees tumbled down from above or washed out by floods.

But then, almost suddenly, it opened up and the lush walls of ferns appeared. It was like the most astounding “green wall” you could imagine. It was like the green wall at SFMoMA, but on an incredible scale.

Maidenhair Fern

Maidenhair Fern

This just exists. It’s not tended by humans, although it is protected by us from us.

Sword Fern

It’s a cliche to the point of self-evidence to say that “pictures don’t do it justice,” but here in particular still photos don’t capture the play of reflective light among the ferns. The video below does a slightly better job.

American Crow

As we all-too-soon reached the mouth of the canyon, a couple women pointed out the “Instagram-worthy” light coming down through the trees on the bluff.


We had timed it well to have the trail and canyon mostly to ourselves. As we reached the path back to the parking area, it was becoming more crowded with visitors. In all, we’d spent about an hour in this magical place.

Back in camp, we had about an hour and a half until we had to be out of our site, which turned out to be plenty of time to take showers, collapse and stow the tent and gear, and make a breakfast of toast in the pan with peanut butter.

We’d not previously been around camp near midday, and without shade, it was almost oppressively sunny.

A corvid, likely a Raven, had left distinct, dusty footprints across the hood of the Cadillac, which I found completely delightful. It was like we had been marked.

Without rushing, we were ready to go at five minutes to noon. It was time to say goodbye to the Pacific, to Redwood National Park, and to this phenomenal campsite and begin an afternoon’s drive into the Cascades.

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